The first city I lived in had a bus system, though there were only four routes and none were convenient for me to get from my apartment to the train station. They also ran irregularly and stopped running early (maybe 8-9 p.m.) for the most part. So I relied solely on my bike, my trusty two legs and the occasional taxi.
Fortunately, the city my husband and I now live in has a few more bus routes, although the times are just as sporadic and infrequent. So, for example, when I went to work at my old job, I had to either bike half an hour (and consequently, become drenched with sweat with no place to shower) or bike to the nearest train station (five minute bike ride), ride the train for two minutes and hop on the bus at the station twelve minutes to work. Seems short, although the entire process generally took about forty-five minutes including wait times. I had a few bus choices from the second station: a city bus, which didn't leave at any workable time for me; a community bus, which only cost 100 yen (the cheapest option) but dropped me off at work 40 minutes early; and finally, a regular “school bus" - which, no, was not yellow, but simply a regular bus with a sign denoting it to be the "school bus". And everyone still has to pay to ride it. However, the school bus arrived right on time which meant less time wasted (and more time to sleep in the morning).
Now cities in Japan may have community buses and city buses, but it’s not guaranteed they will have both. And for brevity, I won’t be discussing highway buses in this post.
First, words to know: (see the previous post for the rest of the words you should know for this)
検索実行 けんさく じっこう kensaku jikkou search 停留所 ていりゅうじょ teiryuujo bus stop 発着 はっちゃく ha-chaku arrival and departure 地図 ちず chizu map 方面 ほうめん houmen direction 行先 いきさき ikisaki destination 行き ゆき yuki bound for 経由 けいゆ keiyu via, by the way
how to look up bus times online
1. The first thing you absolutely have to know is either your address in Japanese and/or the name of the nearest train station - as likely one of these will be your starting point. It’s also helpful to know your destination in Japanese as well - preferably the kanji so it’s easier to look up or show someone to ask. If you aren’t completely sure of the name in Japanese or the kanji, try typing it in Japanese on Google maps or search (if the place is mentioned somewhere) with the relevant city and see what comes up.
*Tip: If all you have to work with is a name in kanji and have no idea how the name is read, you can use an iPhone app like ShinKanji to look up each character if not possible to copy and paste from the internet - say it’s on a piece of paper, or an image and Rikaichan (Firefox) can’t recognize the kanji in the image.2. Once you have an idea of where you are going, have Google maps (or a labeled map) handy to cross-reference names when looking up bus stops. I won’t lie, nearest bus stops and their names can be confusing, but the nice thing is that if you zoom all the way on Google maps, you can see all the bus stops (though they aren’t labeled).
3. Now, you should have your destination name and hopefully the address. Let’s walk through an example of how you might determine: a) bus line; b) timetable: and c) bus stops, and maybe even the fare. For this example, I will use the Nihondaira Zoo in Shizuoka city. Of course, the website gives us access information in both English and Japanese, but directs us to the Shizutetsu bus website (one of the largest bus service chains in the central Shizuoka area) for a timetable.
4. So first, I go to the Shizutetsu site. I choose 時刻表 (timetable/schedule) on the top of the list to the left.
5. Now I’m shown a list of options: a) look up times by arrival and departure spots; b) look up information by bus stop name; c) major bus stop; d) “alphabetical” or in this case, phonetical? listing by あいうえお; and e) look up information by telephone number.
6. For this example, I’m going to choose the top choice, and enter the place I will leave from (Higashi Shizuoka Station, 東静岡駅) and the place I want to go to, 動物園入口 (Zoo Entrance). The zoo’s website designates this as the bus stop.
Note: There is a 日本平動物園 (Nihondaira Zoo) bus stop, which some buses may drive to, as it’s directly in the parking lot, but when going back to the train station, you would have to look up 動物園入口 instead.
7. After plugging in both names, I scroll down and choose weekday (or weekend, but the former for this example). I write in the approximate time I either want to a) arrive or b) depart. So I’ll write 9:00 am and choose the second option, for departure time. Click 検索.
8. Ok, now it gives me two options for the train station - the north or south exit. The zoo website designated the south exit, so I choose that and double check the rest of the information, since sometimes this site refreshes the info to default. Click 検索.
9. If for some reason no bus information existed for that route/time/stop, or the information was entered incorrectly, then a short message would show up. However, I scroll down and find the possible times I can leave with fare information. To view a complete timetable, click on 時刻表:
10. The names on the top of the table are the various destinations for this bus line. So how do you know which goes to your particular destination? The easiest thing to do is to click on one of the times and look to the right of the page where a list of all bus stops on that route will appear.
Note: Of course, not every site will display this information the same way. You may simply find a list of maps and timetable .pdfs that you have to download to look at.
And that’s that. You can also try searching a specific bus stop or search through interactive maps that allow you to click on particular stops for times - at least for this website. Explore, and use e-tools to help you - you'll catch on quickly and learn quite a bit of Japanese.
You also might be thinking, "how do I know what bus companies or lines exist in my town?" Try visiting your city’s website and typing バス in the site search. Or, type バス with the name of your city (in Japanese) in the search engine of your choice. Most likely one or more of the results on the first page will be what you are looking for.