Monday 3 January 2011

Japan Life - Taking the bus... how to do it!

Sorry, it has been a while since posting last. I have been holidaying around Kyoto!
So, I want to talk about something that you will tackle very early on... Buses!

This is something I had to overcome in my first week here in Japan, and I wasn't told anything.
So here is what happened. My first adventure into the city of Nagasaki went like this: try to decipher the
bus time table at the bus stop. See the bus with what looks like the correct Kanji and Katakana. Decide to go for it. I notice people take a ticket, I take one upon entering. I decide the bus is going the wrong way (incorrect, it was just going another route). Watch kids get off for an example. Figure you chuck the ticket into the machine next to the bus driver to get the price. I chuck in the ticket. Machine reads "Err 2". I'm like "How much?". Bus driver says in Japanese "You don't understand Japanese do you?". Me: "no". Bus driver takes correct fare from my hand.

Well, not exactly a terrible day, but it can be avoided. It didn't help that I don't really do public transport back home (I have my own car), but in Japan....   Let me give you the run down on successfully getting to know your way around.


  • Ask your predecessor for the name of important destination and routes (and the Kanji of course).
  • Learn the closest stops and routes to your school and other important places.
  • Learn the route back home. Most people will probably not live at the buses destination, so you have to learn what bus routes you can take back home.
  • Figure out what type of bus it is. Is it a flat fare? Or does the fare depend on how far you travel.
Riding the bus:
Firstly, check the schedule at your bus stop. There will probably be 2 schedules. One for normal weekdays, and another for the weekend. There will probably be a grid layout with destinations on the left (and their different routes, e.g. via point A, point B), and the hours running across the top. Usually public holidays use the weekend schedule (unless there is an additional schedule printed).

When the bus comes, check the destination on the front and side screens. Make sure the destination and route are the ones you want. When you're getting in you may realize there is a scanner at the door for cellphones or bus cards. There may also be a ticket dispenser built in to the scanner. If so, take a ticket (or scan away). If there is no ticket, it is probably a flat fare; try find the pricing written somewhere in the bus. If you've got a ticket there will probably be a number on it. It corresponds to a number on a screen at the front of the bus. This will show you your current fare. The bus will usually announce the next stop e.g. "Tsugi wa Arashiyama desu." (Next is Arashiyama). There may also be Kanji displayed for the next stop at the front. When your stop comes by, press one of the many buttons around the bus. There is usually a machine for change next to the bus driver (make sure you use the coin sized slot for the coins that you want turned to change). You can usually get change for 1000yen notes or coins.  You also put your fare into the same machine once you've arrived. There will be a large mouth on the machine, simply chuck the appropriate fare into it (if you have a ticket, throw that in too). The machine should make a happy beep if you have given it the right amount (it will not give you change if you put to much in). 

Getting out of a bus in Japan is usually done pretty efficiently. Make sure you've got the right change before the bus stops. Get change from the change machine just before the bus stops if needed. However, it is not the end of the world if you don't.

Any how, hope that prepares you ;)