“Holiday in Japan? Isn’t it expensive?”
While tourism in Japan is experiencing a boom in the recent years, you cannot deny that a lot of people still thinks that Japan is too expensive to travel. There was a time when I had the same misconception.
If you have been doing your research, you would have already known that it is possible to travel in Japan on the cheap. Google “Japan Budget Travel” or something similar, and you would find enough sites and blogs that provide tips on traveling to this country on the cheap.
Affordable Japan is a series of posts on this site, which aims at rebuffing the notion that Japan is expensive to travel, and providing insights on how to travel on a low-budget based on my personal experience.
Post #1: Highway Buses
Bullet train? I love bullet trains. But they are expensive. A one-way ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo would costs 13,080 yen (about US$120). Japan Rail Pass? Yes, I have used them before and it can cut your transportation cost, but the pass is not always the way to go. You should calculate your transportation cost and compare it with the JR pass / Regional pass cost before deciding on getting one.
Lets look at an example. So I was heading to Tokyo from Nagoya. The fastest option is the bullet train that will set me back @ 10,880 yen (about US$100) for only 1 hour 20 minutes. This is the Tokaido Shinkansen, operated by JR Central, so a Regional Pass from JR West or JR East would not work. So the only pass that covers this route is the Nationwide JR Pass which starts at 29,110 yen (about US$260) for 7 consecutive days travel. I was in Kyoto before I was in Nagoya, so my transportation options were always the city buses or subways, not JR. After Nagoya, I was in Tokyo and my transportation options mainly consists of subways. In other words, there was no way the JR pass would pay off my transportation travel cost, thus making it illogical to purchase one this time around.
Next option: Local trains. This will set you back at about 6,200 yen (US$55) and will take 6-7 hours with up to 5 transfers. The downside is the frequent transfers, frequent stops, and not being able to get a proper rest.
Next option: Highway buses. Traveling from Nagoya to Tokyo would costs you about 3,700 yen to 4,000 yen (about US$35), and with special discounts this could go lower to even 1,800 yen. The travel time is similar to taking a local train @ 6 hours, with about 3 stops at the rest area.
Why Highway Buses?
- The washrooms in the rest areas are clean, great place to refresh yourself
- You can eat on the bus, the rest areas sells lunch boxes, rice balls, sandwiches, you name it
- The seats are comfortable for a good sleep. Some buses offers individual seats as well.
- Most buses are equipped with electrical outlets.
An even cheaper option would be to get on the overnight buses (usually takes a bit longer, say instead of 6 hours from Nagoya to Tokyo, it could take 8 hours). Why is it cheaper? – You save on a one night stay! Don’t worry about getting insufficient rest, like I said – it is comfortable enough for a good sleep.
While tickets can be bought over the counter, we love online reservations don’t we? Thankfully, there are a number of English reservation sites, here are some:
- Willer Express – my preferred choice, it always offers discounted fares, and has a wide coverage as well. Willer Express also offers the Japan Bus Pass, starting at 10,000 yen for 3 days unlimited ride excluding Hokkaido and Okinawa.
- Kousoku Bus for JR highway buses
- Japan Bus Online, one of the biggest website for online reservations, covering multiple companies and routes
- Keio Dentetsu Bus, with routes from Shibuya or Shinjuku to multiple cities
A good resource which also includes a list of bus companies by region is the Highway Bus Information Platform.
A little extra since it’s Christmas.
27th November 2017
I was traveling from Nagoya to Tokyo via Willer Express, leaving at about 4 p.m. and arriving at Shinjuku Station at 10 p.m. When I was in Tokyo that week, I woke up daily at about 4 to 5 a.m., so I was usually back in the hostel by 5 p.m. I missed the winter illuminations, it was not part of the itinerary, I just thought I would go if I was around. But well, getting rest was important.
So I was happy that when I got off the bus at Shinjuku Station on that day, before heading for the trains to my hostel, I could immediately see the winter illumination around Takashimaya Times Square, near the south exit of the station.
Pretty right? Should probably make an effort next time to see more winter illuminations. Note that the illumination around Shinjuku station is more than just this, but I was in a hurry, so next time!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Merry Christmas.