Japan has a reputation of being an astronomically expensive country. To be sure, it’s not a budget destination, but one of the biggest expenses travelers face — intra-country travel — doesn’t have to leave you with an empty wallet.

Many people purchase the JR rail pass which provides unlimited travel within the country’s train system for a specified period of time. This can be one of the most convenient and fastest methods of traversing the country, but the price tag is a little hefty and, for our itinerary, would be as expensive as buying individual train tickets. Instead, we opted to take the Willer Express company’s overnight buses. Overnight buses are usually something we try to avoid since they are often one of the slowest and most uncomfortable methods of transport, but the bus tickets were a fraction of the price of train tickets. Plus, they saved us the cost of two nights spent in hotels.

We purchased our tickets in advance through the Willer Express website and found it to be easy to navigate and make purchases. We ended up buying tickets for two overnight buses: Hiroshima to Kyoto and Kyoto to Tokyo.

As it turns out, not all bus experiences are created equal. On our second ride, Kyoto to Tokyo (JPY4,900 each), we managed to snag two “Relax” class seats. On our first ride, Hiroshima to Kyoto (JPY4,100 each), only “Standard” seats were available.

Our first ride started out alright: We met the bus at the Hiroshima train station parking lot right on time at 10:15PM. Boarding the heated bus was bliss because it allowed us to escape the frigid Hiroshima winter. But the journey soon became memorable for all the wrong reasons: Our seats were not designed with Western-sized butts in mind. After our Extreme Thai “diet”, Her and I were even thinner than usual, but the cushions were still almost as wide as my behind. This meant we had to raise the armrest between us to fit comfortably. It also meant that there was no room to rest on my side or even tilt myself to get comfortable. Technically, the seats reclined, but this function was limited by the knees of the individuals seated behind us.

As we did, other Americans might find amusement with signs indicating customers should ask permission of the person behind them before reclining their seat.

Ask permission to recline?!” You say. “So you become the chump they deny? No thank you. Better to ask forgiveness later.”

And that’s exactly what I did after managing to elicit protests in Japanese from the girl seated behind me. I did my best to apologize in Japanese and then raised my seat back to the original, nearly right angle, and tried to sleep. However, it seemed every time I managed to drift off, the bus arrived at one of the six intermediate stops. The lights would turn on and the driver would begin talking over the PA system in Japanese for several minutes. When the bus started moving again, the driver would again speak in ironically amplified hushed tones for several minutes before shutting off the lights. As soon as I fell asleep, the cycle would begin again. I felt like a zombie by 6:30 a.m., the time we pulled into the Kyoto train station the next morning.

Her, whose rear had become uncharacteristically bony after the Extreme Thai diet, experienced a different sort of agony: The Dreaded Numb Butt. She wiggled and wormed around in her seat, shifting from one cheek to the next at no avail. She finally resigned herself to reappropriating her inflatable neck pillow ($5 at Jupiter’s Wal-Mart) from the window pane to under her tush.

Our second ride, however, was a much more pleasant experience. The “Relax” class seats are more akin to first-class airplane seats than to motor coach seats. Still two seats to a side, the “Relax” seats were wide enough for me to comfortably rest on my side. In addition, the seats reclined to a very comfortable 140 degrees (not quite flat, but still luxurious compared to the other seats) and included leg rests and small privacy canopies that folded down to shield passengers’ faces from the near seizure-inducing flickering of lights. The bus also featured pre-recorded messages in English and Japanese that came on when arriving at each stop.

I passed out after only 20 minutes or so into the Kyoto to Tokyo trip and slept soundly until we arrived at Tokyo station the next morning. It was almost a surprise when Her shook me awake to let me know that we were just a few minutes from our stop. Although the bus wasn’t quite a hotel bed, I still managed to get some decent rest, and we were able to promptly begin exploring Tokyo on our first day there.

In summary, the Willer Express company provides excellent service at very modest prices, though it makes sense to pay the 10% additional fee for more comfortable seats — many of which come equipped with excellent features like free WiFi. Although a bus can’t match the convenience of trains and planes, budget travelers will be drawn to the attractive prices offered by bus companies. And as overnight buses also eliminate the need to get a hotel room for an evening, that’s another win for the budget-conscious traveler!