When you think of traveling around Japan, you probably think of the world class train network and the king of all high speed trains, the shinkansen. That said, there are also ubiquitous fleets of super clean and convenient buses linking all the cities, towns, and villages. The trains may be everyone’s first choice, but informed travelers know that sometimes the best way to get around the country is in the comfort of a bus. Here are some general guide on travelling by buses in Japan. If you are keen on it, then read on.
Bus Types and Descriptions
There are different types of buses in Japan ranging from fixed-route(local) buses that service urban areas, tour buses that go to tourist destinations, long-distance highway buses that run between major cities and airport shuttle buses that run between the major stations and the airports.
Used by ordinary passengers to go to work, school, shopping, etc., this bus make regular stops as passengers push the buttons which are usually on the wall to signal the driver that they wish to get off at the next stop.
Tour guides board on the bus to provide services and usually these buses depart from terminal stations, airports, etc. in major cities and travel to prominent tourist destinations unless otherwise noted. The big yellow Hato Bus is one of the major company providing sightseeing tour buses in different languages.
These buses travel on expressway and run between major cities or and city centers. An alternative to trains for long and medium travel in Japan, getting aboard the highway bus is relatively cheaper. There are overnight buses that travel really long distances. For overnight buses, seats are larger for passengers to sleep and toilets are equipped. There are cargo spaces where passengers can store large suitcases while in transit too. One of the major highway bus would be the Willer Express.
Airport Shuttle Bus
These buses take the passenger to and from the airport to major stations nearby.
Japan Bus Pass
Japan Bus Pass provided by the Willer Express is only available for visitors without Japanese passports. This flexible, multi-option pass offers an affordable and convenient way to see the country for those on low budget and who do not mind sleeping on the bus. It gives access to highway buses, including night buses—but not local buses.
How to board the fixed-route(local) bus
Depending on the area, to get on and off the bus may vary. But there are two major ways to board. In larger cities, passengers board from forward door and pay upon boarding with usually a flat rate. However, in regional or suburban areas, buses usually charge based on distance and passengers board from the rear door. Upon boarding, passengers take a numbered ticket or have the location stored on their IC card then pay when they get off from the forward door.
Just like using at the train station, having an IC card called Pasmo would come in handy when traveling in the greater Tokyo/Yokohama region. All you would need is to tap the card upon payment. Or if you board the bus from rear door, tap the card when you board the bus, and again when you get off from the forward door.
Payment is made either by cash or IC card. Some buses only accept cash.
The best way is to always have some coins in hand to make payments as many buses do not accept big bills. The tricky part about paying in cash is if the bus does not have a flat fare. This is usually the case if you are in regional or suburban areas were you board the bus from the rear door. In this case, make sure to take a ticket from the machine next to the door, as this will let the driver know where you board it and he/she will be able to calculate your fair.
Ticket machine near the rear entrance to a bus
Or if you wish to calculate on your own fair when you arrive at the destination, find the corresponding number shown on the display board at the front of the bus with the ticket you have. Then, put the exact change and the numbered ticket in the box installed near the driver's seat before getting off from the forward door.
Display board at the front of the bus
How to get off at your stop
Buttons similar to the photo below will be located around the inside of the bus. When your destination approaches, simply press the button to request a stop.
How to Use a Highway/Tour/Airport Shuttle Bus
When using a highway, tour or airport shuttle bus, you need to purchase a ticket in advance. You can book a ticket online or by phone via the bus company or a ticket agency. You may be able to pay with credit card, pay at convenience stores or pay directly to the driver. Payment methods are different depending on the bus so make sure to check prior to your purchases. Some notable companies of those buses are as following:
Highway Buse by Keio Dentetsu Bus