Show a picture of the above bus to anyone from Japan in their sixties or older and you’ll get an immediate reaction: a smile and a recollection of a less frenetic “Nippon”, more tranquil, peaceful and serene…
While almost every bus (and truck) in Japan today utilizes a cab-over-engine layout to maximize space and maneuverability on Japan’s tight roadways, it wasn’t always that way. In the post-war era, up until the early 1970s, Japan’s transportation companies, both public and private, used the ubiquitous “bonnet bus.”
Why bonnet? The Japanese use “bonnet” in the same sense that our friends in the UK do – to designate the hood or engine cover of a vehicle. These conventional layout buses used an existing truck chassis that exposed their engine “bonnet”, in comparison to a forward control or a rear engine bus that concealed the engine within its bodywork.
And ubiquitous they were as Japan’s economic miracle was just beginning and car ownership was still mostly for the wealthy. Buses and trains were the main mode of transportation and these coaches were an everyday sight on Japan’s streets.
Let’s look at some representative examples from Japan’s major manufacturers:
In comparison to today where Hino has the largest share of the Japanese bus market, Izusu was by far the largest producer of buses and trucks in the post-war period through the 1970s. This is a 1948 BX 91 model, one of the first buses produced after the war.
This was followed by the BX 141 in the mid-1950s – here in 21 pax form.
Next came Isuzu’s most popular coach, the BXD 30 – the “GM Old Look” of Japan – it was made from 1963 to 1970.
Toyota also made bonnet buses…
…as did Mitsubishi-Fuso – this one a 4WD version used in Northern Japan.
Bonnet buses were noted for their colorful livery…
Most used an inline 6 cylinder diesel engine in the 4.0 Litre range. Interiors used both forward facing and side seating.
But as they say, progress marches forward. The space efficiency of under-floor or rear engine buses made them much more profitable for operators… here is a late-50’s Hino rear engine model – by the early 1970s, most bonnet buses had been retired.
However, as they evoke such pleasant memories for most Japanese, many bonnet buses have been refurbished and are being used as shuttles near tourist areas and for excursions. This 1968 4WD model Isuzu runs between a train station and a hot springs resort in Iwate Prefecture…
…and this BXD 30 takes tourists around scenic areas in Shikoku.
As mentioned before, the sight of one is guaranteed to bring a smile.