Riding the bus in Japan is a useful secondary means of public transportation not to be underestimated, especially in smaller cities and rural areas, where the metro network is not as wide as in bigger cities like Tokyo.
There are two main common types of bus services you will encounter while traveling or living in Japan: public route buses or highway long-distance buses. Read our “how to” on riding the bus in Japan!
Getting Around by Bus in Japan
Let’s look at some of the basics of how to use buses in Japan.
Getting on a bus can be more intimidating than hopping on a train: it is more complicated to understand where and which bus to catch, how to pay for your fare, and last – but not less importantly – where to get off.
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How To: Local Buses
There are two different types of bus fares:
- Distance-based rate: the fare is proportionate to the distance
- Flat flare: the price is the same regardless of the distance. This is common in some central areas of cities. The flat fare for adults is usually 210 yen (110 for children).
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How to Board a Bus in Japan
Board the bus through the rear door and either take a paper ticket from the small machine you will find on your right, or touch your IC Card (Pasmo or Suica) over the card reader.
When getting off you will either touch the card reader again at the front of the bus or, if paying by cash, you will need to insert the exact fare inside the small designated box just next to the driver.
How do I know how much is my bus ticket? If you are on a distance-based rate bus, you will have to look at the screen installed at the front of every bus before paying. Every stop is assigned with a number: when getting off, simply look at the corresponding number on your ticket (that you got upon boarding) and pay the fare displayed on the screen.
In most buses, it will also be possible to exchange 1000 yen bills into 100 yen coins, but remember that no change is provided on buses, so prepare the money in advance and make sure you have some spare coins before boarding.
In case you are boarding a flat-fare bus, like the Toei bus line in Tokyo, you will then board the bus at the front and pay the flat fare right after boarding, by either inserting the money or using your IC card on the card reader, and you will get off from the rear door without having to do anything else.
Bear in mind that most buses run on different schedules on weekdays and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, so make sure to check to avoid surprises. One thing is for sure: you can be confident that even buses are most likely to be perfectly on time in Japan.
You can either check the timetable directly at the bus stop or, if you do not read any Japanese, the best way to look up bus routes and timetables is still relying on Google Maps which is highly accurate most of the time.
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How to: Long-distance Buses. Highway Buses and Overnight Buses
The other category of bus services is highway and overnight buses to travel long distances for cheap.
Shinkansen “bullet trains” are great, fast and an efficient way to use time, but can also set you back a couple of hundred dollars for a round trip, while buses are cheaper and very affordable – they just take way more time. A Tokyo to Osaka trip, which with bullet train takes only a little more than 2 hours, can be up to 8 hours by highway bus, due to the frequent stops during the trip. That is why most people decide to take overnight buses when traveling long distances with a highway bus.
There are many companies now offering various deals and different types of seats, from standard ones to premium pods to allow for a more comfortable journey, that can still be even 2 or 3 times cheaper than the bullet train.
English-friendly companies such as Willer Express have an English website as well, or you can use websites like Kosokubus.com or highwaybus.com to search for the best option for you. It is recommended to book in advance but it is also possible to book directly at the bus terminal.
Using the Bus in Japan is Cheap and Easy
Despite the language barrier, getting on a bus in Japan is easier than it seems. Hop on a local bus, or enjoy the night lights from an overnight one and enjoy a different way of traveling and living in Japan!
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