What’s It Like to Ride on a Night Bus? The Essential Guide for Traveling Overnight in Japan.
Towards the end of June, I rode my first overnight yakkou bus in Japan. Although many Kyoto University students ride this inexpensive type of bus for long-distance travel, very few will recommend it. As such, I asked around, read an online blog, and figured out how I could make it the best experience possible. After all, I relish new experiences and this was most definitely, a unique experience.
Below, are a few tips to help you have the most enjoyable experience on a night bus!
1. Ask a Japanese Friend to Help You Book It
Find a Japanese friend to help you book your first night bus, as they can tell you about all the nuances of the various buses such as how many chairs there are per row, whether or not you will be sitting next to a woman, if it has a charging dock in the seat area, if it has a toilet on the bus, if it has Wifi, etc. And if you book the overnight bus in Japanese, you will pay ~¥2,000 ($19) less than an English language website.
My awesome Japanese friend, helped me research the best possible night bus based on these requirements:
A. Sit next to a woman
B. Arrive near Tokyo Station from Kyoto Station
C. Charging station in the seat area
She helped me navigate a website with at least 10 different company offerings. Based on my short list of essential requirements, we were able to book a night bus that departed on a Thursday night from Kyoto Station at 23:15 (11:15 pm), and arrived near Tokyo Station the following morning at 7:00 am for only ¥1,845 ($18). Ridiculously cheap, right? Due to the day of departure, the season, and the fact that I was booking it in advance, I saved a ridiculous amount of money.
For example, the popular alternative of a Shinkansen bullet train costs ¥13,900 for a non-reserved seat, which I highly recommend even if you are traveling with friends. Since there are so many bullet trains that seem to run every 20 minutes or so between Tokyo and Kyoto area, my friend and I were still able to sit next to each other with a non-reserved seat. While you spend ~¥11,000 more for a bullet train, your total travel time is only ~2.5 hours. It really depends on how much time you have, and how much you want to spend.
Regardless, my friend’s help was invaluable, as she made sure I didn’t book an incorrect ticket at the wrong location, and taught me more about half-width katakana — a requirement for many Japanese website forms. I don’t know the reason, but if you Google, “full-width to half-width katakana converter,” you will find websites that will automatically change the characters, so that you can finalize the form.
If you don’t have any friends who can read Japanese websites, you can always default to Google Translate, ask a friendly professor, or ask at your International Office if there is anyone who can help you.
2. Essential Packing Guide
Prior to departure, I purchased an eye mask and high-quality earplugs — both of which were indispensable. After observing the women around me, who were obviously more experienced with overnight traveling, I created a short list of items that will dramatically improve anyone’s night bus experience.
Bring the following items:
A. Eye mask
C. Inflatable Neck Pillow
D. Breakfast & Late Night Snacks (that aren’t too loud)
E. Water Bottle (maybe coffee)
F. Comfortable Clothes, Including a Jacket
With all these items in hand, you should have no trouble sleeping on the bus. Of course, some people can never sleep on planes, buses, or cars, so that’s quite a different story, but do bring some of these items to make your experience more pleasant. One last thing to keep in mind, I noticed some women changing their socks and shoes, but since I normally wear comfortable shoes, it wasn’t an issue.
3. Bathroom Stops
Between 23:15 (11:15 pm) and 06:41 am, when we arrived in Tokyo, I believe we only had two bathroom breaks, although I could have easily slept through one. As such, I wouldn’t drink an outrageous amount of water or coffee. But do, keep yourself hydrated.
As a single woman traveling alone in a very safe country, I was not concerned about my safety. But you never know with these types of buses. However, I never once felt unsafe, or felt like my personal items would be stolen. Of course, I did carry my essentials with me when I went to the bathroom such as my wallet and phone. And I learned that many young women travel alone. It’s quite normal.
With these tips, I hope you will have a safe, uneventful, and pleasant night bus experience in Japan!