Enjoy Tokyo in a new way! Have a luxury course meal while atop a double-decker bus! Read about our experience seeing famous sites in Tokyo while being treated to delicious Japanese cuisine, freshly cooked!
Willer Express is a famous bus company in Japan, known mainly for its comfortable overnight and long-distance bus trips across Japan.
So imagine our surprise when we found out about their restaurant bus, offered in both Tokyo and Kyoto!
They had to put this particular service on hold during the pandemic, but now it’s back! And they invited us to experience the Japanese lunch course, so of course we said yes!
Neither of us who went had ever actually been on a double-decker tour bus in Tokyo - although of course we’ve seen many of them around. So we were both very curious and very excited.
Introducing The Restaurant Bus
We arrived at Tokyo Station and headed for the meeting point. No matter which exit you take (north or south) on the Marunouchi side, it was easy to find the meeting spot. Just cross the main street right in front of the center of Tokyo Station, head to the left a little, and you’ll see the large pink and purple double-decker bus!
It was such a cute color, and it was covered with drawings of famous landmarks and symbols from around Tokyo!
At first glance, you can tell right away that something was different from all other double-decker buses, where all the seats face forward. Instead, the seats face each other, with a table in between. (People on the street noticed us immediately! A few even began to take photos when they spotted us!)
Once we checked in and headed up to our seats, we couldn’t contain our surprise.
The interior was so beautifully designed. It reminded us of luxury trains in Japan. We could tell immediately that it wouldn’t simply just be a touristy bus trip around Tokyo from the sheer attention to detail.
The windows and overhead clear roof allowed so much natural sunlight, and we couldn’t wait to see what we could see during our trip.
As for seats, there are tables for 4, as well as for 2. As it’s a bus, the seats are on the smaller side, but the seats were cushy and comfortable.
(Passengers are asked to wear seatbelts for the entire trip.)
Luckily for us (we’re a bit weak to the recent summer heat), it was a day that was a bit overcast, so clear out but not too hot. But what made the trip extra nice and comfortable were the strategically placed AC vents - about one per table - that could be opened and closed as we wished.
There were baskets behind our seats to put our belongings in. (If you are a tourist and have large luggage, it’s best to leave it in a locker at Tokyo Station, but there’s enough space for a small to medium size backpack.)
As the passengers took their seats, the servers asked us what drinks we’d like.
The drinks do cost extra (besides the drink that comes with dessert). There’s an assortment of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks to choose from.
We ordered sparkling wine and Japanese sake but wondered how we’d be able to keep our drinks from spilling while on the bus.
Look at this amazing glass holder! Regular cylinder glasses can simply be slipped into the circular cutout. But it’s the champagne glass holder that was impressive! The curved spiral cutout allows the stem of the glass to be firmly held in place.
Most of the bus trip is on straight roads, and with expert maneuvering from the driver, there’s absolutely no worry of anything falling or drinks spilling.
Once everyone was seated, they also began to serve the starting appetizers.
Look how beautiful this looks!
In the cup was smoked pickled radish with cream cheese in a yuba (tofu skin) pouch. It was refreshing but also a combination I had never had before - quite an unexpected burst of flavor.
On the plate (from the left) was grilled seven-spice-flavored duck, simmered shrimp, deep-fried tofu mixed with vegetables, and smelt (fish) in sweet and sour sauce.
The food focuses on Edo (former name of Tokyo) traditional ingredients and the presentation is spectacular. The food is freshly prepared on the lower deck and they bring it up to the upper deck. Everything was so good, and we could enjoy it slowly as we set out on the first part of the tour.
Also the mats were made of a firm material so that things didn’t slip or roll off. However, it was a little windy once the roof was opened (yes, it opens!) so I did have to keep an eye on my napkin.
Setting Out - Marunouchi, Nihombashi and On
And we’re off!
We headed towards the Imperial Palace first, passing the tall buildings of the Marunouchi area. We passed the palace and the moat around the outside. We sat back and enjoyed our drinks and food.
The bus guide welcomed us on the tour, letting us know more about the restaurant bus itself as well as the course we were able to take around Tokyo. Our main destination was Asakusa and Skytree before making a loop and heading back to Tokyo Station while looking at various famous spots and what’s known as Tokyo’s shitamachi (downtown) along the way.
After a little while, we got to the Nihombashi area, when they opened the roof! We were so surprised because they opened the roof by hand!
Nihombashi was full of people on a Friday around noon, everyone out and about for lunch (some stopped to stare at us in wonder as we passed), but the bus guide mentioned that it’s a generally quiet area on the weekend, apart from the famous shopping buildings. So depending on the day you take the tour, you might experience different atmospheres in various spots.
The bus guide told us lots of fun facts, especially as we passed through places like Nihombashi. She pointed out things we could see much easier from the bus than on foot, like details on the actual Nihombashi bridge, as well as things you can’t know just by walking by - such as where the edge of the Edo Castle used to be.
One of the thrilling highlights was passing under railway overpasses. Because it’s a double decker bus, we’re at a height that seems to just barely slide right under. We experienced this several times during our bus trip, and each time was as exciting as the last.
It was also fun to pass through Akihabara because being at a height, we were closer to all the colorful ads and signs - and we could see the businesses that are on higher floors that we otherwise might miss. One of the buildings that was about 8 stories high had different maid cafes on every floor all the way to the top.
Ueno to Kappabashi
We passed Ameyoko and Ueno Park and the station area, familiar areas, before heading into an area neither of us were very familiar with. We passed the red torii gate of Shitaya Shrine, which was a sudden pop of color. Curious about it, I looked it up after and it apparently has very pretty seasonal goshuin stamps so I want to go there sometime.
We then entered a section of the street nicknamed “Butsudan Dori” or “Buddhist altar street”. There were so many shops on both sides of the street selling Buddhist altars and related items. There are many shrines and temples in this area built after the war, so many shops consequently opened selling things related to religious practices.
Also just around this area was Kappabashi, a long street selling table and cooking-ware. At the southern entrance of the street was a giant chef’s head on top of the corner building - Niimi Western Tableware.
The guide told us exactly when it was coming so we could be prepared to get this great shot.
And then we were suddenly in Asakusa!
By this time, we were served and enjoyed several more amazing dishes, including chawanmushi (steamed egg) and grilled pork and vegetables with Edo-style miso sauce which was very tasty.
We saw a quick glimpse of Skytree before turning into the street coming up to the famous Kaminarimon.
This was where we saw the most number of tourists gathered in one spot. Some of them stared at us as we drove past, and we waved as they snapped some photos.
This part is the only time we got off the bus in the whole course.
The guide led us to Kaminarimon, and rather than go down the middle of Nakamise Street to Sensoji Temple, we took the side street. This area has more cafes and retro shops compared to the souvenir shops of Nakamise Street, so it was nice to see those as we walked past. There were many tourists wearing yukata and enjoying the traditional architecture and atmosphere.
The guide led us straight to Niomon Gate in front of the main hall of Sensoji Temple. We had about 15 minutes to freely walk around for a while. If it’s your very first time, it might not seem like enough time, but actually it was the perfect amount of time to go look at all the main areas of the main hall. You could even draw your fortune, wash your hands at the large temizu (which looks more like a fountain than other temples), bathe yourself in the smoke of the incense burner, before approaching the main hall to pray. You can also buy yourself a lucky charm.
Read more about Sensoji Temple here.
I also took some time to look at Asakusa Shrine right next to Sensoji, which was much quieter and less crowded.
After which we were guided to the bus parked near Sensoji.
When we got on the bus, the roof was closed for us so we could cool off after our short adventure outside.
During this time, they served us conger eel sushi, which is a specialty that only the dinner course gets. They made a special exception for us that day, and it was SO delicious!
When we were crossing the Sumida River and Skytree appeared overhead, they opened the roof at the best timing!
Skytree looks massive when near the base, and it was fun to just stare up at it in awe as the bus drove near and then past it. It was incredible to see it looming over us as we sat in the bus. We got to see it from many angles without having to walk a single step!
The Last Leg
From Skytree, we headed down south towards Ryogoku. This part of the trip was the area most unfamiliar to us, so it was interesting to listen to the bus guide talk about what kind of people used to live in which areas in this part of Tokyo, what kind of jobs they had and what kind of lives they led.
At this time, they served us Fukagawa-meshi, a rice dish which is a local Tokyo specialty. It was so flavorful and just the perfect amount.
They drove us down a street that led us past the Kyu-Yasuda Teien Garden. It’s surrounded by a wall, but because of our height, we could peek over and see the inside as we passed! It’s a beautiful garden, and I want to go back and visit it sometime.
Right after that, we came to Ryogoku Kokugikan, where they hold sumo tournaments and other special events. Unfortunately we didn’t see any sumo wrestlers, but they’re known to simply walk around the area, so if you’re lucky, you might happen to see some from the bus!
Read more about this area here.
We then passed some areas that were known as having many factories and certain businesses, before we started to see the familiar tall buildings again.
At this time, we enjoyed the beautiful and tasty dessert and after meal drink. I was excited for this part because dessert was Matcha blancmange from Sushi Ginza Onodera and warabimochi - and it was just as delicious as I hoped!
We were back at Tokyo Station before we knew it.
The chef came up to thank us for coming. He informed us that there are other cuisine courses such as the Western (French) course that he recommends we try. (We learned later that there are people who do come back to try a different course, or at a different time of day, as they also offer their courses for dinner!)
The service is currently only available in Japanese, but they are considering accommodating other languages in the future. If you can’t understand Japanese, it’s still fun to see the sights and enjoy the food of course, but we definitely recommend going with someone who can so they can explain all the fun trivia the guide provides during the trip.
The Restaurant Bus also is available in Kyoto! They currently have a morning and lunch kaiseki (traditional Japanese meal) course, and they’ll take you around famous landmarks in Kyoto. You can also walk around the Kiyomizudera area for a while! There are at least 13 places you will pass and can view from the bus as you enjoy a delicious meal! They also occasionally offer bus tours during seasonal events such as the Gion Matsuri Festival - but tickets go fast!
We think spring and autumn would be best for this restaurant bus tour, whether in Tokyo or Kyoto, as the weather is comfortable and you can enjoy the various seasonal sights that the two beautiful seasons have to offer.
We had a fantastic time, and would highly recommend this bus tour for those who want to experience Tokyo in a new way. It’s a nice lunch or dinner for couples or friends (or as a nice gift for someone!), or for those who’d like to see Tokyo’s famous spots that they wouldn’t otherwise, but would prefer not to walk around too much.
Check out our video about our experience!
In collaboration with Willer Restaurant Bus Tokyo. You can make reservations for the Restaurant Bus tour on their website here.