I took a highway bus from Hiroshima to Kyoto for short trip this past weekend. Since the bus ride takes about six to six and a half hours (with short 15-min breaks every hour and a half or so), and since I only spent an afternoon and part of a morning in Kyoto, I spent approximately the same amount of time getting to and from Kyoto as I did actually being in Kyoto. Unlike the night bus that I took my first time to Kyoto, though, this ride was restful and relaxing. There weren’t many people on it, and it was a fun experience. Even though the bus ride was long, I never felt bored.
The first bus I took, with the red seats, was an “theater”-style bus. Some of the movies they had were really good, and I thought they were even better quality than the movies available on the last airplane I took. “Les Miserables” was one of them. I started to watch it, but even though I was interested, I stopped, because it really was depressing, and I took this trip to have fun.
The second bus wasn’t a theater bus, but it had blue “relaxwide” seats in front. I had a “relaxwide” seat, and it was the best thing ever. For the first part of the trip, there wasn’t anyone in the seats behind me, so I stretched my comfy chair all the way back and stared out the big windows. It’s so much more fun taking a bus during the day when you don’t have to make yourself try and fall asleep.
Going by bus was very enjoyable, especially the second time around with the big seats. It’s quiet and peaceful, partly because the bus has rules to keep everyone happy.
The rest stops in Japan are pretty amazing. There must be smaller rest stops, too, but all the ones we stopped at every hour and a half or so were really spacious. This one had a Starbucks, which was regrettable because I’d already had the special sakura-flavored drinks for two days in a row and was trying to hold off till later, when I could buy one to save for Monday. Since there’s no Starbucks in Waki or Iwakuni, and since it’s special sakura drink season, I get all excited when I see a Starbucks (even though there’s one 20 minutes from my apartment by train).
Many of the rest stops had stands set up in front of the regular stores there selling the kinds of foods you can get at a festival. They were a little different at every stop, and I’d get out and try one thing every time we stopped.
At the market above, which was in Okayama, I was buying some small Chinese buns when I noticed that the stand was selling kibidango, a special kind of dango that appears in the Japanese folktale Momotaro. I just spent the last few weeks in the Hi, Friends textbook with the sixth graders acting out a simple version of the Momotaro story in English (“A kibidango, please!”), so I got all excited and went and got the kibidango, too. It was thicker and darker inside than mochi usually is. Apparently that’s because it was made with millet, which doesn’t mean a lot to me…but the dango was good.
I got this at one of our morning stops on the first day. I really wanted to eat some steamed man, buns, but they were selling this kind of strange version and I tried it anyway. It’s called 角煮まん, kakuni-man, and it was juicy and felt like I was eating fat (I think. I don’t know how to describe food). It looks like enlarged-bacon bun.
The bathrooms were so nice. They were even nicer than the bathrooms in the nice Umeda Building later. There were rows and rows of stalls (I didn’t have to wait much), and the sinks were all supplied with liquid soap (this doesn’t always happen in Japan). There were also the air-dryers for your hands–not the weak kind but the good kind, where the air blows your hands from both sides as you move your hands up and down. The bathrooms all had signs with a picture of either a Western or a Japanese toilet, and when you enter a stall and close the door, the sign changes to say “occupied” or something so that you know which stalls are closed from a distance. The sinks were mostly cold water, but some were marked with a “warm water” sign if you wanted to wash your hands with warm water, and there was a low sink in one of the bathrooms for kids to use. They also had the spray for you to wipe down your toilet seat before you sit down instead of paper seat covers, which is common here as well.
On the way to and from Kyoto, we also stopped at the Willer Bus stop adjacent to the Umeda Building in Osaka. I’m pretty sure I’d seen this building before, but after ordering a coconut latte from the cafe there and getting back on the bus, I started to wonder what there is to do in a building this big. It didn’t feel like a tourist area. I checked my phone and learned that there’s actually a restaurant mall called “Takimi-koji” based on the Showa Period located on the basement floor. I probably wouldn’t have had time anyway, but it looks really cool from the pictures, so if I take the Willer Express again and stop here, maybe I’ll hurry downstairs to check it out.
Willer Express had its own cafe right next to the Umeda Building. I wanted to try it out, but the Umeda Building won out because the bus driver directed us to the bathrooms there. Does the cafe not have bathrooms…? Do the people working there just walk over to the Umeda Building to use the facilities and then go back? haha.
I never thought I’d like the bus as much as the Shinkansen, but it was such a good experience that I’d like to do it again. You spot all sorts of things that you wouldn’t normally see. I saw my third Statue of Liberty replica (I’m pretty sure it was this one, bottom of page), a random bird statue thing, and a huge castle that’s apparently a replica of some Castle in Germany (I meant to get a picture of it, but I was too fascinated to look through my bag instead of staring at it). I want to go see the castle, but according to Japan’s Yahoo Answers, the inside is much less impressive than the outside. But, still.