The New Year's period departure rush began Saturday at major railway stations and airports with people heading for their hometowns or other holiday destinations.
While some travelers are making the most of a strong yen to visit other Asian countries, most notably South Korea, others have to content themselves with making short-distance trips in Japan as the economy has fallen into a slump.
''Even if they are taking home less pay and winter bonuses, many people are determined to go on a family trip or visit their parents in their hometowns,'' said a spokesperson with a travel agency. ''They're trying to figure out the cheapest way to get from here to there under the budget constraints.''
A 45-year-old man who was lining up in front of the entrance for shinkansen bullet trains at JR Tokyo Station, said that after taking the high-speed train, he and his family would take a high-speed boat to get to his parents' home in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku.
''It's best to fly but that would be pretty expensive,'' said the man, an employee of a drug wholesale company.
Since many companies had their last business day for the year Friday and will resume operations Jan 5, workers can take a maximum of nine straight days off, compared with about six days a year ago.
However, the longer time available does not necessarily mean more people are taking advantage of it to go abroad.
According to JTB Corp, the number of travelers going overseas between Dec 23 and Jan 3 will fall 4.6% from a year ago to around 580,000. Those visiting North America are expected to decline 9.5% to 38,000, and those heading to Europe will be down 4.9% to 77,000.
But due to the dramatic weakening of the South Korean won, the number of vacationers bound for South Korea has surged 24.7% to 91,000, and those flying to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia are also on the rise, JTB said.
Yasuyo Nagahashi, a 48-year-old company employee going on a four-day trip to South Korea, said, ''Since the won is cheap, I'm hoping to buy more cosmetics and visit an esthetic salon.''
The number of people who have made reservations for domestic air travel during the holiday period has dropped 4% from a year earlier to 2.57 million, and that for international flights is down 5.6% to 538,000, according to data released by Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways.
But flights to South Korea are an exception, with JAL reporting a 50% jump in people going on group tours to the country.
As for other modes of transportation, Japan Railway companies has seen reservations for shinkansen and express trains rise 3.8%.
Express buses have also become popular. ''Rides from Tokyo to Tohoku (in the northern part of Honshu Island) and Kansai (in western Japan) are almost fully booked for 2008,'' said a person with JR Bus Kanto Co.
Still, this year's holiday season is being overshadowed by the recession.
Hiroyuki Inoue, a 41-year-old company employee, went to Tokyo's Haneda airport to see off his 7-year-old son. While his son visits his grandparents in Okayama Prefecture, Inoue said he will work at home. ''I hear a lot about how the economy is going downhill and there is no mood for an extravagant trip around me,'' he said.© Japan Today