Buses in Japan Are Meant to Be Late

You’ve probably heard umpteen times that buses in Japan are always on time. And if you’ve been to Japan you might have seen the timetable at bus stops. It seems that the existence of this timetable gives us the impression that buses in Japan are always on time.

The truth is, more often than not, buses in Japan are not on time. In fact, the timetables are created such that it is almost impossible for the buses to be on time.

Case in point:

At a certain bus stop in Japan, the timetable looks like this…

This means that the bus will arrive at 1:06pm, 1:26pm, and 1:46pm. The next bus stop, some 350m away, has the following timetable…

Yes, it also shows that the same bus will arrive at this bus stop at the exact same times, which is physically impossible.

Of course, there is a reason for this.

Causing inconvenience to others, especially your customers, is the worst thing a service provider can do in Japan. And the most inconvenient thing that buses can create for customers is for them to arrive at the bus stop only to see the bus leaving. So, it is always better for the passenger to arrive at the bus stop at the listed time and then the bus arrives for them to board.

Remember the viral article about the train apologizing to passengers for leaving 20 seconds early? People were laughing over the ridiculousness of this but the truth is, there is actually a law that states that trains and buses are not allowed to depart before the scheduled time.

Some might think, why don’t they set the bus timings later and allow the bus to arrive early and just wait. Very rarely will you see a bus arrive before time and if it does, they really do wait. But this is frowned upon because stopping the bus at the bus stop for a long time will hold up traffic causing congestion, and hence, in order to make sure buses do not leave before passengers, who want to board the bus at that time, arrive, the timetable actually deliberately makes them late.

Now you can stop telling people Japanese buses are always on time; they are never on time because they are not supposed to be.

P.S: I suddenly recalled writing this article on punctual Japanese buses. So it turns out, the beacons are to make sure the buses are not too late, but there’s no such thing as a “punctual” bus it seems.

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