TOKYO • Japan has kicked off an unprecedented 10-day holiday, including celebration days for the imperial transition, as airports were packed with record numbers of travellers, while people queued at teller machines in the cash-dominated nation.
Japan is preparing for the abdication of Emperor Akihito on Tuesday, the day before the Emperor's eldest son, 59-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, takes the throne.
The long holiday that started yesterday for the famously hard-working Japanese combines two celebration days with the traditional "Golden Week" in May.
While many plan to commemorate the national ceremonies across the country, others are seizing the rare opportunity for a trip at home and overseas.
A record 60,700 people were expected to head abroad from Narita airport, Tokyo's main gateway, yesterday, said Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
Domestic holidaymakers formed long queues for Shinkansen bullet services at Tokyo station to return home or go sightseeing, and expressways were crowded with vehicles in a major exodus from the capital.
The number of travellers at home and overseas during the long holiday is expected to hit a record 24.67 million, according to Japanese travel agency JTB.
Lenders were bracing themselves for the lack of bills at cash dispensers due to high demand as banks will stay closed until May 6.
Not everyone is welcoming the long holiday in Japan, however, as some people are concerned about the effect on public and medical services, while others who have to work over the period fret about childcare. A survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily showed 45 per cent of Japanese "felt unhappy" about the long vacation, with only 35 per cent saying they "felt happy".
Separately, Japanese police are investigating after knives were discovered near the desk of 12-year-old Prince Hisahito, grandson of Emperor Akihito, at a junior high school in Tokyo on Friday afternoon, Kyodo News reported.
Security camera footage caught a middle-aged man in a helmet and bluish clothes entering the school building around noon that day, and police are searching for the person.