The Buses of Japan
image courtesy of images.1233.tw
The Japanese bus, or 'basu'
There are basically two types of buses in Japan: long distance buses, and local buses. Long distance buses run both during the day and in the night (the so-called ‘night bus’ or yakōbasu), and provide the cheapest way to get from one city or prefecture to another. As an indication, it takes you about one night to travel from Tokyo to Osaka, and you probably don’t want to put your poor back through a lot more. However, the low ticket prices combined with the saving of one night’s stayover make this the transport of choice for backpackers and other cheapos.
Highway buses usually run between cities, or between a city and a tourist spot. The pick up their customers around the city, and usually run straight to their destination, stopping only sometimes at bus stops next to the highway where there’s usually nobody waiting. The night buses stop a few times per night at rest stations near the highway as well, for people to use the bathroom, get their local souvenirs (look! I was on a highway bus!) and their nicotine fix. Book in advance to be sure of a seat, especially for the night buses.
Local buses are usually a good (read: the only) alternative besides taxis when you head down to the Japanese countryside. Note on beforehand the following: countryside buses are sometimes not as punctual or reliable as inner city transport. Also, sometimes it may be difficult to know what’s going on if you don’t speak Japanese. But, with the next tips you can increase the chance that you’ll be able to go where you want to go.
The way you pay in the bus varies per city. Either you board in the back and take a small note. That note has a number on it, which corresponds to a price indicated on an electrical signboard in the front of the bus. The longer you remain in the bus, the higher the price. You pay when you leave, handing over the note along with either coins (exact, you can change in the front of the bus as well) or a Suica or Pasmo public transport card. Or you board in the front and pay directly. These buses have a set price regardless of how far you travel. You pay when you board and leave whenever you like.
Usually the bus has a signboard in front as well telling you what the next stop is. When your stop is up, press the button and the bus will stop. Nothing special there.
Not really an essential tip, but fun nonetheless: keep an eye on the bus driver. They are often the funniest of Japanese public servants. You might get someone who announces the stops ahead sounding like they have their face stuck to a pillow (it’s impossible to distinguish what they actually say, even for Japanese), or one like I had on the bus close to where I used to live: when he’d accelerate after having stopped for a red light or a bus stop, he’d check all directions, left, right and ahead, pointing and gently saying ‘yosh’ each time. It was the cutest thing ever.