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Japan Fun Fact #4

December 4th, 2004

Back when I was a student at SFSU, even though I lived relatively close to campus and there was a major bus line that would take me right there, it was all too often a crap shoot as to whether I would be able to actually ride the bus. Sometimes it would never show up. Other times it would be so full the driver wouldn’t stop. Sometimes it would be 20 minutes late then three buses would come crowded together. Living relatively close to school didn’t change things much; you would make the decision to walk to school, and then the bus would show up and you would not be able to get to a stop in time to catch it. Not altogether a pleasant service in terms of reliability.

In Japan such things rarely happen. Just as trains are punctual and stop on a dime, so are buses. If the bus is two minutes late, it’s a surprising thing. Yes, it costs about $2 and they don’t give transfers, but that’s just Japan for you.



Buses in Japan have different flavors, but the most common is the pay-as-you-leave type. When you get on a bus, you get on at the back (as passengers leave via the front). You see two machines(see photo at below left); one hands out small paper-slip tickets (see at right), and the other takes prepaid bus pass cards (available in 1000, 3000, and 5000-yen denominations; you can’t usually buy a weekly/monthly pass for unlimited rides). The pass cards handle everything automatically. The paper slip tickets have a number printed on them. There is no one price for the bus trip; you pay more if you ride longer. There is an electronic display board at the front which shows the current fare for whatever number your paper ticket shows. The number, naturally, increases as you go on.

Bustix1 Bustix0

When you decide to get off, you push the button, as is normal (I’ve never seen pull-strings on Japanese buses), and at the stop, you go up to the front to pay your fare and get off the bus. The machine at front is able to make change (a nice alternative to American buses!) and sometimes even sell bus passes. Otherwise, it either accepts your bus pass and shows how much you have left on it, or there is a money drop-slot over a conveyor belt to take your paper ticket and the money for the trip.

My only problem with the bus is that the schedule often makes no sense. Where I live, there is only one line, going to the train station, and buses come every twenty minutes. Express trains also come every twenty minutes. So you figure that it’d be natural for the two to be coordinated. But of course not! The buses drop you off at the station about two minutes after the express leaves–wasting 15 minutes of your time. Nice if you want to have a cup of coffee, visit the ATM machine, and study the train lines before departing, but usually people don’t need to do that.

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