• Kyodo News

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The Golden Week holiday exodus peaked Saturday as people headed for hometowns, resorts or other destinations for the annual holidays, shrugging off nationwide concern about a new type of influenza.

Expressways were congested across the nation early in the morning, due partly to a popular toll discount introduced in March for weekends and holidays.

By 9 a.m., a 66-km traffic jam had formed on the Tomei Expressway in Shizuoka Prefecture, the Japan Road Traffic Information Center said. In Hyogo Prefecture, vehicles were backed up for 45 km on the Chugoku Expressway.

The discount system sets a uniform toll of ¥1,000 for cars and motorcycles using electronic toll collection devices on expressways outside the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas, regardless of distance.

Expressway operators are installing temporary toilets at rest areas and extending business hours at restaurants and stores to cope with the surge in holiday traffic.

Almost all of the reserved seats on outbound trains departing in the morning on the Tokaido, Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Joetsu and Nagano shinkansen lines were booked, East Japan Railway Co. and Central Japan Railway Co. said.

Domestic flights departing Tokyo and Osaka were also booked up, according to All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

Travelers were seen wearing face masks at major stations and airports to avoid the possibility of contracting the new strain of H1N1 flu, which has not yet landed in Japan.

“There may be infected persons in crowded places,” said a masked Nobue Takahashi, a 46-year-old Tokyo Metropolitan Government official taking her family to Kagawa Prefecture from Tokyo Station.

Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture and Kansai International Airport near Osaka said overseas travel is peaking since Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday all fall on national holidays.

The operator of Narita airport estimates that about 46,000 people will leave on Saturday alone. Returning travelers are expected to peak on Wednesday, it said.

“There are moves among companies to cancel business trips (due to the new flu), but its impact is limited at the moment,” one travel agency official said.

At Narita airport, however, several passengers could be seen wearing face masks.

“I am worried but I cannot cancel (my trip) now as it would be difficult to take time off work some other time,” said Satoshi Sato, a 75-year-old company executive who will tour Spain.

The new H1N1 influenza strain is rapidly spreading around the world, with South Korea, one of the most popular overseas tour destinations for Japanese people, confirming its first case Saturday.

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