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Tokyo’s secret midnight runs: Midnight Commuter Express Buses

An articulated bus stops to load passengers at Chuo-Rinkan Station in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan.
–courtesy Jason L Gatewood

Camp out in front of any major Tokyo area train station between 10pm and midnight and you’ll catch a glimpse of our “third rush hour” that takes place as commuters make a mad dash to catch the last trains headed out to the suburbs before the railways shut down for the night. As baffling as it may seem (and as many a stranded ex-pat or tourist can relate), the highly-praised public transport in the world’s biggest metropolis comes to a screeching halt during the early morning hours as maintenance is done during these times. The only recourse for many is to take an expensive taxicab, book a capsule hotel or booth at an internet cafe, or idle the night away in a 24 hour restaurant, a bar or even a park bench. But for some, there is an alternative — Midnight Commuter Bus routes.

During the weekdays and for a premium price (usually distance based on the order of double to triple the normal train fare) many of the private railways operate buses after the last train to ferry people back home from major terminals like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Tokyo and Shinagawa stations. In many cases, the information for these routes is only presented in Japanese, however people with Apple devices can find this information using the Maps app provided by Apple. Just by doing a regular routing giving a time after the trains have stopped will yield one of these bus options if you’re one of the lucky few to live near one of the routes.

Here are a few resources that you can use to keep in your own “I’m out past midnight in Tokyo” toolkit — you know, just in case…

(This list is by no means exhaustive and is meant to give an idea of service; please check listings for exact times and dates services are in effect. This list only show final destinations; stops along the routes can be seen by visiting the respective operator’s websites or by using a map service.)

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