Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tokyo <-> Osaka: The Nightbus of Horrors!

One of the best travel deals in Japan is the system of highway buses that criss-cross the country. They're a bargain compared to the trains. So, for instance, you can go from Tokyo to Osaka for around 5,000 yen on an overnight bus. The same shinkansen ticket would cost 12,000 yen.

Also, if you're short on time, overnight buses can work out nicely. The Tokyo <-> Osaka route takes about 8 hours. So you leave at night and get there in the morning. (You also save a night's hotel accommodation.) Sounds great, right? Beware...

There are a lot of companies running this route, and they usually have different classes of service. Some have pamphlets showing each bus's interior. And they all have elysian names like Dreamliner, Premium Dream, Dreamtime....you get the idea.

So, last night we took JR's nearly bottom of the barrel overnight from Tokyo to Osaka. Ticket price: 4,300 yen. Leaves at 11:30 PM. Arrives at 8:30 AM. Sounds perfect, right? BEWARE....

This bus, which was completely full, crammed dozens of people in a space they had no business fitting in. It made a Northwest (RIP) flight feel like a Carnival cruise...scratch that. It made a Carnival cruise feel a luxury suite at the Burj al Arab. This is the only highway bus I can remember that had zero overhead storage bins. Zero. So all your bags were either checked in, or on your lap, or taking up all your leg room, making you straddle your backpack like John Wayne barrelin down the prairie....

Without enough room in their sardine seats for their butts, appendages, and personal accoutrements, aisle sitters - along with their arms, legs, and socks - were splayed out all over the place. Mmm, a cocktail of smelly socks and sauced salarymen. Shaken, not stirred please.

It gets better! On the first leg of the trip, the heat was cranked up to sauna levels, with very little air circulation. So there you are, slowly basting in this late night brew, immobile and contorted in a Cirque du Soleil yoga posture. Maybe you manage to drift off 60 or 90 minutes into it....then BAM! The lights come on and the loudspeaker announces that we've arrived at the first rest stop. Boy howdy! A 1:30 AM pit stop to stock up on local pins from the gatchapon and maybe a tasty onigiri or two! Actually, I was relived to get out of the baster.

Only thing I said to the driver as I went down the stairs: Atsui! Atsui! (Hot!)

He mumbled something which I hoped would translate into a humane climate change. And, I have to say, 15 minutes later, the air was cool and fresh as we prepared to roll out. Then the temperature crept up....off came the jackets....then it went down again...

By now, with Sir Smells-a-lot and Sir Coughs-constantly running the in-bus entertainment, I was resigned to ride out my fate and take my licks. Eventually, after cycling through half the music on my MP3 player...I got a minute or two of shut eye.

The lights came on again once or twice, and someone in the next row pulled open the window drapes at 6:00 AM - thanks so much sunshine! - but sure enough we rolled up right on time at Osaka station.

Thirty minutes later we were at the hotel, checked in and on time for...onigiri and coffee.

Mind you, highway buses are never pleasant, their names notwithstanding. But if you go for a first floor seat (they're slightly more expensive), you'll have more space for yourself and your belongings. Also, for 6,000-8,000 yen, you can ride in a far nicer bus with large plushy seats. Anyway, 4,300 yen is a dirt cheap ticket. Next time, though, I'll pony up the extra dough....and pray Sir Smells-a-lot keeps to the chicken bus.

2 comments:

Edward said...

You'll never guess that from watching Japan Hour, a weekly one hour blast of Japan tourism promotional clip, where the hosts, despite taking said horror nightbus, lands fresh with perky hair at their destination, every single time.

Thanks for the dose of reality!

andy b said...

Hah hah that's classic. Maybe if we tell ourselves over and over that it's one way, people won't notice that it's another. ^_^

Seriously, though, if you pony up 6 or 8,000 yen and get a first floor seat, it's not all that bad. If you only have a few days to boogie around Japan, the time saved + money not spent on hotel costs ain't nothing to shake a stinky sock at!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...