Travel to Japan on a budget – Transportation

Previously we mentioned that we found a cheap pair of roundtrip tickets to Japan, and now planning for our trip later this year. However, getting there is only the beginning. Never have I had to be so budget-conscious when planning a trip. However, the thing with Japan is that it pays off to plan ahead.

Aside from accommodation, transportation is probably up there as one of the biggest cost while travelling, especially for Japan. So once we set our itinerary, it’s time to dig into the many options of in-country transportation. (Our itinerary: Osaka – Hiroshima – Kyoto – Tokyo. Arriving in Kansai Airport, Osaka and Leaving from Narita, Tokyo).

After months of digging, these are the options that we think are useful:

1. Rail Pass

If you search for budget travelling tips for Japan, the Japan Rail Pass will be the first thing that pops up. This, however, will not be used by us.

The reason is that, while it can be a good deal, the JR Rail Pass can be expensive. It costs 29,110 YEN (roughly $236) for 7 days, 46,390 YEN ($376) for 14 days.

Travel to Japan on a budget - Transportation

The pass will only make sense if you travel a lot during these time frame. However, because our trip last 16 days, with us spending more time at each destination, we would have to get a 14 day pass and it is not worth it.

But then we found another solution: the regional rail passes. Because we plan to stay in Kansai Area for the first half of our trip, it makes sense to buy only a regional pass, which still covers most trains in the region, and for a lower price.

In our case, for example, we will purchase the JRW Kansai Hiroshima Pass at 13,000 Yen each (early bird discount) or $105. This will cover all our inter-city transportation in Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and also the trip and ferry to Miyajima island. That’s a $131 saving for each of us, comparing to the 7 day JR Railpass.

The bottom line is that, while the JR Rail Pass can be useful, you need to consider your itinerary and look into regional rail passes. Just by searching in advance, we will save $262 for the two of us.

2. Puratto Kodama (Platt Kodama)

While the Kansai Hiroshima covers our first half of the trip, we still need to plan for the second leg of the trip, which takes us all the way to Tokyo.

Thankfully, this is a very popular route for tourists, and transportation options are plenty.

A regular shinkansen ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo starts at 13,600 yen ($110). A Platt Kodama is a discounted ticket for 10,100 JPY ($82). So it’ll be a $30 saving.

Now the Kansai Hiroshima Pass above and a Platt Kodama ticket add up to $187. Quite cheaper than the 7 day JR Pass ($236), and much cheaper than buying rail tickets separately.

This option is not the cheapest, but it allows you to travel everywhere by shinkansen, which is the fastest and most comfortable.

We are, however, the frugal couple. So we will go a little bit cheaper, and by using:

3. Highway buses

If you think these savings above are expensive, take this: Willer Express, a long-distance bus company in Japan offers a bus pass for only 10,000 Yen for 3 days, or 15,000 Yen for 5 days. The best part is that unlike the rail passes, you don’t have to use them on consecutive days. These 3 or 5 days can be spread out and used in the course of 2 months.

So if we were extremely frugal, we can actually go to all our places using just a 3-day bus pass at 10,000 yen ($82), which is $100 cheaper than the Kansai Pass + Platt Kodama solution above.

However, while we like to save money, we are not 17 years old any more. One long distance bus ride after another may be too much and ruin our trip.

So if you’re younger or used to long bus rides, that will be the cheapest option.

Japan budget travel: Willer Bus

If you are a little weary like us, you can consider our final option: A mix between rail passes and Willer bus.

We will use Willer Bus for our final leg to Tokyo. The cost of a bus ticket is anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 yen ($25 to $40). We will more likely to spend 5,000 yen or so for nicer, more comfortable seat.

The total cost for transportation (Kansai Rail Pass + Willer Bus) will be about $150 for each of us, or $86 saving each, $172 saving for two. Plus by taking the night bus with Willer Express, we will save on a night of accommodation.

Yes, the 9 hour bus ride will probably still be tiring. But at least we only have to do it once on the entire trip, and will give ourselves time to rest after the ride. Previous reviews also said that Willer buses, and most buses in Japan, are quite safe and comfortable. I really hope that it is true!

10 thoughts on “Travel to Japan on a budget – Transportation

  1. I’ll be in Japan in just over 2 weeks now for a week there, I plan to not spend an arm and a leg over, I’ll let you know how it goes!


    1. I think so too. I’m the planner in the household and my husband is more go-with-the-flow type of guy. We definitely see the pros and cons of both types:)


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