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So we all know about these pretty amazing trains they have in the "Land of the Rising Sun". They are always on time, clean, comfortable. But they are somewhat expensive for the average backpacker.

I'm aware of the Japan Rail Pass and I'm really considering buying it for my upcoming trip there but I'm still evaluating alternatives.

What about buses? Would it be possible to sacrifice some comfort in order to save money and move around Japan (Honshu and Kyushu mostly) with flexibility? Is there something like JRP for buses (it would be cool if you could use it even for buses inside cities)?

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Bullet trains (Shinkansen) are expensive but there are also slower trains and their prices can be considerably lower. Not as low as buses though, and even buses can vary in price in Japan though all the buses I rode on or saw were very modern and comfortable. –  hippietrail May 24 '13 at 12:02
    
get the Japan Rail pass. One Shinkansen trip makes it worthwhile. –  Omar Kooheji May 30 '13 at 8:54
    
I've done both routes (JRP and buses). Sleeping (or more like, not-sleeping) on an overnight bus from Tokyo to Kyoto was not worth it, especially when looking back we traveled around enough that it would have cheaper to buy the JRP and have access to the shinkansen than buy individual bus tickets and limited subway passes for Tokyo, etc. –  Jeff Bridgman Jan 27 at 16:27
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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Seishun 18 ticket is great, but for any lengthy journeys (Tokyo -> Kyoto, for example), it's a bit of a pain requiring lots of changes and takes longer than the bus. However, used well it is extremely cheap.

As an alternative Willer Express, a budget highway bus company, offers the Japan Bus Pass. It allows 3, 4 or 5 days travel within 2 months for 10, 12 or 14,000 yen respectively. The pass can be used for daytime or overnight travel. On each 'day' of the pass you can either take:

  • 1 or 2 daytime bus(es)
  • 1 overnight bus
  • 1 daytime + 1 overnight bus

The days can be used at any point during the 2 months, allowing you to stop over or use other forms of transport along the way. Of course this is only good for routes that Willer Express serves, however that covers most of the urban centres in Japan.

Note: the bus pass must be purchased outside of Japan, but is usable by tourists and residents alike.

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An (often cheaper) alternative to trains are highway buses - especially when you use overnight routes that save you one night of accomodation. I'm not aware of any JRP-like flatrate tickets though.

Another very interesting option is the Seishun 18 ticket, which allows 5 (unconnected) days of unlimited JR train use for 11,500 yen - but only using local/regional trains, so for long-distance travel you have to change trains a lot and take much longer than with the Shinkansen (up to 4 times as long on some routes). Unfortuantely, it is only available/valid during holiday seasons.

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Another alternative, are domestic flights; however, these can be as pricey as some of the Shinkansen train rides, but they are quicker.

But to see the scenery, the Highway Bus, as mentioned is the way to go. I lived in Japan for 4 years and travelled quite extensively across the country, using all 3 main modes of transport - I don't have a favourite per se, but I have to say that the Highway bus journey was comfortable, albeit a little cramped (for me being 6'5), and very enjoyable - a very pleasant way to see the countryside roll by.

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6'5 = 195 cm... big guy ;) –  reto May 24 '13 at 15:47
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To provide some perspective, Japan and Korea are getting a lot more tall young people in the last generation or two compared to all other East and Southeast Asian countries. You can't expect as much space as in Northern Europe but more space than in many developing countries. For instance I'm 6'1" / 185cm and I'm always comfortable in Korea but can't fit my legs into spaces provided in Vietnam. –  hippietrail May 25 '13 at 5:47
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When I was last in Tokyo (Ocotober 2012) they were advertising a tourists day pass for Tokyo. I think it allowed for unlimited train travel for the day for 1,000 yen. Might only have been in and around Tokyo though.

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Could you perhaps look it up and see if you can find the details? A link with concrete information would be great for the OP. –  Mark Mayo May 30 '13 at 8:57
    
I'll see if I can find the ticket. I was there for work so I think think I had to submit the receipt for expenses. I don't speak much Japanese so I'm not sure where to start. TBH: I'd get a Japan Rail Pass if I ever go to Japan again, the value is amazing. –  Omar Kooheji May 30 '13 at 9:24
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