"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