Highway Bus Travel Across Japan - Part I

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Highway Bus Travel Across Japan - Part I

We begin this epic adventure at Kagoshima Chuo Station. But first, we purchase a special ticket which allows us to take unlimited rides on highway and local buses in Kyushu. It costs 10,000 yen (S$123). The cities that are connected by highway buses from Kagoshima are Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki, Kumamoto and Nagasaki. The first city we’ll head to on a 37-seater highway bus is Kumamoto. The bus, called Kirishima, departs from Kagoshima at 12.50pm and travels along National Route 3. The 180km-journey to the Kumamoto Traffic Centre lasts nearly 3.5 hours.

The second city we will travel to by highway bus is Nagasaki. As the bus departs at 5.40pm from Kumamoto, we make use of the time to visit shops nearby which sell goods related to the popular bear mascot called Kumamon. We also go the Senmin Community Hall Kumamon Square, a 15-minute walk from the station. This place serves as the base of the nationwide activities of Kumamon, the “sales manager” of Kumamoto prefecture. He performs at the square four times a week.

The ride to Nagasaki Station onboard the Rindo highway bus takes slightly over three hours. We reach Nagasaki just in time to catch the last bus departing at 9.30pm for the third city of Hakata in Fukuoka. This highway bus has been operating since 1966 and is called Kyushu. We reach Fukuoka’s Tenjin bus terminal after about 3 hours. We spend the night at Hakata and have dinner at a well-established giblet hotpot restaurant called Kobayashi. It is open till 2am. By the end of Day One, we have travelled 560km and cleared three cities.

On the second day, we make our way to the bus terminal. Nishitetusu Tenjin Bus Centre is Japan's biggest exclusive bus terminal for highway buses. Besides Kyushu, there are highway buses that travel to areas such as Chugoku, Shikoku, Kinki, Chubu and Tokyo. The fourth city we’ll head to is Beppu in Oita prefecture. It is known as one of Japan’s hot spring cities, with over 2,000 hot spring wells. The highway bus that travels from Hataka to Beppu is called Toyonokuni and departs at 7.50am. The travelling distance is 150km and the journey takes slightly over two hours. We arrive at Beppu at about 10am. From Beppu, the fifth city we’ll be heading to is Hiroshima. The bus departs at 12.40pm, so we take the opportunity to visit the nearby Takegawara hot spring. This public hot spring was established in 1879 and is known for its sand bath. There are 17 public hot spring resorts in Beppu and Takegawara is one of two hot springs where a sand bath is available. This rare bath is said to have pain-relieving benefits.

The highway bus to Hiroshima is called Beppu Yukemuri and the journey takes about 5 hours and 45 minutes. At 2.20pm, the bus boards a ferry at Takeda Tsuko port and resumes its journey to Hiroshima. Passengers remain inside the bus during the ferry ride. At 4.35pm, the highway bus disembarks from the ferry and heads towards Ichiro, Hiroshima. The bus arrives at the Hiroshima Bus Center at 6.15pm.

From Hiroshima, there are several routes that stretch out to the Kansai, Sanin and Shikoku regions. We will head by highway bus to Takamatsu in Kagawa prefecture, the sixth city of this trip. The departure time is 7.20pm so we have dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant near the bus terminal. We tuck into delicious Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and meatball yakisoba.

Later, we board the Takamatsu Express Hiroshima. After 2.5 hours, the bus crosses the longest bridge in Japan. Seto Ohashi Bridge spans 9.4km and stretches over the Seto Inland Sea. At 10.45pm, we reach Takamatsu Station. Since it is late, we decide to spend the night at Takamatsu. On Day Two, we have travelled a total distance of 590km.

The next morning, the third day of our trip, we savour Kagawa's specialities Sanuki udon and Kamatama udon at the Sakaeda restaurant. Established in 1963 and located behind Kagawa’s prefectural office, it opens at 6am and is packed with local residents and tourists daily. After this, we board the Otoku highway bus which departs from Takamatsu at 10.55am for the seventh city of Tokushima. The highway bus to the eighth city of Kyoto leaves Tokushima Station at 3.15pm. During the two-hour wait, we decide to take the ropeway to the summit of Mount Bizan. It is situated at an altitude of 280m. After this, we check out the tourist spot of Awa Odori Dance Hall. Dance shows are held here four times a day. Visitors also get to learn how to dance and later show off their skills. The best dancers receive a lei and get commended for their outstanding dance performance.

The highway bus that travels from Tokushima to Kyoto is called Awa Express Kyoto. It passes by Awajishima Island and Hyogo. The bus arrives at Kyoto Station at around 6.45pm. As we’ve missed the 6.30pm bus going to the ninth city of Kanazawa, we decide to travel by an overnight highway bus, which leaves Kyoto at around 11.45pm.

Tips:
1) Make use of long bus journeys to plan your route ahead and check out bus routes and timetables
2) While waiting for your next bus to depart, explore the city you’re in and visit some tourist attractions if possible

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