No one denies trains reign supreme in Japan, but the pros know that actually buses are a clean, comfortable, cost effective way to get around the countryside.
When you think of traveling around Japan, you probably think of the world class train network and the king of all high speed trains, the shinkansen. That said, there are also ubiquitous fleets of super clean and convenient buses linking all the cities, towns, and villages. The trains may be everyone’s first choice, but informed travelers know that sometimes the best way to get around the country is in the comfort of a bus.
As you get farther out from the big cities, there is a sharp drop in the amount of train access. Not every picturesque village has (or needs) a train station. To get to these places without a car, you’ll most likely need to take a bus anyway, so sometimes it just makes more sense to bus it the whole way.
There’s a very practical network of overnight buses that leave central Tokyo bound for many popular locations. The beauty of this system is that you can eat a quick dinner, hop on a bus, and wake up at your destination all rested up and ready to go. This is a way better option than waking up at 4 AM to take the first shinkansen out of the capital.
What makes the bus even more attractive is the price. The shinkansen may be fast, but it ain’t cheap. Tokyo to Aomori by train will cost you about ¥20,000, whereas an overnight bus will only set you back about ¥4,000. Now you can splurge on a nicer room or buy a truly impractical amount of apples.
Some companies like Willer Travel offer a range of options like wide seats, business and first class seating, free wi-fi, and electric outlets for charging your phone or using your laptop. Even more appealing are direct bus routes to ski resorts and famous hanami spots in the countryside, places that usually don’t have any train service at all.
And lastly, there’s the view. Trains tend to avoid the towns, and because Japan is mountainous, you actually spend a lot of time passing through long, boring tunnels. The bus routes will take you directly through hundreds of interesting towns and villages, giving you a firsthand look at traditional life in rural Japan.
So while trains are the undisputed rockstars of transportation, and renting a car overseas isn’t for everyone, buses are a clean, cost effective, and comfortable way to get around and see Japan. And in the case of a lot of very specific rural destinations, sometimes they’re the only game in town, so why not avoid the crowded train stations and hop on an express bus?