Buses in Japan are considerably cheaper than trains and often cover long-distance routes, with some even traveling overnight, making them a great budget alternative for traveling across Japan.
Although many people often think of traveling by train when they get to Japan, you may be shocked by the ticket prices for the famous bullet trains (Shinkansen). Often these trains are convenient but can be very expensive, meaning that many tourists look for alternative methods of transport.
If you are going to be doing a lot of traveling while in Japan then, just like with the trains, you can get a Japanese bus pass which will help to save you money in the long run.
Where do the buses travel to in Japan?
The bus network covers all of Japan, with every single prefecture being serviced by a minimum of one bus company.
All throughout the country, there is a myriad of daytime and overnight bus routes to help you to get to where you need to go.
When it comes to particularly popular bus routes, for example between major cities (and those in and out of Tokyo especially) there is a lot of competition between bus companies, meaning that ticket prices are competitive.
A few examples of some of the major cities that are serviced by bus routes include Tokyo, Sendai, Sapporo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.
It is always worth checking the bus companies’ individual websites as this will give you the best and most up-to-date information about their routes, services, and prices.
What bus companies operate in Japan?
If you are not sure where to start then knowing what bus companies operate in Japan is a good place as you will be able to look up their routes and rates.
If you are looking for a cheap bus company that travels between the different regions of Japan then Willer express is the right choice for you.
Willer Express is a budget-friendly bus operator that has an extensive network of bus routes that encompass the vast majority of Japan.
Additionally, if you do not speak Japanese then Willer Express is also a good choice as you are able to book your bus tickets online in English.
Not only are their individual tickets relatively cheap, but Willer Express also offers the Japanese Bus Pass, which is a comprehensive ticket that helps to save you money on several bus trips throughout Japan with the company.
If you are not sure whether or not to opt for the bus pass then add up a few of your trips to see if it is worth the money.
JR buses are actually the overarching company for eight different regional companies. These are:
- JR Hokkaido Bus
- JR Tohoku Bus
- JR Kanto Bus
- JR Tokai Bus
- Nishinihon JR Bus
- Chugoku JR Bus
- JR Shikoku Bus
- JR Kyushu Bus
JR buses were formerly under the ownership of the state-owned company National Railways.
JR buses is not a budget bus service, but, like a lot of bus companies in Japan, its prices are still significantly cheaper than a train ticket.
Like Willer Express, JR buses are a good option for tourists who do not speak Japanese as you can buy the tickets both online and in person.
If you choose to book online then you can use the website in English for a large number of their routes. You can both book your ticket and reserve a seat at the same time to save you from any confusion when you get on the bus.
If you would prefer to buy your ticket in person then this is also possible with JR buses. You will need to head to a JR railway counter (these can be found in most train stations) and inform the staff member of the details of your route and your seat preference.
Please note that although it was previously allowed, the JR railway pass no longer works on their buses.
Where can I book a ticket in English?
Although you may be able to book a bus ticket in some stations in English, this is entirely dependent on the staff member and is not a guarantee.
The best option is to book your bus ticket on either a Willer Express or JR buses route and use their online booking system to secure your seat.
The demand for English booking services has significantly increased in Japan and the number of companies offering their services in English is increasing.
What are the ticket types?
For most routes and companies there are three different types of bus tickets: single trips, return trips and multi-trip tickets.
You should remember that return trip tickets will save you money (this is usually around 10%) but that they need to be used within a specific timeframe (usually 6-10 days).
If you are going to be traveling with a particular bus company for many trips then consider purchasing a multi-trip booklet (called a “kaisuken”) which will save you about 10% on all of your tickets and which typically last for 3 months.
Most bus companies also offer discounted rates for children, groups, and students. Additionally, if you are able to prebook your bus ticket far in advance some companies offer discounts for booking your ticket a week or more in advance of your journey.
Where can I buy a bus ticket?
There are several places where you can buy a bus ticket, some of which will be more convenient if you are able to speak Japanese.
If you do not speak Japanese then websites are the easiest way to book a bus ticket. However, if you are able to speak Japanese then you can purchase a bus ticket at train stations, on the phone, via a travel agent, and at convenience stores (through a terminal).
Can I reserve a seat?
For many routes, the bus company will require you to book a seat, especially if the journey is on an overnight bus or during peak times. Choosing a seat will help make your journey smoother.
However, if you have purchased your bus ticket shortly before the bus departs then you may not be required to reserve a seat and can choose your seat when you get on the bus.
Are there amenities on the buses?
The amenities will vary from bus to bus and from company to company. For this reason, you should check which amenities are available when booking your ticket.
However, the vast majority of buses in Japan have a toilet onboard or will make stops regularly throughout the trip so that customers can use the facilities.
Some overnight buses will also come equipped with reclining seats and entertainment systems, Wi-Fi, and even power outlets.
Can I take luggage on a bus?
Most bus companies in Japan will have a large compartment where customers can store their luggage. In most cases, this is limited to two large pieces of luggage per person.
If you have any smaller items, such as a handbag or backpack then you may take these onto the bus with you.
There are normally overhead storage areas and room under the seats for personal items. Rules regarding this will depend on the company and route.