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Japan’s Golden Week is around the corner, the time when holiday-makers crowd airports, trains, highways, sightseeing spots and shopping malls. Government officials estimate more than 10 million Japanese travel either in Japan or abroad during the national vacation week. For Americans who live in Japan, the holidays could be devastating or delightful, depending on where you are, where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

If flying, you may find yourself in a long line of vacationers awaiting security checks or at baggage claim carousels. If behind the wheel, you’ll likely have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery: Bumper-to-bumper traffic is likely. But if you stay in the neighborhood, community parks, amusement centers or beaches are possible sources of fun.

Golden Week consists of four national holidays starting with Green Day on Thursday, Constitution Day on May 3, Between Day on May 4 and Children’s Day on May 5.

Depending on what days of the week the holidays fall on, Golden Week’s length varies from year to year. For Japanese who take a few days of additional paid holidays, time off work can stretch to 16 days.

This year’s combination of holidays and weekends, and decreased fears of SARS, has encouraged more people to choose overseas destinations this year, said an official of a major Japanese airline.

“By mid-April, we have 207,000 people who have booked our international flights during Golden Week,” said Japan Airline’s spokesman Ryoichi Hamashima at the airline’s headquarters office in Tokyo. The “most popular destinations are Guam, Saipan, Australia and Hawaii,” Hamashima said.

“Last year, SARS and war in Iraq, besides shorter holidays … discouraged many tourists from leaving the country,” he said.

Adding ticket sales from All Nippon Airways, Japan’s other major airline, more than 270,000 people are expected to spend Golden Week overseas this year.

Most Japanese vacationers, however, stay in Japan, visiting various tourist spots or resorts. Some 2.9 million people plan to fly to their domestic vacation destinations, according to data provided by the two airlines.

Okinawa is gaining more popularity as a vacation destination, Hamashima said. Officials of Okinawa prefectural government’s Tourist and Resort Bureau expect more than 375,000 tourists during Golden Week — 65,000 people more than in 2003.

Another 10 million are expected to hit the road, according to Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation statistics. And as of April 15, 2.1 million Golden Week seats on trains, including shinkansen, had been reserved throughout Japan, — “already an increase by 39 percent from the last year,” said Eitaro Yoshioka, spokesman for East Japan Railway Company.

Just 9.31 million people took trains in Japan last Golden Week, records show — a sharp drop from 2002, when more than 10 million people traveled by train.

“We expect that much more people than last year would go on sightseeing trips this year,” Yoshioka said, “probably as a reaction of last year.”


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