Ways to Travel for Cheap Across Japan: Low-Cost Airlines, Night Buses, and More
When traveling, it can be easy to fall into the mindset that you're on vacation and should be allowed to splurge a little, only to be shocked when the reality of your spending comes to light with your next credit card statement. Of course, travel expenses abroad are unavoidable, but they don’t have to break the bank. In today’s article, we will be looking at a few lesser-known ways to travel around Japan for a reasonable price, some of which are an adventure all their own!
Jan 28 2020 (Sep 09 2020)
Most Common Options: Trains, Planes, and Cars
Before we dive into the money-saving travel options, let’s identify the more popular methods of travel in Japan. Arguably the most common way to travel across Japan is by train. There are many kinds of trains in Japan, including subways, limited express trains, bullet trains, and more.
While trains in Japan are clean, punctual, and a reliable way to get nearly anywhere, their great service also means they are not always cheap. If you’d like to learn more about general train travel in Japan, please have a look at our Perfect Guide to Traveling by Train in Japan.
Next, we have flights. Despite the common belief that Japan is a small country, getting from one side to the other can be a real journey, so flying is not out of the question. It’s safe to say that flying can be an expensive way to get around Japan, but in many cases, it can also be the fastest.
Finally, there are cars. Driving offers the freedom to go practically anywhere on your own schedule, but it’s certainly not for everyone (especially if you're not used to driving on the left side of the road!). However, it's important to remember the cost of toll roads and gas when driving, both of which can quickly rack up on a road trip.
If you're considering renting a car in Japan, we've put together a comprehensive guide in our Complete Guide to Driving in Japan for Travelers.
Less Common Travel Options
Take to the Skies with Low-Cost Carriers
As we mentioned above, one option that might not appear at first glance as "cheap” is flying. With the proliferation of low-cost carriers (LLCs) over the last few years, however, you can really save some cash, especially if you're willing to travel with minimal luggage.
The two major LCCs that service Japan are Peach Aviation and Jetstar. Both companies offer flights between major sightseeing destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Okinawa, as well as a number of other cities across Japan. Depending on the destination and time of year, these flights can cost around 10,000 - 15,000 yen for a round trip.
There are downsides to taking LCC flights, however, including the additional time and cost it takes to get to the airport. That said, to certain destinations, flying can actually work out to be the cheapest and fastest way to get around.
For more on flying in and out of Tokyo, check out Narita vs Haneda: A Guide to Tokyo's International Airports.
Roll Through the Night on a Night Bus
If it’s a long way you’re looking to go, why not sleep through your journey on a night bus? This is one of the slower but generally cheapest options for long-distance travel in Japan. Since you're traveling overnight, the night bus also allows you to save on the night's accommodation (assuming you're capable of sleeping on a bus!).
A route like Tokyo to Osaka can cost as little as 2,000 yen one way, but you do need to search around and be flexible with your dates for a deal that good. A more common price ranges around the 5,000 yen mark, making the round-trip option comparable to other long-distance travel options in this article. Check out the Kosoku Bus website for general night bus information and pricing details in English.
Travel the Seas in Style on an Overnight Ferry
Taking a ferry is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about travel around Japan, but if you have time to spare, it’s a great, affordable option that’s an experience in and of itself.
Ferries travel all up and down Japan, and depending on where you are headed, long-haul routes can take from 12 to over 24 hours. However, as the ferry will act as your accommodation during this time, you can actually save some cash that you’d be spending on a place to stay.
Long-haul ferries have a comfortable interior and come equipped with Wi-Fi, lounges, shops, game rooms, and even theaters! Fares generally range from about 7,000 yen to 17,000 yen, depending on your route.
For more information about ferries in Japan and booking options in English, the Japan Long Course Ferry Service Association is a great resource.
Another option you might not have considered is taking local trains to travel across the country. While this method is certainly cheaper than fast trains, and can help you get to some lesser-traveled locations, there are some significant trade-offs. It will take much longer to reach your destination, and requires some coordination to work out the transfers and connections needed to make your journey successfully. Long-distance travel by local train can be a fun and cheap way to see the countryside roll by, but it may be better left to veteran travelers or those who don’t mind getting potentially side-tracked.
During certain times of the year, travelers can also take advantage of the JR Seishun 18 ticket, which gives you five non-consecutive days of nearly unlimited local train travel throughout the country. When these tickets are available, you can purchase them at most JR stations in Japan for 12,050 yen, which works out to be 2,410 yen per day. For more information on the JR Seishun 18 ticket, including their dates of sale and restrictions, please visit the official site.
Lastly, the Most Popular Option: Bullet Train
Perhaps the most common method of long-distance travel in Japan is the bullet train or “shinkansen”. While certainly speedy and a fun experience all its own, the bullet train is not really known as cheap. Generally speaking, the faster the train, the higher the cost. There are, however, ways to bring the price down. If you opt for the JR Pass before going to Japan, for example, it will allow you nearly unlimited bullet train travel that can quickly result in significant savings. Otherwise choosing non-reserved seating (as opposed to reserved seats) can also bring prices down, but comes with the risk of having to stand for a long train ride in busy periods.
We've also covered a new type of discount bullet train pass, called Flex Rail Tickets, in this article. If you're not eligible for the JR Pass, you might be able to save some money with a Flex Rail Ticket, so check it out!
Despite Japan having a reputation as an expensive country, it is definitely possible to travel around without emptying your wallet. We hope this list of options for discounts and alternate ways to go helps keep your costs down!
Package tours are another reasonably priced and hassle-free way to experience Japan. Before you go, consider browsing some of the recommended tours listed here on Tsunagu Japan. This list is constantly being updated, so please look out for potential cross-country tour deals in the future!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.