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The wheels on the bus go round and round...

Anmona Handique- Mahanta

We all know when it comes to Japan and its transport services it is always the trains that comes in the picture which are fast, convenient and hassle-free. But, only after coming here, I got to see another effective transport service that is quite often used by the public goers, although not much popular like the trains here. Similar to India, Japan also has a number of bus services that mainly operate within the city, intercity or have interstate bus services. Different buses have different names based on the services they offer. For instance, the buses that normally operate within the cities or towns are called City-buses or route buses, those that operate between cities are called the Highway buses, while buses that connect to airports or sea ports or to any major train stations are known as the limousine buses. However, not having much of an opportunity to explore bus rides, out of all these services available, so far, I have only experienced city-bus rides i.e. the city-buses/route buses of Japan. It was during one of our Kyoto visits where within Kyoto city itself, I had the experience of a densely packed public bus ride, then another such experience too I had while travelling to a countryside place and rest, mostly have commuted while visiting nearby places within our city where buses mainly remain empty and hassle-free.

So, how it feels having a city-bus ride in Japan? If honestly, I have to say, I feel bus services are a bit cumbersome compared to the train’s services available here. And supporting this, as a foreigner in this land, I would state two reasons as per my experiences- Firstly, you have to be pro in Japanese, because mostly in majority of the buses not a single word is used in English except the numbers that are on display in your respective ticket and other display boards like bus schedules. Secondly, different buses have different ticketing systems based on the locations and if you are not used to daily bus commutes it could be really panicky for you. In fact, some say, even some Japanese find it difficult to use buses. Sadly, till today, I couldn’t gather my confidence, to explore solo bus rides in Japan and yet dependent on my husband due to its complex mechanisms. But don’t be scared, as in life everything is possible, it is just we should go for whatever suits us.

Inside view of a city bus in Japan (Photo by AHM)

Initially, we planned to visit a mall which was a little faraway from our place. Although, trains were always available to commute, the most convenient route we had was via buses and that’s how I had my first city-bus ride with my husband to a nearby mall. It took around 20 minutes in the bus including several stops and normal traffic. That was for the first time when I saw the services in the bus are being rendered by a single person who keeps sitting on the driver’s seat driving the bus and simultaneously playing the role of an announcer (alerting passengers about stoppages arrived and to be departed). Sometimes, automatic recordings are also being played regarding the stop's announcement. The rest of the things are conducted automatically with an automatic ticket generator where passengers boarding the bus have to collect the ticket, take their seats and get off as per their respective destinations. The stops are also put up at the display board which is rightly placed at the top above the driver’s space. As I have already mentioned quite a few times in my earlier articles, that discipline comes first when it comes to Japanese, so let me tell you some of the rules that one has to follow while boarding a bus in this country.

City-bus ticket with number and date (Photo by AHM)

Firstly, there are two doors in a bus, a front door and a back door. Passengers have to enter the bus from back door. Right beside the door, there is a small machine attached to it, from where automatically tickets are generated and one has to immediately collect the piece of ticket. In the ticket a number is printed, on the basis of which a passenger will use that number to check the fare of his respective location that is displayed on a board above the driver’s space. However, this is a system for whoever is to commute by paying cash. There is also a card reader option in the same machine where, one holding an IC card can just touch against the card reader to pay the fare. An IC Card or smart card is a rechargeable plastic prepaid card that is used in Japan by the people to make payments in trains, buses, e-payment purposes in shops, vending machines and so on (Source-Internet)

Automatic Ticketing system attached near the city-bus door (Photo by AHM)

So, basically, the passenger has to match the number of the ticket with the number displayed on the board that will show the fare. Once the stop arrives, there are also buttons on the walls or handrails of the bus, where one can press it as a signal to the driver that he wishes to get down at the next stop. We all know in buses; fares are usually less especially while taking a ride within the city premises. And very conveniently, here buses have this amazing changing machine installed for small coins from which one can easily get the changes to pay the required amount. Finally, while getting off the bus, the passenger has to put the ticket and the required fare in the box next to the driver, where the driver checks the amount as displayed on a screen in the box. On the other hand, one using the IC card has to touch against the card reader placed next to the driver. However, this is a common ticketing system that I have shared as per my experience while taking local buses in Nagoya. This system may not be applicable in places like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto or other big cities. Even in some places of Kyoto, there are flat fare systems irrespective of any distances covered.

Hence, having bus rides in Japan is fun and indeed overwhelming. There are many things to observe and learn. For instance, in bus stops no matter how big is the crowd people make queues and get ready to board. No one pushes each other or offends other passenger by breaking rules. Mostly, in tourists' places buses are usually seen densely packed while in normal hours within the city, buses have sufficient room and, in such case, unless the driver stops the bus, every passenger remains seated as requested by the bus driver for the concern of its passenger’s safety. Surprisingly, people do not forget to make queues while getting off from the bus. Thus, such discipline structures can only be found in Japan where buses run on high-tech systems and are properly maintained by the people and for the people of this beautiful country.


[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily

reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]


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