Taking the bus in Japan 日本行きのバスに乗る
Guide for taking the bus in Japan
Day bus, night bus, in town or in the countryside: this network, like a maze of a public transportation network, is particularly well developed in Japan. Learn how to take the bus with confidence, for short or long trips!
Buses in town (and in the countryside)
In Japan, the bus is a good complement to the rail network, and is sometimes essential in some cities, especially in Kyoto. If in France, each city has a unified public transport network, buses in Japan can belong to various private companies, just like trains. However, the buses are less reliable (schedules, traffic, etc.) than the Japanese trains known for their punctuality. So be careful not to rely on an "express" bus!
As with us, the bus numbers are indicated on the bus stops and the bus itself. Depending on the location, the name of the stop may be indicated only in Japanese, or also in English translation. The interior of the buses itself is rather narrow, and the seats are few and wide. If you are traveling with heavy luggage, we do not recommend taking a bus, especially at peak times when the buses can be crowded.
- Read also: Practical guide to Japanese transport
The rules to know for taking the bus in Tokyo
Bus stop is called basutei (バス停) or basu noriba (バス乗り場). Depending on the cities and transport companies, the boarding will be either through the back door of the bus or the front door, although it is more common for it to be from the back. If you are in doubt, 入口 means "entrance", and 出口 means "exit".
To request a stop, simply press the yellow button located on the bars between the rows. In Japan, there is no bus ticket to buy beforehand or from the driver: payment is made onboard the bus , in cash , or using an IC card . If you don't have change, don't panic: a change machine is always available on the bus and comes in handy for 1,000 yen bills.
As in the subways and trains, it is no smoking, eating or drinking, and using the phone or noisy conversations!
How to use and pay for the bus?
There are two different types of payment systems to be aware of on Japanese buses:
One fare for all routes
This is the simplest pricing, similar to what that of the West. The price is often indicated at the bus stop or on the bus. Depending on the region, you will have to pay directly when you get on the bus, or when you leave the bus (as in Kyoto for example). Simply insert your coins into the machine provided to pay, or have your IC card scanned.
Payment by distance traveled
When boarding the bus, you will need to take a ticket (or even beep your IC card). The latter indicates the number of your ascent stop. Then, to find out how much you will have to pay when getting off the bus, look at the table at the front of the bus, above the driver. Locate your stop number there: a fare is associated with it. In the case of an IC card, scan your card again on the way out.
Prepaid transport cards
To travel on Japanese public transport with complete peace of mind and without worrying about the language barrier, get a prepaid transportation card!
The Suica and Pasmo cards are the most commonly used. They allow you to take the vast majority of Japanese transport without having to buy individual tickets. You will simply have to recharge it at a station with change or your credit card (in major cities).
A little extra, they also serve as an electronic wallet and work to pay in most convenience stores and vending machines!
Take a bus for long journeys
In addition to city buses, there are companies in Japan that offer long journeys at a lower cost. These are often night trips.
Thus, Tokyo-Osaka or Tokyo-Kyoto journeys are very common and save the price of a shinkansen but also a hotel night. This solution will of course only be suitable for those who can make do with rudimentary comfort to spend the night. To get from Tokyo to Kyoto by night bus, it will take between 7 and 10 hrs.
The Willer Express company is probably the best known, with the JR Highway bus. Willer Express has the advantage of offering a site in English suitable for foreigners, where it is possible to reserve a seat in advance. Prices vary from single to double depending on the period, but also the comfort of the bus (wifi, toilets...etc). Always for a Tokyo - Kyoto trip, you will find prices between 4000 yen ($45/40.50€), up to 9000 yen ($73/66€) for the most comfortable buses. The savings are substantial when you know that a Tokyo - Kyoto shinkansen trip costs around 14,000 yen (nearly $114/103 €).
In the buses, the seats recline and have a folding hood above the head for more privacy. Discretion is of course required in these night buses, which stop approximately every two hrs in rest stops with clean restrooms.