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Little known deluxe bus services promise long-distance trips in comfort

15 Comments

"Kosoku basu" refers to express buses that provide intercity connections via expressways, much like Greyhound company does in the U.S. Japan National Railways began the "Dream" bus service in the late 1960s, with overnight services between Tokyo station and Osaka's Umeda stations at a cost considerably cheaper than the shinkansen.

In their early years, such services appealed mainly to students traveling to Tokyo to take university entrance examinations and others seeking to save a few thousand yen. Needless to say, their comfort and amenities were minimal. But thanks to deregulatory moves and that good old entrepreneurial spirit, the quality of highway bus transport has undergone immense change and now, as reported by Weekly Playboy (Dec 1), they offer a sensible and affordable option to rail travel.

Take the "Hakata" service being offered by the Nishitetsu Railway Co. It departs Shinjuku each evening at 9 p.m. and arrives in Fukuoka at 11:10 the next morning. That's a 14-hour ride; but for an outlay of 17,000 yen, passengers are seated in semiprivate cubicles and can snuggle up on its cozy reclining seats (with a 50-cm-wide cushions), which are equipped with massage function.

The "Dream Sleeper" operated by the Chugoku Bus Co connects Yokohama and Machida with Fukuyama and Hiroshima cities. Its "zero gravity" seats are said to be based on the design developed for NASA. The semiprivate cubicles also feature adjustable air cleaners and the toilet facilities are spacious and accommodating. A one-way journey costs 14,500 yen, and passengers can purchase a set of amenities, including slippers, eye mask and ear plugs for an additional 600 yen.

The"My Follower" buses, operated by Kaifu Kanko Co Ltd, depart from Tokyo Station at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Tokushima City on the island of Shikoku at 7:15 the next morning. Its vehicles have only 12 seats. A one-way ticket costs only 13,400 yen.

"Premium Dream" (operated by JR West Japan) connects Tokyo with Kyoto and Osaka for a one-way fare of 10,500 yen. The 60-cm-wide seats are spacious enough to permit passengers to turn over in their sleep.

"Executive" (operated by Willer Express) links Chiba, Tokyo and Kawasaki with Kyoto and Osaka for 11,100 yen and up. Electronically operated seats can recline to 142 degrees. In addition to TV monitors, the seats are equipped with DVD players that permit travelers who desire to view their own DVDs.

Finally there's Grancia First's VIP Liner (operated by Heisei Enterprise Inc), which links Omiya/Tokyo with Osaka/Kobe for 9,000 yen. Its so-called "back shell seats" are claimed to be the same size and type as those used in airline business class. For "in-flight" entertainment, each seat comes equipped with a 10.5 LCD monitor, with TV, movie and audio book selections.

"Just after the regulations were changed one year ago, the fares for highway buses went up slightly, but they have stabilized now and competitors are cutting their rates to get business," says Takayuki Kuwabara of Heisei Enterprises, operator of the VIP Liner. "At present our company has also been offering a bargain plan with 'one-coin' service, which enables people to travel from Osaka to Tokyo, or from Tokyo to Nagoya, for just 500 yen. The number of cut-rate seats is extremely limited, and the deals are only offered two or three times a month, which we announce via surprise postings on our Facebook page.

"If you're looking for a sweet deal, then you should log on frequently and be ready to travel at a moment's notice," Kuwabara said.

For additional savings, travelers on a tight budget would also be well advised to inquire about packages that bundle bus transportation with inexpensive accommodations at the destination. During one promotional campaign, overnight accommodations in a dormitory were being offered for as little as 500 yen.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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I wonder how many drivers are needed for those 14-hour hauls. Certainly more than one. Does the second driver also ride on the bus, or do the buses pull off the highway somewhere and do a switch?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Galapagos-

The ones I've been on had two drivers from the start, they switched at a rest area partway through the trip.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Usually, for long distance buses like this, I believe the current policy is a driver change around every 4 to 6 hours. As such, they could change drivers at designated expressway service areas (SA's) or even at intermediate bus stations along the way (e.g., Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi for buses travelling between Tokyo and Fukuoka).

Even the Shinkansen does this: on the Nozomi train between Tokyo and Hakata Stations, they usually change drivers at Shin-Osaka Station.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I thought these buses would be cheaper than flying or even the Shin, but they're actually right up there in price. Not to mention more bad things can happen on a bus, like a car swerves into the wrong lane, driver falls asleep, guy next to you starts "borrowing" things from your wallet, etc.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

I thought these buses would be cheaper than flying or even the Shin, but they're actually right up there in price.

Long distance buses are generally cheaper than the shink but these are higher end luxury-type buses.

One advantage of taking this overnight bus is you don't need to spend for a hotel that night, so there are savings...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I used to take overnight trains from Tokyo/Yokohama to Shikoku or Kyushu. Can't do that any more (except for new hyper up-market trips). There was more space than a business-class airliner seat on them -cabins and couchettes, plus dining cars. They were one way to avoid the hotel costs and still arrive, well certainly fresher than a night bus trip up the Tomei these days.

Lament!

I never take night buses any more - the grief from sleeplessness and not being able to open curtains while sitting stationary in a service area just 50 kilometers from the destination at 5 in the morning and the fatigue all the next day is just not worth the saving sometimes. Daytime buses only, and then.

Ferries are not a bad option though, if you have the time or a bike up to 250 cc.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Did a overnighter Tokyo to Osaka, the bus was a little claustrophobic as difficult to open the curtains..,my biggest problem was getting my excessively large amount of luggage to and from the bus departure points, long way from the train station, lots of steps to lug stuff up. If you've got lots of luggage send it on to the final destination. Bus was ok, and plentiful fag breaks at service stations on the expressway..oh happy times...(coughs repeatedly, takes blast of oxygen from mask)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The bus from Tokushima to Tokyo and back isn't called "My Follower" but "My Flora". Either name is a bit odd, but the bus is very popular and often sold out. Sometimes if there is enough demand they add a second bus to the route.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Even the Shinkansen does this: on the Nozomi train between Tokyo and Hakata Stations, they usually change drivers at Shin-Osaka Station.

They change the entire staff at Shin-Osaka. This is beacause Shin-Osaka is where operation of these trains is divided between JR Central and JR West.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have used the bus system for these long journeys, but if you don't speak Japanese you're in for a little bit of a challenge as I have seen many foreigners lost and confused, missed buses because the staff couldn't understand or speak English and sent people to the wrong locations. Luckily I do speak Japanese so I had little trouble finding my way around. It was convenient if taking some of the more pricier fares, no overnight hotels, no driving, just relax, put the headsets and take a nap. Of course these days I can afford an airfare that takes me where I need to be in 1 hour vs 10-14hrs and sleep in a comfortable bed and hot shower. I did the shink but that too was troublesome. The best is still flying and depends on the season, sometimes its comes out the same as flying.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Time is money. I'd take the shinkansen over a bus any day.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Are flights within Japan so expensive that they are prohibitive?

I have just returned from a week in southern Portugal (Faro) to Ireland (Dublin). Roughly 1,850 Kms each way.

The price? ¥13,229, €90, return, booked 2 weeks in advance.

Flight time was 2.5 hours each way. As opposed to 14 hours on a bus, No thanks.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Luxury night bus service which has beds and hammocks

Luxury hammocks?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think we forget some of the buses mentioned in this article have essentially Business-class airliner-style seating--and each bus can seat at most 14-16 passengers. I've seen the pictures of Willer Executive buses and they have the type of seating only matched by the Gran Class seating on the E5 and E7/W7 Shinkansen trains.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am still wondering why JR never implemented dynamic pricing as in the air travel industry or as many train companies abroad. Long distance shinkansen travel is targeted mainly at business travelers and is unaffordable for many families. Dynamic pricing would allow JR optimizing sales over the year (Online promo sales, pricing depending on ticket category - exchangeable or not - and on the number of remaining available seats, etc.). The only affordable option for the average Japanese is LCC or bus travel. LCC is going to be a strong competition for long distance bus travel.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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