Finding the best way to travel in a country is always a bit tricky. In some countries it can be cheaper to take the bus, in other countries to take a train of flight. What is always cheaper is hitchhiking of course, but not everyone feels comfortable about getting in the car with a stranger.
I’ve travelled quite a bit in Japan and in my experience, the way you travel depends on your budget, the time you have and on how you want to experience the country. In this blog I’ll try to inform you on ways to travel in Japan and what could be best for your personal trip. I’ve listed four types of travelling (bus, train, airplane, car) and the pros and cons. Just to have said it, I also want to dedicate a few sentences to hitchhiking since it is the cheapest and in my experience a really fun way of travelling.
While hitchhiking always comes with a little bit of a risk, the chance something happens to you in Japan is quite low in my opinion. People are friendly, polite and it’s one of the safest countries in the world. If you hitchhike with someone else, it shouldn’t really be a problem. I hitchhiked on Yakushima Island and it was one of the best things I’ve done since I met one really cool guy and we had a free ride. The cons however are that Japanese people often speak little English. They will want to make conversation, but it can be a bit of a struggle sometimes. It always helps if you know some Japanese and they will love it. Another thing is that hitchhiking takes a lot of time and patience. While it is usually an amazing experience, there might also be days that you have to wait for multiple hours, just to get a ride of 30 minutes. If you decide to do it, just make sure you keep this in mind and don’t expect to be at your destination soon.
The bus is usually the cheapest way of travelling. There are several bus companies operating throughout Japan and the most foreigner-friendly one is definitely Willer Express. This company operates bus routes mostly in central Honshu, but where exactly you can find on their English (!!) webpage. If you want to go to multiple cities and prefer the Willer Express because their webpage is in English I would recommend getting a bus pass. There are three options; a 3 day bus pass, a 5 day bus pass and a 7 day bus pass, so just figure out which one you would need!
Apart from Willer Express there are also other, cheaper bus companies. While Willer Express gives you quite some comfort options (unless you get the cheapest bus), the other companies I’ve travelled with usually have little or less leg room but they are way cheaper. The downside is that their websites are in Japanese so you might want to ask someone at the hotel/hostel to help you. Another thing is that their departure stations can sometimes be hard to find, so make sure you have a map of where you have to go printed out so you won’t miss the bus. The webpage I usually use is busbookmark.jp and for busses around Nagano I use the alpico bus http://www.alpico.co.jp/access/english/ .
A way to avoid this extra time for check-in etcetera is to take the train. There are local/express/limited express/etc trains and there is the famous bullet train or shinkansen. The first trains are way cheaper, however, it will take a lot longer to get to your destination if you’re going long distances. For example Kyoto-Tokyo by shinkansen is about 2.5 hours by shinkansen, but 20 hours by local trains. If you travel where there is not shinkansen line or just short distances, I recommend to take local trains. It is easy and cheap!
The shinkansen is quite expensive. For a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto you pay around 12000 yen. It is however super-fast and if you have little time, a much recommended way of travelling. If you only have 1 or 2 weeks in Japan and you want to see a lot, you don’t want to spend too much time in transit so hopping in and out of a train in the city centre of where you want to be is just AWESOME. Next to that I think that being on a bullet train is also quite a cool experience and maybe even something you have to do if you want to feel the real Japan. Tickets can be bought on the main stations from machines or at the shinkansen ticket centres. Another option is to buy a rail pass. More information about the rail pass can be found on http://www.japanrailpass.net/ . There are different types of rail passes available for different areas so make sure you pick the right one for your trip. Another important thing is that this pass can not be purchased in Japan, so plan your trip ahead and buy a rail pass in time if this is your prefered way of travelling!
A (sometimes) cheap way of travelling in Japan is by air. Even though I don’t like airplanes because of the pollution, I would recommend this way of travelling if you want to see multiple places all spread out over the country and you don’t need to see what’s in between. There are several cheap domestic airlines like Skymark Airlines, Jetstar, Vanilla Air, Spring Airlines and with one of the cheapest being Peach. If you sign up for their newsletter before you head to Japan, you can get updates on their frequent sales and might be able to book a ticket from Osaka-Tokyo for 2000 yen (check-in luggage is not included!). The flights are short, but do remember you’ll spend at least 2-3 hours extra at airports doing check/in and liggage drop-off.
Travelling by car is one of the easiest ways if you want to visit multiple places mostly on the country side. Renting a car in Japan means you’ll need an international drivers’ license and you probably must have had it for 5 years. The cost for renting a car depends on where you rent it and what kind of car it is. The price for gasoline is in the middle range of gas prices. It’s usually cheaper than in Europe, but it’s still on the expensive side.
For finding rental cars in Japan (or actually anywhere in the world), you can use rentalcars.com . However, I’d recommend to ask for rental cars at your hotel/hostel. They will probably know cheaper places to go to.
Well, hopefully this was helpfull! If you have any questions, just comment and I’ll try to reply! Also, if you know more about this and want to share it with other readers, please leave a comment too! Thanks for reading!