I wrote this post on the ride home from Nagoya, on September 24th-25th. Somehow I forgot to publish it!
Before I write this post, let me assure you that its not sponsored in any way. I wish it was. These are just my thoughts on long distance travel.
I've now taken two trips across Japan for sightseeing, and both times I've used Willer Express.
I came across their English website thanks to the fine folks at Japan-guide.com. It's pretty easy to navigate to see where I can get to from a particular city and what times and prices are available. It's about as easy as it gets when it comes to making reservations.
I can pay at my local convenience store (Lawson or Family Mart only, I think). Since I don't have a Japanese credit card and I don't want to use a US card, that's a good thing. Willer is a budget bus line, though they aren't the cheapest. They do come close, and the ease of booking in English makes it worth the extra couple bucks. Fares tend to be around 1/3 of the bullet train price, though it takes about three times as long. A 1-1/2 to 2 hour train ride from Tokyo to Nagoya takes around six hours by bus. But when money is tight on a trip it certainly helps. Plus, the longer trips are done at night, which has its own benefits and problems.
For the Nagoya-Tokyo route, I ended up in what they call "Relax" seats which recline, have leg rests, and come with a canopy to block out light and a bit of noise. It came in handy for my morning trip to Nagoya, as I was able to sleep despite the sun shining brightly outside. The return trip included tv monitors with a built-in game console, but the real benefit for me was the included outlet that is charging my phone as I type. I doubt I'd be able to write this post with the little amount of battery I had left wore boarding!
The real long haul was from Tokyo to Hiroshima (there are even-longer buses all the way to Hakata in Fukuoka, Kyushu - 14 hours each way). The trip takes about 10 hours. For that I used regular seating. Both Relax and regular seating is 4-across, a little cramped for a bigger guy like me but not really a problem. There are three-wide premium seating options as well. The ultimate choice is almost like your own little room! It isn't cheap, though.
Most highway buses stop every couple hours so riders can stretch their legs and use the bathroom. Discount operators don't usually have bathrooms on board (one bus style I've seen on their website advertises a powder room). The stops are done at highway rest stops, which usually have a convenience store for snacks and drinks.
You won't have a problem using highway buses (discount ones in particular) if you can handle the long ride. If you're traveling at night (the only way for real long-distance rides) you have to be able to sleep on a bus or handle a day without much sleep. For some people, this can save money on lodging (no arriving in the afternoon or even at night with a wasted vacation day).
The picture below is of the relax seats, unreclined. You should be able to see the (retracted) hood at the top, and the little tv monitors and game controller to the right. The seats are pink - Willer's color scheme. The white spot on the armrest is one of the power outlets.
I think I'll be using Willer to get around a lot more next year, as I hope to take some weekend trips to somewhat distant cities.