1) Coach Buses / Kaisoku Buses 快速バス
Highway buses are hands down the cheapest way to get anywhere in Japan. A bus ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto can be 2,700 JPY in contrast to a Shinkansen ticket that costs 13,000 JPY. The buses are comfortable, timely, safe, and reliable. In addition, the stops at michi-no-eki, roadside stations, always have nice, clean washrooms and shops to get food and omiyage (local food souvenirs) from.
You can Willier Express, which has an English site, even has a Japan Bus Pass (for 3 /5 /7 days).
If you go on the booking sites, you can filter different types of buses, such as female only, WiFi available, etc. If you want more space, especially for overnight buses, you can choose 3-seater rows, san-retsusha 3−列車 instead of 4-seaters yon-retsusha ４−列車.
- Willier Express (English)
- Bushikaku (Japanese)
- Highway Bus (Japanese)
- Kousoku Bus (Japanese)
- Rakuten Travel Bus Booking (Japanese)
The JR Rail Pass is hands down one of the best ways to see Japan, especially if you want to see different parts of the country. This pass basically pays for itself if you do a round-trip between Tokyo and Kyoto, and another round trip to another city (i.e. Hiroshima, or Nagano). If you’ve been to Japan before, consider getting a regional pass (see #3).
If you currently live outside Japan and hold a foreign passport, and plan to spend at least a week outside Tokyo, I highly recommend a Japan Rail (JR) Pass for a first-time visitor. It is valid on all JR trains except the Nozomi and Hikari Shinkansen (there are trains every 20-60 minutes, and a total of 6 types of Shinkansen). The JR Pass allows unlimited travel for a your choice number of days (7, 14, 21) and works even for JR buses and the JR Miyajima ferries. It must be purchased before you arrive in Japan. Order the pass several weeks before you leave so it can be mailed to you. Note that you are receiving a coupon to trade for your JR Rail Pass in Japan. You can exchange this coupon on your first day of travel at a JR Rail Office (in the main stations of most major cities). Make sure you know which station to arrive at to trade your pass.
Leaving Tokyo are three main corridors: south on the Tokaido/Sanyo line towards Osaka, northward on the Tohoku line, towards Aomori and Hokkaido, and westward on the Joetsu line, towards Nagano, which splits to Kanazawa and Niigata. From Tokyo, it takes about 2-3 hours to get to Osaka, Kyoto, Nagano, Kanazawa, and Niigata, making it ideal for checking out different parts of Japan. For example, you can make a day trip of Nagano and Matsumoto and return back to Tokyo late at night.
3) Regional JR Passes
Below are the regional passes, which are cheaper than the nationwide pass and are excellent for exploring regional places more in depth. Beyond the metropolises of Tokyo, Kansai corridor (comprising Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto), Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Hiroshima, the heart of Japan is in the countryside. In every prefecture, there are villages to see, dishes to try, and natural parks, mountains, and beaches to enjoy.
The Seishun 18 is a limited-time offer of 5 flexible days unlimited travel for 11,850 JPY. Please take note of the sales and validity dates.
The Seishun 18 are a set of 5 tickets that allows unlimited rides on local and rapid JR trains (excluding reserved seats) throughout Japan. Although the Seishun 18 is not valid on Shinkansens and limited express trains, it is a great way to enjoy travel at a more leisurely pace, especially if you have small towns you want to get to in a specific region.
This ticket package includes five days worth of travel for only 2,370 yen per day. It can be used by 1 person for 5 days, or split amongst individuals. For example, 5 people can use it for 1 day.
The unlimited rides also include use of the JR Miyajima Ferry for travel from the mainland to the island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima.
5) ANA & JAL Welcome to Japan Flight Offers
Japan’s two flag carrying airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) both have special offers for travellers holding foreign passports in Japan. If you are only planning to go to one specific place outside of Tokyo or Osaka, you may want to consider taking a flight rather than getting a JR Pass. The price difference between JAL and ANA are not significant. The available offers are below:
JAL Yokoso Japan Tickets (restricted to One World inbound travellers):
The JAL Yokoso Japan tickets are available for travellers coming to Japan with a temporary visa (i.e. not working in Japan). The tickets must be bought prior to arriving and are restricted to travellers arriving with a One World Alliance airline. If you are unsure, please check with your airline to see if they are a member. If not, then you can consider the ANA flight offers. There are travel date restrictions, so please check the site.
The difference between this ‘Welcome to Japan Fare’ and the Yokoso Japan Fare, is that travelers using the original ‘Welcome to Japan Fare’ can fly into or out of Japan using any carrier. This pricing is slightly more expensive than the Yokoso Japan prices because of the flexibility. There are travel date restrictions, so please check the site.
ANA Visit Japan Fare (dates restricted):
The ANA Visit Japan Fare allows you to buy coupons at a fixed price to be used while travelling in Japan. For example, you can buy 2 coupons for 26,000 JPY, 3 for 39,000 JPY and so forth. Please check the website for travel date restrictions.
The ANA Tabiwari tickets are available to everyone, including people living in Japan. These are essentially early-bird tickets to a given destination. This is a good option if you want to go far, and to a small town, as ANA flights go to remote areas as well.
6) Domestic Charter Airlines
Japan is also serviced by a good number of charter airlines that have domestic and international routes. Most of the international flights are to the Asia-Pacific region, and are a good option to go in and out of Japan.
- Skymark (Headquartered in Tokyo, Domestic only)
- AirDo (Headquartered in Tokyo, Domestic only)
- Jetstar (Headquartered in Tokyo, Domestic & International)
- Peach (Headquartered in Osaka, Domestic & International)
- Vanilla Air (Headquartered in Tokyo, Domestic & International)
- AirAsia (International only)
Do you have tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment!
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