When most people think of transportation in Japan, they envision the vast railroad network and the Shinkansen bullet trains. While the trains are a primary means of transportation throughout the country, the train lines do not go everywhere. Sometimes, the traveler has to take a bus to get around town or from the train station to their destination.
The use of local buses is especially useful in large cities such as Kyoto. Additionally, local buses are at times the only way to access some of Japan’s greatest secrets, getaways to small towns located deep within the countryside.
Navigating the local buses may at first seem intimidating to the first time visitor to Japan. The following tips, however, will make your transition to using Japan’s local buses simple and enjoyable.
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Buses covered by the JR Pass
You knew that your Japan Rail Pass could help you travel quickly, easily, and inexpensively on the trains, but did you know that it applies to some buses as well? Local buses marked with the “JR” logo on the bus (and the bus stops) are covered under your JR Pass.
JR buses operate locally in several prefectures: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Tokai, Shikoku, Chugoku, Kyushu, and West Japan. This includes the towns and areas of Aomori, Chiba, Ehime, Fukagawa, Fukuchiyama, Fukui, Fukuoka, Fukushima, Gunma, Hikari, Hiroshima, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kagoshima, Kanazawa, Kochi, Kyoto, Nagano, Saga, Samani, Sapporo, Shiga, Tochigi, Tokyo, and Yamaguchi.
Also, JR highway buses offer a number of benefits over non-JR buses. They feature larger lazy-boy style seats that recline to a forty degree angle. You have access to an adjustable foot rest and more leg room than most other buses, larger spaces for luggage, and personal radios available at your seat. The Kyushu bus lines also offer snacks.
Even if you do not have a JR Pass you can still use Japan’s buses. The same applies to buses not covered under the JR Pass. The following tips will aid you in boarding and paying the bus fare for the first time.
How to use the city bus
How to board
Passengers are required to enter through the door located at the rear of the bus. When you enter the bus, take a ticket from the machine located just inside. Find your seat. Look at the electronic display near the driver; it shows the next stop. In popular tourist areas, the display may feature an English translation, but many buses do not.
Therefore, it is important to know the kanji, or Chinese characters, representing your destination before boarding the bus. When nearing your stop, push the glowing yellow button on the wall or back of the seat in front of you. This will alert the driver that you need to depart.
How to pay
You will pay the bus fare as you depart. If using the JR Pass on a JR bus line, simply show the driver your pass. On some buses, you will touch your pass to a sensor when you pick up your ticket and when you exit through the front door.
If you don’t have a pass or are using a non-JR bus, find your ticket number on the display. This will show you your fare in yen. If you need to make change from larger bills, a change machine is located near the driver. Finally, you will drop the bus fare along with your ticket into a transparent box next to the driver. Then you may depart the bus.
On some buses, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan buses or the city bus system in Kyoto, payment occurs when you enter the bus. In this case, you will be paying a flat rate instead of a flexible rate based on how long you ride. On most buses with this setup, you will enter through the front door and exit through the rear door.
Japanese bus etiquette
Like many other aspects of Japanese culture, those riding the buses are expected to observe courteous etiquette. For example, when using the provided headphones or your own, adjust the volume so as not to disturb others around you. Turn off your cell phone or place it on silent mode – talking on the phone is prohibited. Speak quietly to your traveling companions.
Don’t push on the seat in front of you with your feet or knees, and ask the passenger behind you before reclining your seat. Do not leave luggage or other items in aisle ways, and take any garbage with you. Wear your seatbelt and do not walk around while the bus is in motion.
Finally, seats are assigned so as to not have men and women sitting beside one another unless they are traveling together. Be sure to check the seat number on your ticket.