Back in April, then-Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose proudly announced a grand scheme to launch a 24-hour bus service in the capital. Little did he imagine that his pet project would be getting off the ground just as he was resigning over a scandal.
Around 1 a.m. Dec. 21, a line was waiting in front of Tokyu Plaza at JR Shibuya Station for the launch of the all-night bus service to Roppongi. Run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the bus will allow people to travel between two of Tokyo’s most popular nightlife spots once an hour for ¥400, double the usual fare.
The all-night bus service is aimed at making nighttime travel more affordable and convenient, and at boosting Tokyo’s profile ahead of the 2020 Olympics, according to the Transportation Bureau. For now, it is being offered only in the early hours of Saturday to gauge interest and demand.
The service got off to a festive start at 1:10 a.m. as the bus, packed with well over 40 passengers ranging from partygoers to talkative university students and slightly drunk office workers, headed out to great fanfare. The jovial mood prevailed during the roughly 20-minute ride.
Arriving in Roppongi, the passengers disembarked near Azabu Police Station to be greeted by a swarm of reporters and a security guard. According to the Transportation Bureau, 283 people, including reporters and city bureaucrats, used the bus that night.
A bevy of young women, all sporting Santa Claus scarves, said they were headed to a nightclub for a Christmas party. When told this would be the first run of Tokyo’s all-night bus service, they celebrated.
“I think this will be awesome!” said one of the women, a 24-year-old who only identified herself by her last name, Kamiya. “I would say a bus is much more convenient for me than a taxi because it’s cheaper,” she said. Her 22-year-old companion, who only wished to be identified as Satsuki, agreed.
“We originally thought about using a taxi, but then realized there were too many people waiting to catch one,” she said.
A self-acknowledged bus aficionado, Toshio Gunji, 49, welcomed the initiative.
The pub employee predicted that the nascent bus service would find a following in younger people eager to go clubbing at all hours.
Despite Gunji’s assertion, however, the passengers that night seemed to skew toward men and the middle-aged as the night went on, many of them white-collar workers.
One of them, Atsushi Nakayama, 38, was merely riding out of frustration. He’d missed the last train in Roppongi and was unable to hail a cab. So he just decided to try his luck somewhere else.
Many of the men who boarded the bus in Shibuya and Roppongi were doing the same, saying they didn’t want to stand in long lines freezing to death waiting for a yearend taxi and were simply using the bus to relocate to somewhere with better odds.
It didn’t work. A pair of office workers who identified themselves as Kobayashi, 36, and Masuda, 28, rode the bus to Shibuya, desperate to find a taxi home. When they got off the bus, they uttered a groan of disappointment. The cab situation was just as bad.
“At this time of the year, it’s very difficult to grab a taxi because lots of salarymen are obviously busy attending yearend parties,” said Kobayashi, predicting demand for the all-night bus would probably sink once the “bonenkai” rush is over.
Another businessman, 45, echoed that view.
“Unless they expand the service beyond a Shibuya-Roppongi route, I don’t think the service will be able to establish a solid following,” he said.
The all-night service might also entice men to work even longer past the last train, he cautioned.
A foreign man in his 40s, meanwhile, said he would rather see the subways run all night.
According to Tokyo transportation official Yoshinori Nishikawa, however, that option isn’t in the cards. Subways and trains, he said, need to undergo maintenance during the night. This requires the electricity to be turned off.
“So it’ll be extremely hard to realize that, given the technical difficulties,” he said.
To ride the metro night bus from Shibuya, go to stop 18 (between Tokyu Plaza and west exit of JR Shibuya Station, near the highway) or stop 51 (by Tokyu Toyoko department store on the east side of the station, across from Mizuho Bank). In Roppongi, the stop is between Mitsui Sumitomo Bank and Azabu Police Station, between the main crossing and Roppongi Hills.