How To Take A Bus In Japan

I’m finally getting down to writing this.

Now, Singapore’s transportation works the exact opposite from Japan’s. Back home, we board the bus from the front and alight from the back. We pay immediately after we board and if you’ve got no idea how much you’ve got to pay, you ask the driver.

In Japan, you board from the back of the bus and alight from the front. Also, you pay only when you are about to alight. I didn’t get the chance to snap a picture at the back of the bus without looking like a terrorist, so I didn’t take it. But it’s easy to understand with a few sentences. Pictures will come later, so please be patient. If you’ve got the contact card, you insert it when you board the bus at the back and insert again when you alight at the front. If you’ve got the contactless card, it works the same. Scan it when you board at the back and scan again when you alight at the front. It’s obvious where to insert the card and where to scan. The problem comes when you’ve got no cards and are gonna pay by cash.

When you board the bus, there is this machine with a tiny piece of paper sticking out of it. Grab that! The ticket should look something like this.

Bus ticket

The random-looking black squares are actually the bar code and the number on it is very important but I’ll talk about it again later. And since there is a bar code, it is only logical that you do not tear or crumple it although it really is kinda flimsy and the size makes you want to fold it. But don’t! The top left says so. おりまげないでください。

Front of the bus

You see the screen right at the top with a lot of numbers? That’s when the number on your ticket comes into play. My ticket was number 17, which means I boarded at bus stop number 17. So I just have to look at the price at square number 17 to know how much I have to pay at the stop I decide to alight at.

A closer look

The price at square 17 says ¥230 so that’s the price I would have to pay if I were to alight at the next stop. Yes, bus rides in Japan are very expensive especially in the countryside. I once spent over $20 on a one-way bus ride in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. The bus I take to a particular school now costs me over $5 one-way.

Now, where do you pay?

Pardon the mess of arrows but I’m doing my best to write this entry with a lazy attitude.

Monster machine

The black numbers are the payment places. Arrow #1 is where you insert your contact card. Arrow #2 is where you scan your contactless card. Arrow #3 is where you throw your money in together with the bus ticket. Although it looks like a trash eating machine, the bar code will actually be scanned and the amount you pay will also be calculated and reflected on the small screen beside it. You can throw notes and coins in it. No change will be given so pay exact!

But I don’t know how much to pay at first, how would I know how much coin to have on me? Good question. That’s where the arrows with the white numbers come in. Those are where you can get small change but only up to a ¥1,000 note. If you’ve got a ¥5,000 or worse ¥10,000 note, try your luck changing with the bus driver into thousands. I did that once though.

Arrow #4 is where you insert your ¥1,000 note to get a ¥500 coin and five ¥100 coins. If you need smaller ones, insert your coin into the slot at Arrow #5. Inserting a ¥500 coin would give you five ¥100 coins. And inserting a ¥100 coin would give you a ¥50 coin and five ¥10 coins. Collect your change at Arrow #6.

Now, you should get your change way before the stop you’re going to alight at, in order to not hold up the alighting queue. At the same time, you should not stand while the bus is in motion. So get your change when the bus is at a red light or when it stops at any of the stops.

So with that, I hope taking a bus in Japan is now less terrifying.


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