Today I’m going to talk about using buses, so if your name is Beatrice you’ve probably never used a bus so you can go away. Go away, Beatrice. If you’re not a horrible person, you’ve probably used a bus to get around every now and again, maybe even every day. You probably think that the bus pulls up to the stop, you get in at the front, pay the driver, find a seat, then get off at your stop. That’s what I was expecting too.
Well… backwards are buses in Japan. I mean, buses are backwards in Japan. Here’s your handy, 10-step guide to using Japanese buses [note, this is specifically in Kyoto, which is more confusing than other cities]:
- You wait at your stop (and it’s surprisingly easy to decipher route maps).
- Bus arrives. You get on in the middle of the bus. If you try and get on at the front, exiting passengers and/or the driver will curse you out in Japanese, which will sound like they’re singing you a lullaby such is the politeness of the Japanese.
- From a machine next to the entrance in the middle of the bus, you take a ticket with a number on it. You sit down and look at the number and wonder what it might mean. Let’s say it’s the number 2.
- The bus goes on its route. Some people get off at the front, dropping their ticket and an amount of money into a hole by the driver. Questions pop into your head. How do I know how much to pay? Does it give change? Why does the woman on the seat in front keep turning around to look at me?
- Out of nowhere it starts pouring with rain outside. Torrential rain.
- An elderly couple near the front of the bus gets off. You dash into their seats.
- Now you see a board up front, above the windshield. It’s a chart of numbers that don’t match, like a surrealist’s times table . What does it mean? There are numbers up there, but they don’t correspond with the number 2 on the ticket. The numbers seem to be zones of some kind. Is zone 2 free? You think about asking someone. You look around. There’s the woman who keeps staring at you. There’s the pair of girls in school uniform. There’s the elderly couple who seem very approachable and friendly but you’re sure don’t speak a word of English.
- When it’s time to get off the bus, you still haven’t figured anything out. You nervously hand the driver your ticket and proffer a fistful of coins and a cute, sheepish smile. The driver smiles back, broad as the sun, and talks quickly in Japanese. Your smile broadens with your confusion. His smile broadens wider, defying all logic. He grabs your hand and picks out the ticket and several coins. He drops those in the bucket and waves you out, still smiling.
- You leave the bus, trying desperately to remember how much change you had in your hand to begin with, to work out what the fare was.
- Over the next week, you take lots more buses in Kyoto, and work out that Kyoto’s downtown area (so numbers 1-17 on the ticket, say) is a flat fare, then you have to add the additional fare for each few stops outside of the downtown area.
If my guide isn’t concise enough and/or you’re in Japan and desperately confused and want something very straightforward, look at this guide to Japan’s buses.
In conclusion, Japan’s buses are really not that difficult to figure out, they’re a little unconventional just.