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Japanese highway officials expect roads to be congested as people celebrate Golden Week.

Japanese highway officials expect roads to be congested as people celebrate Golden Week. (Stars and Stripes)

Colorful carp streamers undulating in April skies signal the arrival of one of Japan’s busiest holidays: Golden Week.

This year’s Golden Week begins April 29 and runs through May 8. Over the course of four national holidays — celebrating nature, the constitution, children and a day between two holidays — about 1 out of 5 Japanese travel.

About 22 million people are expected to be in transit throughout the country, including about 600,000 who plan to vacation overseas, according to JTB, one of Japan’s largest travel agencies. Popular domestic destinations include Tokyo Disneyland and Aichi Expo 2005.

“You can anticipate crowds at many areas off base nationwide, such as popular tourist sites, shopping malls,” said Takeshi Ashimine, a media relations specialist for the U.S. Marine Corps on Okinawa. Since so many Japanese families fly within and outside the country for leisure, expect to see higher costs for hotels and other travel accommodations, Ashimine said.

During Golden Week four national holidays are spread over seven days: Greenery Day, April 29; Constitution Day, May 3; “Between Day,” May 4; and Children’s Day, May 5. With the inclusion of weekends, many Japanese are able to extend the holiday for 10 days, JTB officials said.

Though U.S. military bases on mainland Japan and Okinawa rely on a large Japanese national work force, base officials expect little or no impact to services since Japanese employees follow the American calendar for holidays.

At Naval Air Facility Atsugi near Tokyo, it’s expected that some of the approximately 1,200 Japanese workers will take annual leave during Golden Week, but work schedules and personnel are adjusted if need be to cover for them, said base spokesman Brian Naranjo.

At Yokota Air Base, also near Tokyo, base employees may see a reduced workload with so many businesses closed outside the gate, said base spokeswoman Mieko Morita. The base newspaper, The Fuji Flyer, for instance, won’t be published May 6 because the local printing contractor will be shut down. Likewise, at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, the Kadena Shogun Newspaper will not be printed May 6. Also at Yokota, the Auto Skills Center will offer minimal services during Golden Week, shutting down its parts order, vehicle repair maintenance and air-conditioning service operations from April 29 through May 5, base officials said.

Servicemembers heading off base during Golden Week should be prepared for heavy traffic. Backups of about six to 12 miles are expected at many exits along most major highways, depending on the day and time, said Ryoma Fujimine, spokesman for Japan Road Traffic Information Center. Traditionally, the first and last few days of Golden Week tend to be the busiest; motorists are advised to allow extra time to reach their destination.

Vince Little, Fred Zimmerman, Erik Slavin and Greg Tyler contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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