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How to Get Around Japan on a Budget


a large, colorful Buddhist pagoda with a view of Fuji in Japan
Posted: 2/11/2019 | February 11, 2019

I have to confess: I hesitate to travel Japan until 2011 because I always thought it was too expensive.

Everyone always told me that Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world. That was the collective wisdom.

When I got there, I realized two things: First: I love Japan! It is one of the most amazing, beautiful and friendly countries in the world. It lives up to all the hype.

Second, Although expensive, Japan is not accessible to budget travelers,

There are many inexpensive ways to enjoy Japan on a budget.

From finding delicious food In order to use affordable hotels for fun activities, you do not have to press every penny to have fun.

The one thing that is really expensive in Japan? Fast transport

It's not a huge country, but the island state's transportation infrastructure is geared for expensive high-speed travel or cheap (really) low-speed travel. There is not much in between. It's a three-hour train ride or a 12-hour bus ride!

So, what are the best ways to travel Japan without spending all your money on the transport?

In this post I will dismantle that (because it requires some work).

Travel by train through Japan

A super fast high-speed train that passes by a snow-covered mountain in Japan in Japan

Japan's infamous high-speed trains (Shinkansen) are beautiful, comfortable, comfortable and fast. They are a marvel of traffic and race at speeds of up to 320 km per hour. These trains run on special tracks, separated from the other trains.

They are a nice technical feat and a smooth ride. It is the best in the train journey.

They are also very, very expensive.

Single tickets can cost hundreds of dollars – even more than airfares. To travel with a high-speed train, you pay a simple train fare. Then there is an additional "Super Express Fee" from 800 to 8,000 JPY (7.50 to 75 USD). For example, a one-way ticket from Kyoto to Hiroshima costs 11,300 JPY ($ 105 USD) Tokyo Kyoto costs 13,710 JPY ($ 126 USD), Osaka to Tokyo around 15,000 JPY (140 USD) and Tokyo to Nagasaki 25,850 USD (240 USD).

To cap it all, there are very rare promotions or discounts. And if you do not know Japanese, they are almost impossible to find.

Luckily, there are other options. Japan also has regular express and regional trains. Of course, they are much slower than the Shinkansen, but they are also cheaper.

For example, a ride on a commuter train Kyoto Tokyo costs around 8,000 JPY (73 USD) instead of 13,710 JPY (126 USD) for the high-speed train. However, the journey takes 9 hours instead of 3 hours and also requires multiple transfers, which is an ideal choice for most travelers.

Whether you choose the high-speed train or regional trains, I think train travel is the best way to explore the country. It's just not a good idea to buy a single ticket. To reduce your train costs, you will need a Japan Rail (JR) Pass.

The passes are good for JR trains – both regular trains and the Shinkansen high-speed trains! – which go to almost every destination and region in the country. What I really like is that these JR trains also serve metropolitan areas and can therefore be used within cities. On my last visit, I used my passport to get around Kyoto and Tokyo instead of buying Metro tickets.

The JR Pass is essential for traveling in Japan, as you have unlimited travel with it. The pass has several options (each applies to consecutive days, not just travel days):

  • 29,110 JPY (267 USD) for 7 days
  • 46,390 JPY (426 USD) for 14 days
  • 59,350 JPY (545 USD) for 21 days

Even if you only get the seven-day JR pass, it still costs less than a one-way ticket from Osaka to Tokyo. And you can do a lot in seven days (after all, it's a small country!)

The JR Pass is great for various types of JR trains. After the Shinkansen, the next one is the fastest Tokkyu (limited express). The Kyuko Next comes the express train, followed by the kaisoku and futs? (Local trains that make any stop).

Each of these passes also has a first-rate option. First class cars are referred to as "green cars" in Japan. The Green Car JR Pass costs about 10,000 JPY ($ 92 USD) per pass. Since the trains in Japan are already amazing, you probably only need to buy the Green Car Pass if you really want some luxury.

There are also regional options if you do not travel all over the country. These options save even more money as they are cheaper than regular JR passes. You can buy JR passes for six different regions of the country:

  • JR East
  • JR West
  • JR Central
  • JR Hokkaido (the northern island)
  • JR Kyushu (the southwestern island)
  • JR Shikoku (the southeastern island)

There are several pass options for each region, usually between 1 and 7 days. If you only want to focus on one region of the country, you should purchase a JR Regional Pass. If you want to explore everything, get the regular JR Pass. (If you're visiting Japan for the first time, you probably want the regular JR pass as it covers all the important goals.)

Remember that you must buy your JR Pass before you come to Japan. So make sure you have your exchange order (the receipt for your passport) before you leave the house! Once you arrive in Japan, swap your "exchange order" for a JR pass in a JR office. Make sure you have your passport if you want to pick it up!

At present, however, they allow travelers to buy their passports on arrival at some locations. However, this is just a test that should end in March 2019. Until then you can buy your passport here in Japan: Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Hakata, New Chitose Airport, Narita Airport, Haneda Airport and Kansai Airport. The pass is mainly available for non-Japanese travelers who are staying for a limited time. When applying for the passport, state your nationality and travel details. You need your passport to pick up your passport.

If you do not buy a JR Pass and only want to buy individual tickets between destinations, enter the approximate prices you pay for one-way train tickets with unreserved seats in the "normal" car (non-green car). Class:

  • Hiroshima-Tokyo: 18,040 JPY (167 USD)
  • Tokyo-Kyoto: 13,080 JPY (120 USD)
  • Kyoto Hiroshima: 10,570 JPY (98 USD)
  • Tokyo-Nagoya: 10.360 JPY (96 USD)
  • Nagoya-Kyoto: 5,070 JPY (47 USD)
  • Kyoto-Osaka: 560 JPY (5.25 USD)

If you do not have a JR Pass, you'll pay more for a reserved seat, about $ 300 to $ 700 ($ 2.75 to $ 6.50). Normally you do not need a reserved seat unless you travel in high season when all seats are occupied.

Take a public bus through Japan

A pink Willer express coach full of people in Japan

Buses are a cheaper alternative, but they take more time. For example, the two-hour high-speed train ride off Tokyo Osaka is 10 hours by bus.

The price for this seat is $ 4,500 ($ 42 USD), but at some point you have to think about how much your time is worth. On my last trip, saving $ 10,500 ($ 97) was not worth the extra eight hours, as I had limited time.

If I had more time, the bus would have been worth it, especially as there are so many cool stops along the way to stop the journey.

Willer Express and Japan Bus Lines have bus passes that allow unlimited travel and start at 10,000 JPY (93 USD) for three consecutive travel days. You can see the options under,

Here are some sample rates between popular destinations:

  • Tokyo-Kyoto: 1,599 JYP (15 USD) – 7,5 hours.
  • Tokyo-Nagoya: 2,998 JYP (28 USD) – 6.5 hours.
  • Nagoya-Kyoto: 2,550 JYP (24 USD) – 2 hours 50 min.
  • Kyoto Hiroshima: 4,590 JYP ($ 42 USD) – 7 hours. 20 min.
  • Hiroshima-Tokyo: 6,000 JYP (55 USD) – 12 hours
  • Kyoto-Osaka: 900 JYP ($ 8 USD) – 1.5 hours

You see, it's much cheaper to travel by bus – but it takes much longer!

Conclusion: if you have time, take the bus. The coaches are comfortable and there are night buses that are a good alternative if you are planning a long trip. Do not be afraid to chat people traveling: Those I met in Japan were very friendly. If you are Japanese, you will be more than happy to tell you all about your country (and to ask for yours).

Explore Japan by plane

Colorful airliners painted in Japan with pokemon images

Flying has become a better option as more budget airlines now fly to Japan. In general, fares are comparable to high-speed tickets. JAL and ANA are the big players. The main "budget" carriers are Peach and Jetstar Japan.

Japan is not a huge country, and I prefer to take the train or bus, but if you have little time and do not want to hop island-to-island or high-speed train with a ferry, you can fly (though it's not Country is acting) much more trouble!).

Here are some typical prices between some popular destinations in Japan:


JAL: 8,767 JPY (81 USD) (one way), 17,759 JPY (164 USD) (return)
ANA: 11,239 JPY (104 USD) (one way), 20,323 JPY (189 USD) (return)


JAL: 7,081 JPY (65 USD) (one way), 14,611 JPY (135 USD) (return)
ANA: 9,329 JPY (86 USD) (one way), 16,972 JPY (157 USD) (return)

Osaka-Hiroshima *:

JAL: 11,352 JPY (105 USD) (one way), 42,036 JPY (388 USD) (return)
ANA: 18,881 JPY (175 USD) (one way), 37,649 JPY (348 USD) (return)


JAL: 11,576 JPY (107 USD) (one way), 21,018 JPY (194 USD) (return)
ANA: 16,409 JPY (152 USD) (one way), 25,738 JPY (238 USD) (return)

* No direct flights

In addition, ANA offers special last minute rates for 10,800 JPY (99 USD) or less at These rates are only available to foreigners and may sometimes be cheaper than flights on other websites, especially for longer distances.

If you decide to fly or travel by train, keep in mind that you need to get to the airport somehow. Not all airports are nearby: Kyoto's The nearest airport is in Osaka. If you find flights to be very expensive (such as to and from Hiroshima), check the nearby airports and be particularly flexible on your itinerary.

Travel by ferry in Japan

Passengers are facing a large ferry that will take them to an island in Japan

Another option in Japan is an Interisland ferry, and there is a wide choice of routes. Ferries usually carry passengers, vehicles and cargo. Passengers can choose between three classes: second (with or without bed), first and special. You will not have your own private room on a ferry, although the first-class option has only two beds in each room.

The four main islands of Japan are connected by bridges and tunnels, but many of the smaller islands are accessible only by water. If you want to explore them, the Japan Ferry Pass 21 is a good option. There are six trips on certain routes with longer routes for 21 days. The pass costs 21,000 JPY (189 USD) and is only available to foreign travelers. The pass is suitable for second-class travel and can not be used in high season. Ferries must be reserved in advance. For more information, see

If you choose this route, remember that the trips can be very long! Here are some examples of routes, duration and costs:


Duration (hours)

Second class (no bed)

First Class (with bed)

Tokyo – Kitakyushu
17,000 JPY (157 USD)
20,000 JPY (183 USD)
Osaka – Shibushi
14,660 USD JPY (134 USD)
22,000 JPY (203 USD)
Kobe – Takamatsu
2,290 JPY (21 USD)
4,300 JPY (39 USD)
Niigata – Otaru
6,680 JPY ($ 61 USD, shared room with bed)
14,160 JPY (130 USD)

Travel by car through Japan

The blurred lights of a busy highway in Japan at night

I do not recommend renting a car and driving alone in Japan. First, car rentals are much more expensive than public transport. In most areas, traffic is frustrating, parking is very cumbersome, and if you do not speak Japanese, it will be very difficult to get around.

In Japan by hitchhiking

If you are adventurous, you can hitchhike. Japan is a really safe country and it is a chance for a free ride! Although there is almost no Japanese hitchhiking, many are happy about foreigners. It is an opportunity for them to practice their English and enter a new culture. So do not be afraid to emphasize a thumb!

Even in the countryside, it's hard to find a ride. Even people who do not speak English will pick you up because the people are really amazing and give. Do not be surprised if you are asked if you want to meet your family or friends or share a meal with them!

Our community manager, Chris, spent a month backpacking Hitchhiking in Japan, He has never waited too long for a ride and the people were incredibly friendly. They bought him snacks and meals, went out of their way to help him, and even brought them home to meet their family. If you feel comfortable with it, this can be a very culturally rewarding experience!

If you choose this route, make a sign that tells you which way to go. Add a smiley and other cute drawings to increase your chances of getting a ride. A good resource to find the best seats for a ride is Hitchwiki,

How long does it take to get around Japan?

Here are some distances and driving times. I think that will convince you that the train is really the right way.


Road (km / miles)

Air (hrs)

Train (hrs)

Bus (hrs)

Tokyo-Kyoto **
Nagoya-Kyoto **
4 *
Kyoto ** – Hiroshima
3:50 *
N / A


The best way to travel in Japan

Conclusion: The best transport option really depends on the length of your trip. If you only have one week or so Japan and you want to get along quickly, get a train pass and take the train everywhere. It will not be cheap, but it is most efficient. If you have more time and want to visit many places in a similar geographic area, take the bus. If you are not familiar with hitchhiking, try an app CarpoolIt will help you find all types of carpools, vanpools and carpools by destination.

Whichever method you choose, you are in good hands. Japan has some of the safest, cleanest and most efficient travel options in the world, so have fun!

Book your trip to Japan: Logistic tips and tricks

Book your flight

Find a cheap flight with Skyscanner or Momondo, They are my two favorite search engines as they search websites and airlines around the world, so you always know that there is no stone on the other.

Book your accommodation

You can book your hostel with Hostelworld Since they have the most extensive inventory, it is best to book a hostel. If you want to stay in a hotel or guest house in Japan, use as they always return the lowest prices for guesthouses and cheap hotels. They are the best booking site. My favorite places in Japan are:

  • Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki (Tokyo) – This is one of the best hostels in the country. The staff do everything, and each room has its own bathroom. The location is ideal for exploring the city.
  • Jiyujin (Kyoto) – This is a smaller hostel suitable for anyone looking for a quiet and relaxed city break.
  • K's house (Hiroshima) – This is a big chain of youth hostels all over the country. The staff are helpful, the common areas are always full of people and there is also free tea and coffee.

Do not forget the travel insurance

Travel insurance protects you from illness, injury, theft and cancellations. It's a complete protection in case something goes wrong. I never travel without it, as I've used it many times. I have used world nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Are you looking for the best companies that can help you save money?

Look at mine resource page for the best companies you can use while traveling! I list all those I use when traveling to save money – and I think I will help you too!

Look for more travel tips for Japan

Look at my detailed information Japan travel guide Other ways to save money, costs, tips on attractions and activities, suggestions for itineraries, reading, packing lists and much more!

Photo credit: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6

The post How to get around with a budget in Japan first appeared on Nomadic Matt's travel website,

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