A fire near a central Tokyo station threw parts of Japan's bullet train system into chaos yesterday, as tens of thousands of passengers tried to return home from New Year holidays.
The early morning fire sent plumes of black smoke over Yurakucho station, gateway to the nearby luxury Ginza shopping area, where department stores were preparing for a rush to the New Year sales.
No casualties were reported, but the blaze in buildings next to railway tracks near the station forced the suspension of all bullet trains departing from the capital to the western commercial hubs of Nagoya and Osaka.
Bullet trains departing Osaka for Tokyo were also brought to a halt because the capital could not handle incoming services.
Thousands of passengers, many with children and clutching luggage, crammed onto platforms at the Tokyo station desperate for information, while others filled waiting areas and the concourse. Some passengers sat on trains which were not moving.
The fire came as other families began to return from holidays spent with relatives outside Tokyo and businesses and as government services prepared to resume normal services from Monday after the New Year holiday.
The blaze was reported at 6.30am and possibly started in a games arcade, according to Tokyo Fire Department, with more than 40 fire engines rushing to the scene.
The blaze also stopped major commuter lines in Tokyo, but bullet train services to areas north of Tokyo were not affected.
Television footage showed the fire engulfing low-rise buildings which housed the games arcade and a pachinko pinball- game parlour.
Smoke from the fire sent a haze over the Yurakucho business and shopping district next to Ginza.
Fashion boutiques and department stores sent tweets to announce delays to their opening hours as emergency crews battled the fire.
Bullet trains resumed by midday, but the rail system remained congested.