Jul 12, 2018
Public transport is next to godliness in Japan, almost everyone uses it on a daily basis, but for a foreigner coming to Japan it can be daunting to take many of its forms. Especially when it comes to buses, they can be rather unforgiving for someone who isn't fully prepared. However, with a bit of foresight and preparation, there is no reason that even the newest of newcomers to the country can't use them!
Why should I even bother with buses?
With such a potent train and subway system you might be forgiven for thinking that buses aren't a very useful means of transport. In fact, in many parts of Tokyo you might not even notice them that often! However, if you want to see some local districts or sights a bus is the only way. As well as that, if you are living in Tokyo or are staying in a hostel you might find that buses are the only way to get home.
How do I use a bus?
The first rule of using a bus in Tokyo is to always be prepared! Something you will notice is that they rarely have instructions in English at the bus terminals. However, if you have done some research before hand you can get a lot of information about where you will be going. Things to know are;
- The location of the bus stop
- The bus number
- The direction you need to go
- The name of the stop you wish to get off at
This is all available on many different websites and apps. I generally use google maps when taking the bus, but you can use any number of ways to get this information.
How do I catch the bus?
In Japan, it is very usual to see people lining up for the bus long before it even arrives. You should join this line and don't try and skip the queue. While you may not get called out on it at that point, you will be making a very bad impression, and if the bus driver catches you doing this you may be turned away from the bus. If you are at the bus stop, there is no need to flag the bus down. Just look ready to board, and it will stop in front of you.
When the bus comes to a halt you will enter from the front, paying the driver. There is usually a standard fee for riding the bus, with a lower fee for those using a IC card and half price for children. If you have a card, it is very easy to pay; just tap the card on the reader and the money will be taken from your account. Paying with cash is also possible, and most buses have machines that automatically take your payment. Put the coins in the coin slot and feed your 1000 yen bills into the side. However, the machines normally won't take any denomination higher than 1000 yen, so if you are walking around with only a 5000 in your pocket you can show the driver who will usually be able to swap it for you.
You can also charge your card when you get on the bus, which is very useful if you are going to be travelling around a lot using your card. To do this, you should ask the driver (or just say 'charge' in a questioning tone), who will then start the process. It can sometimes get confusing doing this though, and if there are lots of people waiting behind you then the driver might get impatient! The basic method will be to put your card on the reader and then pay the money into the machine to automatically charge it up. Once you are done, don't forget to tap again to pay for your entry onto the bus!
The dos and do-nots of bus etiquette
Riding the bus in Japan is a different experience to many other countries, you won't find any noise or craziness in them even if it so full of people you can't reach the floor! Once you are in the bus, you should generally move as far back as possible in the bus to get out of people's way. If there are available seats you may sit, but if an elderly or infirm person gets on you should let them sit instead. Don't be afraid to gently push past people to get down the bus and out of people's way, but hard shoving and shouting at people to move is a big no!
There is a very good chance you will have to stand on the bus since they are often very busy. You will find hand rails and straps all the way down the bus for you to hold onto so you don't fall down. Try not to grab onto someone's hand, they won't appreciate it. There is also a zone next to the door that you are not allowed to stand in. If you do, then the door won't shut and you'll be holding the bus up for everyone else! If you hear a loud buzzing, push yourself further into the bus.
Getting off the bus
Do you still remember the name of the stop you wish to get off at? Good, because when you see that on the board you have to press one of the many buttons around the bus. There are normally announcements saying what the next station is, but when the bus is busy it can be easy to miss these. Once the bus stops, you are free to leave the bus and carry on your way!
Now you know how to use a bus, feel free to use them to get all around the city and beyond!