Japan,  Asia,  Destinations,  Trains, Planes & Rideshares

Travel Japan for Cheap on Highway Buses

While Japan’s trains rightly have a reputation for fast and excellent service, they’re also surprisingly expensive.

A train ticket from Tokyo to Osaka on the bullet train costs $90 USD for a 2.5 hour ride, slightly more if you spring for the first class seat. While you can save some money by buying a train pass, if you’re a slowmad traveler only planning on moving major distances every few weeks, a train pass doesn’t make sense as it’ll run out before you can use it all.

Solution? Take highway buses!

An express highway bus from Tokyo to Osaka can be as low as $25 USD for a 8.5 hour ride. That’s a major savings! If you’re not pressed for time and don’t mind taking a slower route, a highway bus is an excellent option.

I’ve taken buses across Japan several times on my visits there, and I’ve written up a guide on how to do it yourself on your own journeys.

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Types of buses & bus info

JR Highway bus in Nagoya

Like the trains, Japan’s got multiple bus companies all competing for your money. The major companies are JR (same as the train!), Willer Express, Jam Jam Liner and Kintetsu Bus. My experience is mostly with JR buses, and I’ve always found them reliable, clean, and safe.

All buses have air con/heaters, comfortable seats, and space for at least one suitcase (luggage policy depends on the bus company). All intercity buses have regular stops at highway rest areas– and the rest areas are super nice! (And you can get stamps while you’re there, too.)

Express highway bus and Overnight buses

These are the two major types of buses you’ll see, as they’re the ones that go between cities. One’s during the day and one’s at night. The daytime buses have a wide range of classes, from super discount to VIP options (see below).

The overnight buses have fewer seats but less class options, though of course there’s regular seats up to VIP seats with privacy curtains. I can’t sleep sitting up so I haven’t been on an overnight bus myself, but friends who’ve done it said it was pretty comfy.

Women-only seating

Some buses have specific areas on the bus where only women can book a seat. This is a great option for solo female travelers who might be nervous about getting a seat next to a strangers. Even the overnight buses have a women-only area.

VIP buses

Some companies have fancier buses for a slightly higher price. These buses will have nicer seats, privacy curtains, amenities, footrests, etc. For a long-distance ride spanning the whole day, it’s worth the upgrade– if you can snag one.

How to find bus routes

The easiest way to is check Rome2Rio. It’s a route searching website that covers buses, planes, trains and cars. This’ll give you an overview of what bus companies do that route, how long it takes and what the rough cost would be.

Where to buy highway bus tickets

You can buy tickets online or at the bus station. If it’s a popular route with multiple trips per day, and you don’t want a VIP seat, you don’t necessarily need to buy a ticket way more than a few days ahead of time.

However, be mindful of weekends and holidays, as those are always busy and buses will for sure fill up fast.

Websites to buy Japan bus tickets online:

If you book at least a few days ahead, you might be able to snag a discounted seat. When I went to Nagoya from Osaka, I managed to get two one-way ¥1,900 tickets because I booked about 3 days early. Regular ticket prices are ¥3,100, so I saved ¥1,200 on each ticket!

Also note: If you want to select your seat, it’s best to book directly on the company’s website or at the bus stations, as 3rd party websites sometimes don’t have that option.

The bus ticket companies will give you QR code ticket, which you can show the driver. You don’t have to print anything out.

Discounted bus tickets for tourists

Some cities have promotional bus tickets meant for tourists so they can go explore nearby towns.

For instance, Hiroshima has a discounted bus route up to Matsue, a cute spa town a few hours north. You can grab a one-way bus ticket for ¥1,000 (one way), when normally it could be as much as ¥3,090. I took that route in 2023 and had a great time exploring the smaller hot springs towns.

Be sure to check the tourist info centers and bus stations for promotional tickets. You might be happily surprised!

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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