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Bus travel is a convenient and inexpensive means of getting around Japan. In some rural or mountainous parts of the country rail access is limited or nonexistent, making travel by bus an essential option. This article will discuss two types of buses: highway and city buses.

Highway Buses

Buses which travel in between cities or prefectures are referred to as highway or intercity buses. Various companies operate highway buses, including Willer Express, Star Express, and JR buses. Each company’s buses are of similar size and seat layout. The majority of highway buses have four seats per row. Some companies have started to offer Premium Seating for an additional fee, which consists of larger, more comfortable seats.

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It’s possible to purchase tickets online, at a bus station, or directly from the driver if boarding from a remote station. Since seats are of course limited, travelers whose plans depend on a specific departure time should guarantee their place by purchasing their ticket ahead of time. Japan Bus Online is a great resource for not only booking tickets, but also searching from a vast database of different routes and bus companies.

All companies and routes offer both one way and round trip tickets, with the latter usually at a slight discount. In addition, certain companies sell multiple trip ticket packs. One of these is Willer Express, which offers a Japan Bus Pass This pass has a few variations, but in general it resembles the JR Rail Pass. You buy a pass which can be used either 3, 5, or 7 days within a two month period.

Many long distance trips, such as Tokyo to Osaka, are done overnight. While the advantage is saving money on accommodations, it is not always easy to get a good night’s sleep on a bus. When the lights turn off for the night, it is considered good manners to keep conversations quiet and refrain from talking on a cell phone out of respect for other passengers.

Other things to keep in mind: It is advised against eating strongly-smelling foods, day or night. It is also not allowed to smoke on the bus.

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City Buses

Also referred to as local buses, in major cities such as Tokyo they are not as useful as the efficient metro and rail system. However, in smaller towns as well as in Kyoto, they are the primary public transportation system.

While the method of purchasing a ticket could be different in each town, it will generally resemble the following. You’ll board the bus from the back and grab a numbered slip upon entry. There will be an electronic board upon which are written stations along with their corresponding prices. When your stop arrives, press the stop button and confirm the fare you have to pay. You do this by matching the number on the slip you picked up earlier with the price listed on the board. Pay by dropping the exact amount of money along with your slip into the fare machine located next to the driver.

Buses also accept PASMO and Suica cards, used by commuters to electronically pay for transportation. If you decide to get one, remember to tap the card on the scanner as soon as you board the bus, otherwise you will be charged for the entire route when you get off.

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