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I will be travelling to Japan for 2 weeks and found train tickets little bit expensive. Usually i travel like a backpacker and always travel with a budget. I will be staying different cities in Japan and looking for a cheapest possible option to move within different cities. In the past especially affluent countries, i have used extensively buses and sometimes shared rides which proved really feasible. I need to know the following few questions:

1 Is ride share/ carpool common in Japan?

2 Are bus tickets really the cheapest option to travel in Japan or should I rent a motorbike?

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    Can you give a bit more information as to you expected journey legs? Tokyo to Osaka is a highly travelled transportation corridor and has any number of ways of getting between the two (the cheapest being off-peak overnight buises at anywhere from ¥1500 to ¥3500. Sapporo to Kagoshima in one trip however is a bit more difficult. – The Wandering Coder Sep 9 '16 at 8:04
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    That seems like a nice round trip. You may find you won't be able to use night buses between the middle of your trip, but they will certainly be cheaper For the Tokyo-Nagano, Nagoya-Osaka and Osaka Tokyo legs. Otherwise consider local buses or trains. – The Wandering Coder Sep 9 '16 at 8:23
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    Generally speaking, the cheapest options are also the slowest, but you want to visit a lot of places in little time. That's going to be a problem. – fkraiem Sep 9 '16 at 10:59
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    By "bike" do you mean bicycle, or something motorized like motorcycle, moped, etc? – stannius Sep 9 '16 at 15:58
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    @AliAwan will that bike have a motor? Or be powered by your own legs? – stannius Sep 9 '16 at 16:09
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The cheapest way to travel in Japan is to hitchhike. Getting out of major cities is difficult, but once you're on the road, it's generally amazingly easy to get rides. Some knowledge of Japanese helps, but is not mandatory.

Further reading: http://hitchwiki.org/en/Japan

Ride sharing is not common, because driving is not the budget option in Japan if you're paying for it: road tolls are extremely high. If you hitchhike, most of your rides will be people traveling for work.

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    it's cool that you can hitch in Japan! would it be typical to contribute towards the enormous freeway tolls? – Fattie Sep 9 '16 at 12:52
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    @JoeBlow No, they're paying them anyway, a hitchhiker doesn't cost anything extra. – jpatokal Sep 10 '16 at 5:23
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    @JoeBlow the tolls are so high that it is usually way cheaper to take a train than drive alone; only with three people in a car you might get even. Thus those who drive alone are either really rich (and this won't need/care about your contribution), or they're driving for business (and will thus be reimbursed by the company). – George Y. Sep 10 '16 at 16:18
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    @GeorgeY. Yes. None at all. You mean something like this? go-etc.jp/english/expressway/index.html – The Wandering Coder Sep 12 '16 at 9:52
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    Thank you, amazingly useful piece of information! Would you mind creating another question and answering it yourself, so this knowledge could be easily found later? – George Y. Sep 12 '16 at 19:57
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One of the very cheapest ways to travel is the Willer Express Japan Bus Pass, which costs as little as ¥2100 per travel day for unlimited travel.

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    Wow, I have never noticed that any company had a special deal that was also open to residents in Japan. – The Wandering Coder Sep 12 '16 at 0:31
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    @TheWanderingCoder Yeah, that's because those express buses are usually used by Japanese. Relative to the train, the bus is quite cheap... and many buses travel through the night, so things like taking the overnight bus to Disneyland from Osaka to Tokyo is popular among students. – Armstrongest Sep 16 '16 at 17:27
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    These buses are fine. I had immense frustration booking them back in 2008. If their booking system has not improved make sure you thoroughly understand how it works as early as you can to avoid frustration. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 3:51
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    @hippietrail It seems to have improved markedly since then (as has the busses themselves). They have an equivalent to business class seats now and it doesn't cost that much more. – The Wandering Coder Sep 26 '16 at 0:31
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    Oh they were nice before, but buses now have to compete with LCC's for fares (of which LCC's are usually comparable if not cheaper in price) now so they have to keep upping their game. I found nobody really talks to anyone else on any form of transport here (except for me). The window curtains of overnight busses are usually closed by the person in the seat however I have seen the conductor come and close the ones with unoccupied seats. Tickets are now online / can be bought from convenience stores so it seems markedly easier. Some companies even have the ticket sites in English. – The Wandering Coder Sep 26 '16 at 3:00
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1) Ridesharing / Carpooling is not common in Japan yet but a small community called "Noritomosan" is working on it (available in english). The platform allows to find travel friends in Japan, connecting drivers with empty seats to people travelling the same way. If you are a solo travel, you can make plans and look for buddies to come with you (by train, bus are also available) and share the cost of your trip. You can have a look here -> www.noritomosan.com

By the way they also have a forum, so maybe it worth asking them directly since they are specialized in "cheapest" way to travel lol.

2) As said before, the cheapest way is to hitchhike. So the cheapest way is to travel by car ;). Rent a Bike ? You mean a bicycle ?

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    Are you affiliated with Noritomosan? If so, please mention it in your answer, otherwise, just ignore this. – JS Lavertu Sep 10 '16 at 3:07
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    Japan also has Uber. I have never used it so I can't vouch for it, but it definitely exists. – The Wandering Coder Sep 12 '16 at 0:37
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    @ JS Lavertu, I'm not directly affiliated but I know the founder and already discussed with him a bit. – Bambino Sep 12 '16 at 2:34
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    @AliAwan, I don't really know the motorbike location system in Japan but as far as I know, since you will not share the cost of gasoline etc.. Given that the toll fees are dreadfully expensive in Japan, it might not be the right idea :(. – Bambino Sep 12 '16 at 2:43
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    Generally you can get anywhere in Japan on smaller roads and avoid the tolls, but often the routes are so circuitous you'd never find them without satnav, and can be very tiny. I think it would be a wonderful way to travel around Japan but almost impossible if you have limited time. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 3:50
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Most people find the JR Pass to be the most affordable and comfortable way to visit multiple cities.

If you're super cheap, then overnight discount intercity buses will save you both transportation and lodging. Google "Tokyo Osaka night bus" or some variation to find examples.

Hitchhiking is illegal in Japan. Intercity ride sharing is not common as highway tolls are very very high so it's usually cheaper to take the train or bus. You could still check in with your gaijin house, hostel, or online bulletin board.

Many people have toured Japan by bicycle so that's also an option.

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    There IS hitchhiking in Japan... And what is a "gaijin house"? – The Wandering Coder Sep 9 '16 at 8:02
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    @TheWanderingCoder Cheap, short-term rental apartments targeted at foreigners. And yes, hitchhiking in Japan is entirely possible, I crossed the country from Hiroshima to Hokkaido that way. – jpatokal Sep 9 '16 at 11:44
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    @RoboKaren Hitchhiking in Japan is certain NOT illegal... Where are you getting this from? It is illegal to stop a car or walk on an expressway. It is also illegal to hitchhike near intersections and busy bus stops. Otherwise it is perfectly legal. – The Wandering Coder Sep 12 '16 at 0:29
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    @TheWanderingCoder Because unlike normal short-term rental apartments ("weekly mansion"), these are explicitly targeted at foreigners. – jpatokal Sep 12 '16 at 0:29
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    I never heard them called anything other than "gaijin hausu". Apparently Japanese can't stay at them. I was under the impression they are share houses which is probably considered a foreign concept in Japan hence the term. Not dorm rooms but shared bathrooms, kitchen, etc. Interestingly I later stayed with Japanese friends in Sapporo in a very new concept share house with both Japanese and one expat family living there. It was a great place. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 3:47
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Buy the JR Rail PASS

Honestly, you want to go a lot of places in weeks, ~$450 USD (¥46,390) is what a JR Rail pass costs for 14 days. It will cost you at least $40 (¥4000 on sale) round-trip just to get to Tokyo and back from Narita Airport, so that drops your cost down to $400.

You want to go to Tokyo, Nagano, Toyama, Takayama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hakone back to Tokyo in TWO weeks? You're going to be on the move for 2 weeks, not staying in one place for more than a couple of days and that makes you a perfect candidate for a 14-day pass.

It's also good for any JR local rail transit, which will help in Tokyo as well if you want to visit Yokohama etc.

Remember, you're travelling at LEAST 6 segments. I doubt you'll have time to hitchhike to all those places and if you do, you'll have to be more flexible with your accommodations which may end up costing you more. Sure, cheap buses are available, but given the number of destinations you have planned, the train is a much saner option.

In short, taking the train may SEEM expensive, but I am willing to bet that trying to visit that many places in that short period of time... The JR Rail pass will end up being the best for your needs.

Are Japanese trains REALLY that expensive?

Japanese trains seem expensive because they don't run them like an airline or like European train systems, which charge an arm and a leg for last-minute travel, have complicated ticket classes each with their own rules and offer deep discounts to attract people to book far in advance.

For the most part, Japanese trains are run like a commuter rail system. The price doesn't fluctuate that much, is set at a consistent price, and is extremely flexible, which is why the JR rail pass is perfect for your needs. If you like a place and want to skip the next place, you can feel free to do so without worrying about getting your money back for a bus trip.

Besides, how can you go to Japan and NOT experience what is arguably one of the key defining aspects of modern Japanese culture, the bullet train?

  • your answer makes lot of sense – Ali Awan Sep 16 '16 at 17:49
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    I never felt any desire to ride a bullet train \-: – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 3:38
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Japan buses would be really cheap, especially if you travel at night

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    Care to expand a bit more on that ? – blackbird Sep 10 '16 at 17:49
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    Booking buses can be a real pain though. Very arcane rules. When I used buses in 2008 Willer Express was the cheapest. Buses were nice but you couldn't buy a ticket on the bus or from their office - I tried both! You had to book online, and bookings closed at 4pm the day before! After missing the 4pm deadline twice because the English interface was very poor I ended up trying hitchhiking for the first time. Also tourist information desks know everything about trains and accommodation but very little about buses. It's like nobody expects foreigners to travel by long distance bus in Japan? – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 3:41
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Trains certainly are expensive if you buy them on a per-journey basis, but did you evaluate the cost of a JR Rail Pass? If you're travelling a lot it's superb value for money.

Bear in mind that you must purchase the JR pass before travelling to Japan; it's too late to get it after leaving your home country.

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    Cannot we buy train tickets inside train? Can I buy jr pass a day before travel? – Ali Awan Sep 11 '16 at 10:41
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    On some trains you can buy tickets on board, but the question was about the cheapest way to travel. For the JR pass, yes you can go to a travel agent and they can write it out on the spot. Its not the actual pass but a voucher, which must be exchanged at a station in Japan. – Neil Bartlett Sep 11 '16 at 11:58
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    @AliAwan For the most part, you buy train tickets at a machine at the station. Many stations will have automated fare gates. – Armstrongest Sep 16 '16 at 17:25
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I live in Tokyo and have been working as a marketing supervisor at B mobile for the past 2 years. Because of my job, I regularly visit Nagoya and Osaka by car. I have been reading answers about hitchhiking in Japan, so I decided to post an answer here.

Normally, I make the drive at least two times a month and I have never come across any hitchhikers. I have never seen anybody asking for a ride while I drive.

Also, it is not a custom in Japan where people ask for free ride. Although the Japanese people are really friendly, they still might find it strange to see somebody waving their hand in the middle of the road asking for free rides.

So, I think hitchhiking is not feasible in Japan, and it is best for you is go for JR pass or bus tickets

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    I've personally hitchhiked from Nagoya or Fukuoka or Shimonoseki to Yamagata and back at least three times and from Naha to Soya Misaki and back to Tokyo once (except for the three ferries). I've also never seen another hitchhiker on any of my trips except for my friend who hitched with me from Sakurajima to Tokyo. So it's not common and it's not customary but despite that it's very easy. I found out about bit by discovering this web page after Googling for "Japan hitchhiking" out of frustration trying to book a long distance bus ticket from Nagoya in 2008. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 16:22
  • @ hachiro araki maybe you never came across with any hitchhiker in Japan, but seems like travelers have managed to moved across quite comfortably – Ali Awan Sep 17 '16 at 16:42
  • @ hippietrail good feedback , the web page you just posted says it is illegal to pick anybody on motorways in Japan – Ali Awan Sep 17 '16 at 16:46
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    Yes, it is illegal to be on the actual roadway of motorways, to walk past the tollgates, etc. But it is legal to hitchhike at the Service Areas & Parking Areas along them. All of them except on the elevated sections in Tokyo have employee entrances at the rear and only about 1% are locked. Use Google maps etc to find routes from local train stations to those rear gates. Hokkaido is an exception for some reason. But there it's easy to use the major non-toll roads instead. – hippietrail Oct 4 '16 at 4:25

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