Tokyo by bus – raised seats, big bags no no and discount passes

Tokyo is an amazing city and it’s huge. As you might imagine, there are many options to get around.

I think visitors tend to rely on the circular Yamanote Line (JR train line) because it’s part of the Japan Rail pass. Subways are likely a close second.

More unusual, unless you seek them out, are the fantastic last remaining streetcar or the monorail.

Dead last would probably be boats and buses. However, these are a fun way of seeing Tokyo. They can be slower but the view is less restricted or even completely different than expected!

Becoming a bus lover in Tokyo

Early in our relationship, Hitoshi professed to me his deep and sustained love for buses. I wasn’t convinced, seeing the crazy traffic in some parts of the mega city and unsure what the fuss was about.

As luck would have it for Hitoshi, we moved to Heart Island in Adachi Ward. And since two rivers give the island a big ol’ hug, there were and still are no subways. Trains are also absent.

What is left besides a little boat? Buses, of course! And a dedicated rider I became.

Buses in Tokyo tend to run frequently, follow a reasonable schedule given Tokyo’s sometimes horrendous traffic, and are priced well. (As an aside, none of this may apply for buses in rural areas!)

crossing to Heart Island

Crossing a bridge from Kita Ward to Heart Island (Shinden), Adachi Ward, Tokyo

An anxious bus rider am I

I’m not an eager bus rider, even in places where I understand the language. Why? I’m afraid I’ll miss my stop.

If I’m somewhere new, I do as much as I can to scout out the route before, have a map ready and sitting in my lap, and even find out what the stop before mine will be. Better yet, I have every single stop listed on a piece of paper from the place I get on until my destination!

As you might imagine, I was a sweaty, nervous mess before taking a bus alone in Tokyo. On top of my nervousness, I was usually reluctant to ask for help. (Stubborn, first-born I suppose.)

But there really wasn’t much to worry about. In fact, I even enjoyed some features of the bus once I relaxed.

Favorite features of buses in Tokyo

The best feature has to be the raised, individual seats at the front of buses. One is behind the front door and provides the best view of the road. The other lets me watch over the driver’s shoulder. Hitoshi and I have different seat preferences so we don’t have to wrestle and can sit separately if we are needing alone time.

The announcements are interesting. They sometimes advertise community businesses and remind you to take your belongings. The next stop is announced as soon as you leave the previous one and again before you arrive. I appreciate this, especially if I am looking for a stop.

Many buses now have digital boards. The text is usually kanji (characters), followed by hiragana (rounded script) and then often romaji (Roman letters). Using Ueno Station as an example, the board would have 上野 駅, then うえの  えき and finally Ueno Station. It is okay to ask the driver to tell you when your stop comes, even if it’s only your best attempt at Japanese. Give it a try!

Bus stop signs usually have large text that I can read from the bus. This helps me figure out where I am going. Schedules are usually posted on the stop pole and I really like this service, especially since it can be more difficult to find schedules online in English. Some stops in busier areas, like the East Ikebukuro bus stop zone, show estimated arrival times.

The best places to sit, besides those coveted front, single seats, are the single row of seats on the right side of the bus and the very back row that stretches the entire width of the bus. The only time I can sit in those single seast is when buses are not busy though as they are often designated for those with mobility challenges.

That last row of the bus is great to have a little more room side-to-side. There is also usually a shelf behind you where we’ve put bags. If your legs are sky high long though, you’ll be in for a tight squeeze. But this is normal for most seats on the bus.

Operators, Cost and Paying

Toei Bus is the main operator in Tokyo. Regular Toei buses cost Y210. Given fluctuating exchange rates, let’s say this is around $2.00 CDN or 1.50 Euros.

Transfers are not offered. In other words, you only get to ride on that one bus for one fare. If you switch buses, you pay again.

Other operators charge arond the same or more. Toei runs other buses but I have only used the regular ones.

Toei bus stop sign

cute Toei bus logo, Asakusa, Tokyo

If you don’t have exact change, get change from the box beside the driver. Insert a Y1,000 bill in the slot or coins into the chute below the bill slot and change will come out below that. Bigger bills are not usually accepted.

Pay by putting the fare in the opening that sometimes has a little moving conveyor belt at the bottom. The driver will put his or her hand over the slot where you are not supposed to put money and guide you to where your money goes. (I’ve been confused more than once so have plenty of experience with this gesture.)

You can also pay using a refillable fare card such as Suica or Pasmo. If you don’t have enough money on your card, you can charge the card on the bus only with a Y1,000 bill or coins. We found this out the hard way when we had a Y5,000 bill and nothing else. While we eventually scraped together enough change between the two of us for our fare, we held up the bus in the process.


Besides the obvious of giving up your seat to someone who needs it and not sitting in the zone reserved for people needing support (even though I often see people ignoring this), there were some things I learned.

Exact change before getting on the bus is appreciated because then you don’t impact the schedule.

If you get on a bus in the middle, get your fare ready before you get off. This is again so you don’t hold up the bus.  You aren’t supposed to walk around the bus when it’s moving so wait until a red light and go to the driver to get change using the machine.

Eating on the bus is frowned upon, although I have eaten candies and had a drink from my water bottle without issue.

This is hard to do if you aren’t familiar with the route but make your way towards the front of the bus before your stop, especially if it’s crowded. Otherwise, you need to call out to the driver to wait. “Su-mi-ma-sen!” should do the trick.

Bringing luggage is not a good idea. There are usually no racks, seats are narrow, some seats are over the wheel so your knees are up at your chin (beware if you are tall!), and most buses have stairs to reach the back.

This is not to say that we have never taken large bags on the bus. We only had the bus where we lived so we took snowboards and bags for weekends away, but the routes were not busy. During rush hour, this would not have been possible.

our pile of bags at Kyoto Station

too much stuff for the bus

Discount Passes

If you’re taking more than two rides in a day, I love the Toei One-day Economy Pass. Ask the driver for i-chi-ni-chi jo-sha ke-n. It still costs Y500, despite fares going up Y10 with the tax increase in 2014.

We have never used it but the Tokyo One-Day Free Ticket (scroll down in the link) looks useful. Note! The ticket is not free but it allows you to travel freely within a zone. As an aside, this use of “free” is common. I asked my second employer if the workplace was “smoke free”, meaning there were no smokers. He thought I wanted to smoke anywhere!

No smoking sign

Please. No walking while carrying lit oversized cigarettes. (Mount Tsukuba)

If you’ve taken the bus in Tokyo as a tourist or resident, what have your experiences been? Are you a regular bus rider wherever you live?


7 thoughts on “Tokyo by bus – raised seats, big bags no no and discount passes

  1. I quite like the bus here in London.

    When I moved to London I didn’t have a job for the first couple of months, so I often took the bus to do some sightseeing. I preferred the front seats on the upper deck of a double decker, it gives you a fantastic view, although sometimes I would close my eyes in fear we would hit a car…. the viewpoint is also slightly deceptive because you’re basically sitting “on top” of the driver.

    The good thing about London buses is that some routes take you quite a long distance, for the same single ticket price. I also feel you see different things from a bus than if you walk along that same street.

    Nowadays with work I don’t often take the bus as it just get’s stuck in traffic (rush hour), but if I’m not in a hurry or if it’s late a night and no traffic, I still like to catch one…

    • Good for you for sightseeing! It took me ages to do the same in Tokyo when I wasn’t working. 😀
      I know what you mean about the double deckers and panicing about hitting cars in front! Or taking off tree branches! But yes, those views are splendid. Alas, the last time I took a bus in London, it took us centuries to move all of five blocks and I stuck to walking after. Ha ha!
      I love having someone else drive me around. It’s the ultimate! Do you know of any good routes in London that aren’t swamped but also have a nice view?

      • It depends on what you consider a nice view 🙂
        There are still some heritage routemasters in Central London, I think from The Tower to Trafalqar Square, so quite touristy area.
        Personally I prefer the routes that take you slightly out of Central London, through the pretty boroughs like Kensington & Chelsea.
        And of course it always depends on the time you travel…

  2. Oh, so nice cheap bus tickets! In Finland it was insane as a bus ticket from my area to Helsinki (just 10-15min bus trip) was 5 Euros!!! It was always cheaper and quicker to use your own car…

    • Egads! That’s crazy! I agree. The bus tickets in Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, Canadia are way too high, in my opinion. Both are over $3 for one ride, although you do get a 90 minute transfer. But you can take an hour just to get to your destination so it’s not really valuable in terms of getting back. Fares in Vancouver are also highish but they have a zone system. I thought fares in Toronto were not bad. Ha! I just checked and they are *less* than Edmonton and Calgary but then again, they have a significantly higher ridership. As for cheaper and quicker with a car, I think it depends where you are going as parking can be horrendous. What about in Helsinki?? I can’t remember what my friends had to say on the subject.

      • Within Helsinki itself I think the ticket is around 4 Euros but not too sure anymore. Parking is terrible there though. Once we wanted to pick someone up from the Railwaystation so we checke dout the next door post office parking lot…oh it was something like 5min costs 5 Euros and every minute longer is another Euro!!! I usually just didnt pay and get the 60 Euro fine which I never paid as I had German registration on my car and they didnt bother sending it to my German adress…I think in the end I owed them several thousand euros :p

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