Nearly 30 percent of prefectures across Japan experienced crowds surpassing pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in the first half of this year, with local areas outpacing Tokyo, according to private sector data.
Based on an analysis of major train stations in each of Japan's 47 prefectures, 13 locations, or 28 percent, recorded more people than during the same period in 2019. Conversely, 21 locations, or 45 percent, witnessed a decline in crowds, but this decrease was less than 10 percent.
The Miyazaki station in southwestern Japan saw the most significant crowd increase at 11.2 percent compared to 2019. The surge is believed to be due to the opening of a commercial facility in front of the station in 2020 and enhanced public transport in the city.
Miyazaki was followed by Sendai, northeastern Japan, up 7.5 percent, and Matsue, western Japan, up 6.0 percent, according to the analysis.
The worst performer was Tokyo's Shinjuku station, down 21.4 percent from 2019, with some economists attributing the decline to an increase in work-from-home policies and fewer drinking parties in the wake of the pandemic.
Yokohama, south of Tokyo, followed with a fall of 20.9 percent, and Omiya in Saitama Prefecture, with a fall of 17.0 percent.
"The slower recovery in the flow of people into the Tokyo metropolitan area is largely due to changes in working styles, while the recovery in rural areas can be attributed to increased leisure demands," said Toru Suehiro, chief economist at Daiwa Securities Co.
In the Tokyo area, many office workers and people in the IT industry switched to working remotely amid the pandemic, and that practice has continued since, Suehiro said.
Due to a shift in drinking culture, fewer people are staying out late at night as they did before, and train operators have moved up the departure times of the last trains, contributing to this change, he said.
Kyodo News came up with the analysis based on population flow data collected by X-Locations Inc. from GPS data on smartphone apps. It looked into the number of people within a 500-meter radius of major train stations.