When there came a time when I wanted to go someplace other than work or the supermarket and I was still car-less, I had to learn the ropes of riding our local bus lines. (I now have a car, but more on that some other time.) Technically, I work in the public transportation department at city hall. (International Exchange and Public Transportation were both such small departments that they lumped us together.) In fact, the one person in charge of all public transportation for my city sits on the desk next to mine. But, when I asked about bus services from my apartment to city hall soon after arriving, he was unable to tell me if any bus goes between those two locations (Answer: it does, but only about 4 times a day in each direction.)
The town buses are often seen barring a sign that says “School Bus.” School buses are not very common in Japan. By law, elementary school students must have a school within walking distance of where they live. For a rural town like mine dealing with a shrinking population, this means schools that used to have 80 kids are teaching 10 kids, sometimes even less. Towns are struggling to figure out a sustainable way to deal with unercrowded schools and one solution is bussing kids to larger schools. This allows the town to hire less teachers and convert their unused school buildings into senior centers or nursing homes. (A shrinking population is an aging population!)
When you take the bus during the day (i.e. not right before or right after school), most of your fellow riders will be old folks, if there are any fellow riders. On the day I took this pictures, the bus was packed! I mean, almost 1/3 of the seats were taken. I have never seen so many people on the city bus, before or since.