How to get to Hiroshima? At 36,000 yen the shinkansen cost a lot more money than I was prepared to pay and the Seishun 18, while less than a third of the price, would have left me with one full day in the city and two on the train. The best of the remaining choices turned out to be Willer Express, the biggest of the discount coach operators, who were charging just under 15,000 yen return for their overnight services from Shinjuku to Hiroshima Station.
Out of the west exit at Shinjuku Station, I followed a commuter tunnel as far as Shinjuku Centre, crossed back under the road, and eventually found the check-in desk by a Lawson's Convenience Store. A man spoke at me in rapid Japanese, waved his arm in the direction of a bench seat (the first and only part of the exchange I understood) and handed me a voucher for a free cup of coffee at McDonald's. Ten minutes later he reappeared with a megaphone and led us to the bus.
You couldn't see much with the curtains drawn and the lights off, but soon we were out of Tokyo and a flap at the edge of the window revealed slow-moving traffic on the Tokaido Road. I'd paid extra for the Relax bus, which had "improved cushions" and "a front seat span...30cm longer for more free space". There was an arm rest separating me from my neighbour, who was curled up like an egg, with his head sticking out at a right angle across the aisle. I pushed back my seat, using all of the "maximum reclining degree", pulled down the attached lampshade-shaped head cover until it almost reached my chest, and blocked out what little remained of the light.
Most often we sped, sometimes we crawled, there wasn't a sound on the bus but the changing of gears. At midnight, three and a half hours into the journey, we stopped at the services and everyone got off to peer at vending machines. I must have slept, fitfully, afterwards because the next thing I remember distinctly was half the bus emptying at Fukuyama. The clock said 6.02. The only thing left in the seat next to me was a thin red blanket.
We pulled into Hiroshima early, in the middle of the morning rush. There was a cafe selling Danish pastries and an underpass to the other side of the station. People were sitting watching breakfast TV on a giant screen. All the bakeries had special offers on. By eight o'clock I was out of sight of the station, across the first river, looking at a shrine built on the roof of a concrete car park.