Flexible Transportation for Reasonable Prices – Exploring Japan by Bus
Before traveling, everyone decides on how we are actually moving from the current location to the one we want to visit. Plane? Train? Ferry? How big is your budget and how much are you willing to spend on transportation–these are essential questions we have to answer before planning any trip.
Having said that, you have to do both planning and researching, which implies relying on side opinions as well. Luckily, Japan has many different transportation options available and is very easy to commute cross-country. So I just want to share some of my experiences on traveling in Japan. Of course, everything is circumstantial and will depend on which kind of traveler you are.
I am not a very picky person, but I do seek a basic comfort while traveling. So while I won't be able to necessarily look for the more expensive business class options, I will try to find a nice balance of comfort and savings.
While traveling in Japan, I was quite shocked with how expensive transportation is here so the urge to hop on the wonderful but pricier bullet train (also known as Shinkansen) is rare for me.
You can find a discount on Shinkansen if you are a short-time traveler purchasing a JR pass. But unfortunately, if you reside in Japan, this option is not available to you.
You can also find some great deals on various budget airlines, such as Peach, offering flights to Osaka for as low as 5000 JPY depending on the season. I live far from any convenient spots to reach the airport, and hence this is not ideal for me. So I voted for the express bus, which was significantly cheaper.
While a one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto by the Tokaido Shinkansen (Nozomi trains) costs nearly 13,000 JPY per person at the time of this writing, the same route can be found for as little as 3600 JPY (depending on the departure date) by the Willer Express.
Of course, it is all about time and money balance, as the latter option takes up to 8 hours of traveling. There are other bus operators, and if you prefer JR buses and are a student, you can get a discount from the Seikyo.
The Willer Express website lists all of the boarding and arrival locations. So it is very easy to find the bus. And plus they accept credit cards and online bookings.
But, most important, is it comfortable? My experience with the Willer Express was very pleasurable. I reserved a female-only bus with a seat that was equipped with a small curtain for privacy. It was able to recline up to 140 degrees and included a leg rest which allowed me to sleep well. The space between the seats was not very wide, but seemed bigger than the seats in an airplane. The bus made 3 stops so I had time for snacks and toilet. There are also buses with restrooms onboard as well.
Regarding the snacks, do not expect anything particularly fancy. However, at these bus stops, there are small food courts with hot meals, as well as vending machines that sell all kinds of foods including onigiri rice balls and drinks such as hot coffee. The bus driver announces and places a board with a start and end time of the stop on the front window. Just make sure to remember your bus number. Have a great trip!