I will be the first to admit that my initial experience on an overnight bus was probably not under the most ideal circumstances. I had become sick a couple days prior to leaving, and while it was just a simple cold, the stuffy nose and lack of Nyquil were making the recovery a slow process.
However, I decided a cold wasn’t going to stop me from taking my well-deserved birthday vacation to Nagoya, so I packed up my bags after work and walked over to the bus stop in a small city in Gunma for my 9:45 pick-up time.
There was a simple reason that I chose the overnight bus over other forms of transportation. For 7000yen (about $70 USD), I had a roundtrip ticket versus paying between 120,000yen to 150,000 (about $120 to $150 USD) for a one-way ride on the Shinkansen. Not to mention that the bus stop was at a local train station.
My city is in the “inaka” (countryside), so in order to take the Shinkansen I would first have to take a train to a bigger city, probably Tokyo. The trade-off was that I was technically going to be traveling for longer. The bus ride would take about 7.5 hours (picking me up at 9:45pm and arriving in Nagoya at 5:20am), while taking the train, including the initial trains into Tokyo, would take about 5 hours.
I had picked up my ticket about two days before I left at the local bus terminal. I speak a decent amount of Japanese, so getting the correct ticket was not so difficult, but even my friends who speak no Japanese have had little problem securing their tickets there. All you need to do is write down where you are going and the days you want to go and return.
As for the bus itself, it was very clean and the drivers were very polite. I gave them my luggage to store, making sure to put the ticket to collect my luggage somewhere easily accessible. Upon finding my seat, I promptly wrapped myself in a blanket and tried to drown out the sound of everything with my Memoirs of a Geisha soundtrack. But that was where it all went downhill.
This is partially my fault. I have great difficulty sleeping in any moving vehicle, and probably should have taken that into account before I was halfway to my destination. The air on the bus was also very, very dry, and it made my breathing very difficult. There was a stop during the journey so the drivers could switch and the passengers could stretch their legs is they wanted, so I used this time to get some fresh air and post a grumpy update on Facebook. Lastly, the bus seemed to sway a lot, and I felt carsick for only the second time in my life.
Maybe some others might have a better opinion of the overnight bus. Other people (friends and students) say they enjoy the convenience greatly, though most will admit to having some difficulty actually sleeping. They are certainly cheap and convenient for traveling Japan on a budget, being cheaper than regular train tickets and saving on a hotel room for the night. Just take my advice and consider yourself (and your mental state upon arrival) when you plan to take an overnight bus.