We take a ride on this new travel alternative to the Shinkansen bullet train.

Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail network has become world-famous for the speed and efficiency with which it carries travelers across the country. But there’s another option for long-distance travel in Japan: overnight buses, which are slower than the bullet train yet paradoxically can give you more time to spend seeing the sights of Japan.

Let’s say, for example, you’re spending the day and evening in Tokyo, hanging out in the Ikebukuro neighborhood. The next day, you’re planning to check out some of the cool stuff in Osaka, half-way across the country. If you’re taking the Shinkansen, you’ve got two options. Option 1 is to get on the train at about 8:45, make your way to a station where the Shinkansen comes through, board the bullet train, arrive in Osaka at midnight, pay for a hotel, and get up the next morning and head out into the city. Or, you can pay for another night’s hotel in Tokyo, get up at the crack of dawn and get on the train at about 4:30, and arrive in Osaka at 8:25.


Or, you could leisurely enjoy Tokyo until 10:50 p.m., hop on the Dream Sleeper overnight bus, drift off to sleep, and awaken in the heart of Osaka at 6:40 a.m., almost two hours earlier than the first Shinkansen of the day would have gotten you there.

Usually, overnight buses are the cheapest way to travel long distances in Japan. However, a ride on the Dream Sleeper, which just began service in January, from Ikebukuro to Osaka currently costs 18,000 yen (US$155), a discount from the usual rate of 20,000 yen, compared to the approximately 13,600 yen such a route would cost using the Shinkansen. Still, when you consider that taking the overnight bus saves you a night of hotel fees, it starts to look like a pretty attractive deal.


The Dream Sleeper’s premium pricing also gives you much more luxurious amenities than ordinary overnight buses. When boarding, passengers are asked to remove their shoes, much as they would when entering a Japanese home.


This is to help keep the vehicle’s plush carpeting soft and clean. And while overnight buses usually have passengers sleeping in the same open area, as on an airplane, the Dream Sleeper provides each traveler with a private room.



The “zero gravity seat” was created using NASA-developed technology, the bus’s operator boasts. Near your elbow, you’ll find a panel of buttons that let you adjust the soft yet supportive seat to fit your preferences. The back can be reclined to a 45-degree angle, and you can stretch your legs out fully in front of you, so as long as you’re used to sleeping on your back, you should be able to get comfortable and doze off to sleep pretty easily (and since you have a private compartment, if you wanted to, you could even change into a set of pajamas if you’ve brought them with you).




A blanket and headphones are provided for passengers, and each compartment is equipped with a USB port and electrical outlet, so that you can be sure of arriving in Osaka with your gadgets at full charge. Free Wi-Fi is also available, in case you want to read a couple of RocketNews24 articles before getting some shuteye.



▼ You even get your own personal air purifier.


The Dream Sleeper makes one rest stop, at the Ashigara Service Area in Shizuoka Prefecture. If you feel the call of nature at any other time, though, just make your way to the back of the vehicle, where you’ll find a powder room and bathroom.


The bathroom even has a fancy bidet-function toilet.


That way even if you’re not riding the bullet train, you can still experience one of Japan’s technological marvels while moving about the country.

Related: Dream Sleeper website
Photos ©RocketNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]