The party bus gets a little more grown up.
English-friendly Japanese bus company Willer Travel is now offering a unique chance to wine and dine while exploring the regional cuisine of Japan with their new restaurant bus tours. Their open-top, two-story custom bus features sway-proof dining on the top floor and a mobile kitchen on the first, allowing 25 riders to enjoy fine dining on the move and make the most of their travel time.
▼ All aboard the party bus!
We joined a trial run of the program in Tokyo, introducing the launch of the service in Niigata Prefecture for April through June this year.
▼ The theme of the Niigata program is “Matsuri” or festival, so we were seen off with a taiko drum performance to get in the festival mood.
▼ The interior featured traditional festival lanterns and flags. Slip-free surfaces and drink holders keep everything in place while you trundle along.
Our abridged menu featured copious amounts of Niigata’s famous sake, of course, plus a terrine of Sado Island black pork, deep fried northern shrimp from the Sea of Japan, a risotto made with the prefecture’s famous Koshihikari rice, and farm-fresh sauteed vegetables. On the actual tours, riders will be treated to a few more courses, including a tartlet made with Echigohime strawberries!
▼ The delicious miso sauce on the terrine was made with miso from a Niigata company with several hundred years’ experience. Every aspect of the meal was created with local flavor.
While the plateware and cutlery look chic, they are actually made of pressed paper and bamboo, making them a perfect choice from the perspective of safety, style and sustainability. I was concerned about the feasibility of eating and drinking on a swaying bus, but it was no problem at all. Things might get challenging after a bit more sake, but by then you probably wouldn’t care.
With the open-top bus, we got to enjoy the warm sunshine and brisk spring air, though warm blankets were on hand in case anyone was chilly. It also provided us with some nice views of Tokyo Tower. For the Niigata courses, the large windows and open top will give you expansive views of the countryside, allowing you to snap some great shots on the move. Just remember to keep your seatbelt on!
If you are interested in joining one of the restaurant bus tours, there are currently two courses available on Willer’s English website, both offered every Saturday during the program period. Fittingly for foodies, they combine some of the prefecture’s famous tourist sites with tours of the region’s food and beverage makers.
Course A combines the Fukushima Lagoon with visits to a sake brewer, a farmers’ village and a strawberry farm.
▼ The Fukushima Lagoon helps sustain the farms nearby.
Photo: Willer Travel
Course B travels along the Sea of Japan to the Sakata Dunes Lake, stopping at a local winery and a farm in the dunes.
▼ The Sakata Dunes Lake
Photo: Willer Travel
Both tours are priced at 15,210 yen (US$134) per person and depart from Niigata Station.
We definitely enjoyed our time on the restaurant bus and can recommend the experience for anyone traveling to Niigata this spring. And keep your eyes on Willer to see where the restaurant bus is headed next!
If you can’t make it to Niigata, but like the idea of tourism multi-tasking, check out Japan’s top 10 historic hotels and ryokan inns.
Top photo: Willer Travel
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