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TOKYO — Word of advice: Leave early or stay home.

Japan’s annual Golden Week holiday starts Tuesday. The national vacation may be golden for tired Japanese workers, but it can be a headache for foreigners in Japan.

Japanese fan out all over the country. Some make a beeline for the airport, while others visit family in rural hometowns or go sightseeing.

This year, trains and roadways may be more crowded. Japan’s National Police Agency estimates that about 65.4 million people will travel throughout the country during Golden Week, about 3.7 million more than in 2002.

Japan’s leading travel agency predicts fewer people will head abroad — and instead tour Japan — due to the sequence of Golden Week holidays, fears of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the country’s sluggish economy and unrest in Iraq.

“It can be said that this is the worst ever,” said a Japan Travel Bureau spokesman.

Usually, many businesses close for about seven to 10 days during Golden Week because several national holidays fall within one week. But this year, the holidays are spread out: Greenery Day is April 29, Constitution Memorial Day is May 3 and Children’s Day is May 5.

A recent Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare survey found that companies will take an average of 4.9 consecutive holidays, compared to 7.4 last year. About 82 percent of the 1,330 companies surveyed attributed the decline in vacation days to the calendar.

Despite the shortened holiday period — and perhaps because more Japanese plan to stay within their national borders — logjams still are forecast for roads.

Peak traffic is expected during the three-day weekend beginning May 3. Outbound traffic from Tokyo on the Chuo Expressway, between the Takaido and Sagamiko-higashi interchanges, likely will be heavy May 2-3. It could back up for 18.7 miles, said the Japan Highway Public Corporation.

West of Tokyo, Yokota Air Base residents who have driven the highways during the height of Golden Week say delays can be two hours or more.

“There’s an ebb and flow to it,” said Marine Corps Master Sgt. Leah Gonzalez, who travels to Tokyo at least weekly for U.S. Forces Japan. “The initial first few days and the last few days are usually the heaviest.”

A spokesman for the Japan Road Traffic Information Center, who declined to give his name, advises anyone traveling by train or car to “leave early and return early. If they were to leave at the usual time, expect it to take double or even more time than what it usually takes.”

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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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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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