When people think of mass transit in Japan they usually think of trains first, and for good reason. Trains are by far the most famous and most efficient way to get around the country and the major cities. But not all cities are big enough to have great train systems like Tokyo or Yokohama. Enter the bus.
After living in Winnipeg, I am very used to riding the bus. Winnipeg Transit is usually on time, and provides decent service along major routes and is really cheap. Before anyone in Winnipeg starts complaining about this one, I would suggest that you try another city’s bus system first. Anyway, I figured that since I mastered the train system with no previous exposure to trains, buses would be no problem. Was I ever wrong!
There are two main kinds of buses in Japan. One is what is familiar to most people in Canada. You pay a set fare when you enter the bus, and exit when you reach your destination. No problem here. On the other type of bus, you have to pay based on the distance traveled. You board the bus by the rear door and take a ticket. Your ticket will have a number of the stop that you entered the bus. As the bus travels, there is a large digital scoreboard at the front which has the stop numbers and the current price. For example, I get on at stop one, so underneath the one, it says 150 yen. At stop two the board is updated with a higher price for people who boarded at stop one and a base price for people who just boarded. (Seeing it is much easier to understand than reading this.)
When you want to leave the bus you press the signal button and you insert your ticket in the reader at the front of the bus beside the driver. The readout displays how much you owe, and you insert that in change into the coin slot. If you have a 1000 yen bill you can put it into the bill slot. The bill slot will break your 1000 yen bill into 9 x 100 yen coins, 1 x 50 yen coin and 5 x 10 yen coins. You then insert the correct amount of change into the coin slot and leave the bus. Despite the fact that vending machines, train ticket machines, and EVERY OTHER MACHINE WHICH TAKES PAYMENT allows you to pay with bills, this bill slot only makes change for you.
Last Friday I rode the bus from Mishima station near my school to Ooka station near the Penpal’s house. I didn’t have enough change, but I had a 1000 yen bill and NONE of the information I just typed. First I tried to stick my ticket into the bill slot. Fortunately the driver was able to rescue it and put it in the right place. The display read 270 yen, so I inserted my 1000 yen bill, took all the change (1000 yen) and tried to leave the bus. The driver stopped me, and then I realized that I hadn’t yet paid. Fortunately, most bus drivers are used to people (especially foreigners) being confused with this system and are very patient and friendly about the whole thing.
To make things even more confusing, in Nagoya city there are two companies that run buses in the city. One has the previously mentioned system of breaking your bill and then you pay. The new company accepts payment with bills and makes change. Two different systems in the same city. Even the Japanese are confused by that one. In the mean time, I think I will try to stick to the excellent train system where I can insert any bill and coins by the handful, or my bicycle that I can drive on the sidewalk and park nearly anywhere. buses are just too f**king confusing.