Using the bus in Japan can seem daunting at times without Japanese ability, especially being unable to read kanji, as many bus line names and bus stops are written primarily this way. I can assure you during my first year in Japan bus schedules and route maps were mostly indiscernible. I knew some of the words, sure, but as the bulk of text is usually names, with rare cases of the name written in Romaji, it was an exhausting mental workout just to figure out how to get where I wanted to go. And though I still cannot translate every name when written only in kanji, at least I have tools (such as apps on my iPhone) to help out. (Note: larger cities often have Romaji written with the kanji for names of places).
So, before we go on, some words to know: (note: I have not included ALL words here as I will look into this further on the next post - and this is already a fair amount of words as it is...)
交通 こうつう koutsuu transportation
アクセス akusesu access
バス basu bus
時刻表 じこくひょう jikokuhyou timetable, schedule
運行 うんこう unkou service
運賃 うんちん unchin fare
線 せん sen line, (as in, bus line, train line, etc.)
左回り ひだりまわり hidarimawari counter-clockwise
右回り みぎまわり migiwarari clockwise
平日 へいじつ heijitsu weekdays
土曜日 どようび doyoubi Saturday
日曜日 にちようび nichiyoubi Sunday
祝日 しゅくじつ shukujitsu Holidays
まで made until, to
から kara from
より yori from
発 はつ hatsu depart
how to look up bus routes and schedules (on a website)
1. What is the destination? Go to the website (if possible). In this example, I'm using Tsumagoi Resort in Kakegawa, Shizuoka (a large resort with various recreation and entertainment options, including a small waterpark). This particular site doesn't offer us any English options, though most tourist destinations and some parks, attractions, and hotels will offer an English translation for access information. Even if the rest of the site is in Japanese.
2. Usually on the top of a site (or possibly on the side), there will be a link somewhere with access information. This may be アクセス (akusesu) or 交通 (koutsuu). In this case, I click on アクセス.
3. We see a map on the top of the page, with information about gate access. Scroll down until you find: JR掛川駅 - つま恋間バス運行時刻表 (JR Kakegawa Station to Tsumagoi Entrance Bus route timetable/schedule).
a. The first section details a free shuttle bus (weekdays only). It only runs twice a day, leaving from the south side of Kakegawa Station.
b. The second section outlines the community bus route, which (obviously) runs much more frequently than the shuttle bus.
4. If I am planning to visit Tsumagoi, then I would probably send this information to my iPhone or write it down on a piece of paper. Then, when I show up at Kakegawa Station, I go to the appropriate exit of my chosen bus route. For this example, let’s say I choose to take the community bus at 9:00 am.
So I will probably go out and check the bus stops to find the matching line and make sure it's going to my destination. (Sometimes websites will list the bus stop number though, which is very helpful). Or else, if too confusing, I could always go to the bus information center at the train station (if open) and ask them which bus stop I want to be at.
The key here is to have the information you need written down. Even if you can't speak Japanese at all, you can always show someone the kanji so they can direct you to the correct bus.
*Keep in mind that bus information centers should always carry route maps and timetables for the buses that operate in the area, and may be worth picking up if it’s a route you will use often.
Next up: how to look up bus schedules and times online.