When visitors start thinking about travelling around Japan, many immediately think of trains. They visualise being whisked from place to place by the shinkansen, all on the JR Pass. Many people do not know that Japan has an extensive bus network, and this can sometimes be a better way to travel. Here’s why.
Bus tickets can be very economical compared to rail tickets for the same route, and overnight buses are an additional saving on accommodation. Even if you have a JR Pass, buses can work out cheaper than trains. There are also bus passes which can provide further savings, including:
This covers Honshu and also travel to Fukuoka and Matsuyama.
This offers 3 and 4 day options around Kyushu.
This offers 3 and 5 day options in central Japan, around Nagoya, Kanazawa, Takayama and Matsumoto.
This offers 4 and 7 day options covering Honshu north of Tokyo
If you’re on a tight budget, bus travel is really worth looking at.
Multiple companies serve major routes such as Tokyo to Osaka, meaning the pricing can be competitive, with fares as low as 3000 yen. Fares can vary by several thousand yen according to facilities offered on the bus and time of day so it’s worth reviewing available options carefully. Some buses have reclining sleeper seats with privacy curtains, and there are some that are women only. Check the luggage allowance too, as some buses have quite restrictive allowances.
2. Buses go to places that trains don’t go to
Some very scenic spots are not served by railway lines. These are often the places that will make your trip a bit more special. Do you want to go to Shirakawago, Zao Onsen or Lake Towada? A train will only get you so far, and then you’ll need to catch a bus.
3. Buses can be more direct
Even if trains are available, sometimes the bus is more direct. Taking the bus saves changing trains and sometimes quite a lot of time. Examples of this are:
- Tokyo to Kawaguchiko
- New Chitose Airport to Niseko
- Takayama to Matsumoto
To find out more about buses and the routes available, the following are useful resources.
If you going to a smaller place not listed on the websites above, often the local tourist office website will have information on buses, and provide either the timetable or a link to the bus company website.
There are some disadvantages to buses and the major one is time. If there’s a direct train route between destinations, this will always be faster than the bus. Tokyo to Osaka takes 8 hours by bus for example.
Buses are definitely worth considering if you want to save money or to get off the popular and busy tourist routes. Using buses will open up many more places in Japan to you.
Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.
Would you like to receive my quarterly newsletter with the latest news for visitors, plus useful seasonal information? Receive a trip planning timeline when you sign up!
For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.