Most visitors to Japan make a beeline for the famous sights-Tokyo Tower, Kiyomizu Temple, Matsushima, Osaka Castle, etc.- and make the most of their time by riding the world-renowned bullet trains yet I believe that the most memorable encounters can be found in this exuberant country while getting slow down, travelling by bus.
I skipped the bullet train this Sendai trip and tried the highway bus instead. I packed essential items in a small luggage, leaving my house early. It was 50 minutes prior to departure still though I found myself in a terrible rush, taking stairs two at a time knowing that the departure time will be strictly observed. Moments later, I finally arrived at the bus terminal situated behind the sleek mall Takashimaya. With 10-15 people lined up at the platform; I knew my ride was coming.
The new hybrid vehicle arrived slightly ahead of the schedule. The driver pulled up in front of the line. He was an elderly man with fixing eyes who looked remarkably fit for a man of his age. The chauffeur was wearing a short sleeved light blue shirt with a fade navy blue tie and pristine black trousers. He stood beside the door validating travel itineraries.
Somehow the passenger in front of me failed to show his visual itinerary and was denied boarding. "I am sorry, sir. You need to provide me a printout then." The old driver insisted with accented Japanese, politely yet firmly. Seeing no option, the young passenger ran up to somewhere. I doubted whether he could get a printout in such a limited time, however, at the end he eventually made it.
I left my belongings in a dim trunk, with spaces merely for a dozen of medium sized luggage. Then I slipped into the backmost seat, beside the toilet and settled in for the long drive to the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture. Sitting side by side with the toilet wasn’t as terrible as it sounded since this tiny lavatory was spotlessly clean. Also taking a seat at the furthest back added an extra privacy; I sank in the soft single private seat comfortably like an old cat sleeping in its bed.
As soon as the last passenger be seated, the driver had the bus bumming smoothly northward, leaving the bustling crowded street skirted with high towers behind. With the country‘s speed limit enforcement, even on the express way, I travelled below a hundred kilometers per hour.
A 50 minute drive brought a rest stop at Saitama into my view, against a vast sky filled with ominous clouds. At least 150 meters long, the low rise edifice had warm wooden decoration equipped with enough facilities. The driver brought the bus to a smooth stop at the foot of the parking space. “You are now in Saitama. We will take a short break for refreshment and will be leaving in 25 minutes.” The voice of the driver broke the silence. I peered through a window at an almost full parking lot where four buses were unloading travelers. Not lose a minute, I headed to the building.
The exact number of the restrooms, if I recalled correctly was fifty and more than a half was vacant. Hence, I spent the smallest amount of time in there. Then I took a brief detour at its souvenir shop where I fortified myself with coffee, soft serve ice cream and my favorite baked Sweet Potato. (Sweet Potato is the Japanese confectionery called Sui-to Poteto,スイートポテト. It is the Japanese pronunciation of sweet potato, as you may guess.) Then I made my way back; trying to save some space for delightful dessert selections at Tochigi and Fukushima pit stops.
After, perhaps, a five hour ride, I finally reached the largest city in Tohoku region in the setting sun. There was no denying that I was feeling a little exhausted. However, the ride was very entertaining and much more comfortable than I had expected.
- Reasonable Price
The ticket to Sendai cost me less than 5,000 yen. During off - peak season, the fare drops drastically below 2,000 yen. Night bus also provides a safe and secure accommodation.
- Roadside Sightseeing
Getting around by bus let you immerse with the scenery and splendors of local cuisine along the way.
- Dense Network
Compared with an airplane or Shinkansen, the bus has denser network. Every prefecture and large city is served by at least one bus company, operating lines into other parts of the country.
- Limited Luggage Storage Space
You have to travel very lightly or have your personal stuff delivered to your destination.
How to Reserve a Ticket
Some of the bus services do maintain an English website and allow online reservation. Choose a route, a type of seat you feel comfortable with and make a payment via credit card. Also, you can purchase your ticket at major bus terminals.