These days, the section of Tokyo Station serving regional destinations is a shadow of its former self. Gone are the usual crowds and on a mid-week afternoon in late September, just a handful of commuters browsed bento-box stores.
“I see more cleaning staff getting off trains than passengers,” said Taro Aoki, who oversees 18 fast-food outlets in the capital’s main inter-city rail terminal. “People used to swiftly pick which bento to buy and wait in line, but now, there’s hardly anyone around.”
It isn’t only airlines the coronavirus pandemic has upended. At a time of year when many people in Japan should be getting out of the city to enjoy the changing fall colours and nip in the air, there’s little holiday making going on. And the nation’s treasured bullet trains are ailing.
East Japan Railway and West Japan Railway, two of the largest by ticket sales, are forecasting their deepest losses since the country’s rail network was privatised in 1987. East JR is expecting a loss of 418 billion yen ($4 billion) for the current year that ends March 31, versus a 198.4 billion yen profit the previous period. West JR sees a deficit of 240 billion yen.
Pictures posted on social media show how empty the super-fast trains have become.
“This is what it looks like even after halving ticket prices,” wrote one Twitter user, who took a bullet train operated by East JR. “After departing Morioka station, it’s deserted,” he said, with reference to the jumping off point for Iwate, a prefecture on the northeastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island.
A national Go To campaign aimed at spurring domestic travel hasn’t provided the fillip hoped for Japan’s shinkansen, or bullet trains. Rolled out in July, the campaign provides subsidies of up to 50 per cent on transport, hotels and tourist attractions within Japan. Tokyo was originally excluded but was added this month.