Getting Around Living Travel

Japanese Transportation | How to Travel Smart

Miso Dog
Misoko-sensei, I am thinking of going on a short trip to Osaka. Could you tell me how to get there?

Hmm, Tokyo to Osaka, there are many ways. A bus, a car, an airplane, a train…
Misoko

Miso Dog
That is too many! I cannot choose. What are the differences?

Okay, let me tell you the pros and cons of all types of Japanese transportation.
Misoko

Japanese Transportation?


How do you get places in Japan? It may depend on your purpose. If you are a tourist and thinking of visiting places far away in Japan, then you might take an airplane. However, there are other options that you should consider. There are buses, taxis, rental cars, etc. as other options and they all come with pros and cons. In this article, I would like to show you the pros and cons of all types of Japanese transportation.

 

3 Important Factors When You Choose Transportation

When you use public transportation, what factors do you care about the most? If your budget is limited, then reasonably priced options are better. If you want to relax on the way to your destination, then comfortable options suit your needs. If you want to go somewhere as fast as possible, then speed is the most important factor. Your traveling distance is important when narrowing down the options. In Japan, there is no all-in-one option for transportation that is fast, comfortable, and cheap. 

 

Manners on Japanese transportation

Be quiet

On public transportation, talking loudly inside vehicles is not recommended.

No food

Eating inside vehicles such as local trains, buses, and taxis is not allowed.

No talk on the phone

Talking on the phone is not recommended.

 

*Please look after your belongings while you are in the vehicle*

Japan is known for its safety, but it is better to be careful especially when you are traveling long distances.

 

Short Summary: Pros and Cons of all types of Japanese Transportation

There are many ways to visit places in Japan. Unlike in other countries, public transportation is highly developed in Japan. For example, a lot of people on trains or buses go to work in the morning. Compared to the USA, not many people have cars because the parking spots cost money and you can go anywhere by public transportation in Japan so there is not much need for a car.

The section below is the short conclusion of all types of Japanese public transportation for both short and long distances. It shows you what type of public transportation you need and what they are good for. For more information, please read further.

 

For short distances

CostSpeedComfortability
Local BusLowMidMid
TrainLowHighMid
TaxiHighHighHigh
BicycleLowLowMid

The first options for traveling short distances are local trains or buses. They are affordable and convenient. If you are only comparing speed, then trains are faster. However, trains tend to get more crowded than buses. Whether you should take a train or bus depends on where you are and planning on going. Apps like this will help you make the decision: Japan Travel by NAVITIME.

Taxis in Japan are useful when you are traveling short distances with a small group of people. They are available 24 hours, so taxis are an option after the last trains.

Bicycles are very useful for going around your neighborhood. In Japan, things around you, stations, bus stops, supermarkets, and banks are within walking distance. With a bicycle, your daily life will be more convenient.

 

For long distances

CostSpeedComfortability
Highway busLowLowLow
ShinkansenHighHighHigh
AirplaneMidHighMid
FerryMidLowLow
Rental carMidLowMid

(ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus:8~10 hours/ Shinkansen:2.5 hours/ Airplane:1.5 hours)

(ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus: 2000 ~6000 yen/ Shinkansen: 13870 ~14,720 yen/ Airplane: 5000 ~20000 yen)

If you are only thinking of cutting down on costs, then the highway bus is the cheapest option. However, it takes more time than other types of public transportation and you may feel uncomfortable sitting on a small chair for hours.

For people who care about the time it takes and comfortability the most, I recommend taking Shinkansen/limited express trains or airplanes. The good thing about shinkansen is that its stations are in the center of cities. However, a one-way ticket costs 14000 yen. 

On the other hand, airplanes are cheaper depending on the season. The ride is shorter than the Shinkansen, but you need to think about how to get to the airport. Airports in Japan are located far from the center of cities, so it takes time and money to get there.

Ferries could be an option only when you have a car or motorcycle to move with you. Compared to other public transportation, you have the freedom to walk around; but Ferries take hours to get to destinations and are not that affordable. Unlike other public transportation, ferries only go places near the sea.

Car rental is useful when you go on a 1 to 2 day trip with a small member of people. With a rental car, you can go anywhere (mountains, lakes, places where public transportation is not available). Going somewhere far away by rental car is not recommended; in this case, it would be better to take a highway bus, Shinkansen, or airplane, then rent a car.

 

Pros and Cons of all types of Japanese Transportation

Here are all the pros and cons of public transportation in Japan. In addition to the good and bad points of all types of Japanese public transportation, it also shows you how to use them.

Local Bus


Local buses are good when you commute to work/school or travel short distances. They stop at the major stations and places where trains do not go. Some bus stops are connected to train stations, so if you live somewhere far from train stations, then it might be better to take a bus than going to a train station on foot. Local buses could be an alternative to trains depending on your location and destination. Whether you should take a bus or train depends on where you are going.

Pros

・Buses in the cities come and go frequently

・Buses tend to be less crowded than trains

・Buses stop right in front of you; in the case of the train, you may be required to walk for a few minutes from the station to the platform

Cons

・Sometimes buses are delayed depending on how crowded the streets are

Speed is slower than trains even if you are traveling the same distance

・If you are in rural areas, buses do not come often.

・One bus stop may have several lines; it is hard to know whether you are getting on the right bus or not

・There is less information at bus stops (Train stations show when the next train is coming, where it is going, if it is delayed, etc.)

 

How to get on a local bus?

It depends on the area.

If you are taking a bus in major cities

 It costs only 220 yen (Dec 2020). Get on from the front, and pay the fee in cash or by IC card such as Pasmo and Suica. The name of the next stop is shown at the front of the bus. To get off, press one of the “stop” buttons before your bus stop passes.

If you are out of major cities

The fee varies depending on how far you go. Get on from the center, and take a ticket. This ticket shows which bus stop you board, so do not throw it away. Press the button before you get off, and pay the fee at the front. How much you need to pay is listed on the front screen with your ticket number.

*Local buses usually run from 7 am to 12 pm depending on the line.

*Having an app like this helps you to know when and where to get on/off: Japan Travel by NAVITIME.

 

Highway bus


Highway buses mostly travel long distances. For example, Tokyo to Osaka, Fukuoka, etc. You are required to be seated for hours if you are traveling a long distance. The bus will stop a couple of times at rest stops on the way to the destination. There are some highway buses that take you from the cities to airports. They are called shuttle buses. There are different types of highway buses; it costs more depending on the services and comfortability. For more information about highway bus lines, make a reservation: Japan Bus-Gateway.

Pros

・Reasonable prices ( ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus: 2000 ~6000 yen/ Shinkansen: 13870 ~14,720 yen/ Airplane: 5000 ~20000 yen)

・At rest stops, you can get souvenirs from different places

・Free wifi is available on some highway buses (Please make sure the highway bus you have booked has wifi)

Cons

・You will be required to be on a bus for a long time compared to other types of transportation that travel long distances, such as Shinkansen and airplanes

(Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus:8~10 hours/ Shinkansen:2.5 hours/ Airplane:1.5 hours)

・Highway bus seats are not that comfortable compared to Shinkansen and airplanes

・Some highway buses do not have a bathroom (you might be required to hold it until the bus stops at a rest area: it usually stops every 2 to 3 hours)

・At rest areas, there are other highway buses that look the same; it is possible to get lost 

 

How to use highway bus services?

Most of the highway buses need to be reserved online or by phone. Some shuttle buses do not require any reservations, but it is better to make a reservation just to be on the safe side. 

The boarding process differs depending on the company. Please make sure to bring your reservation receipt.

*Remember to bring your own food and drink because no food will be served on the bus. Food at rest stops sells out fast!

 

Local train

Local trains are the most common way to commute or travel short distances. There are more than a hundred lines in Japan, and it is possible to go somewhere far away if you transfer lines. Fares are reasonably priced; it varies depending on how far you go. The train comes every 5 minutes during rush hour. 

Pros

・The fastest way to travel short distances

・Compared to local buses, local trains are hardly ever delayed

・It is possible to travel long distances - if you have places you want to go on the way, you can get off the train and visit (ex. Tokyo to Osaka: 9 hours, transfer 5 times, 8910 yen)

Cons

・During rush hours, trains are packed

・Transferring lines can be confusing; an app like this helps you to know when and where to get on/off: Japan Travel by NAVITIME

 

How to get on a local train?

The fare varies depending on which station you are going to and what line you are using. There is a line map with fares listed right above the ticket machines at every station. To get on a train, there are 2 options.

Buying a ticket 

Purchase a ticket, and put it through a gate to enter. Do the same thing when you get off. 

*If you are transferring to a line that belongs to a different train company, the fare will not be listed on the map. I recommend you buy a ticket to the station where you are getting off first. Then, purchase another ticket at the station you are transferring. 

Buying an IC card (Pasmo, Suica)

Traveling with IC cards is very convenient. At every station, you can buy either Suica (issued by Japan Railway) or Pasmo (issued by Tokyu Railways). It costs 500 yen as a deposit, but it is worth buying it (This deposit is refunded by returning it to its station counter). Unlike buying a ticket, there is no need to calculate fees. All you need to do is put money on the card. Put the card on the spot where “IC” is written on the gate to get in. Do the same thing when you get off. 

*If you are not sure what ticket to buy, Just buy the cheapest one. Each station has adjustment machines next to the gate, so pay the rest at the station at which you are getting off. The fare adjustment machines can also be used to put more money on an IC card.

*Having an app like this helps you to know when and where to get on/off: Japan Travel by NAVITIME

 

Shinkansen, Limited express train


Shinkansen and Limited express trains travel long distances at high speed. There are several Shinkansen lines that connect the major cities in Japan. The interior of the trains are clean and comfortable, but the tickets are expensive. Limited express trains are not as fast as Shinkansen, but they go to different areas at high speed. Depending on which Shinkansen you take, the number of stations it stops at and the total travel time differ.

( ex. Tokyo to Osaka/ Shinkansen Nozomi: 2.5 hours/ Shinkansen Hikari: 3 hours/ Shinkansen Kodama: 4 hours)

Pros

・Fast and comfortable - you cannot tell it is moving, and some people even work inside 

・Most of the stations where Shinkansen and Limited express trains stop are located right in the middle of the cities - it is possible to go sightseeing before and after you get on the train, and you do not have to travel long distances with your luggage

・Pricing is fixed (Only 200 yen differences during high and off seasons)

Cons

・The process of buying a ticket can be confusing - it is not the same way you buy a ticket when you get on a local train (First class cars, reserved or non-reserved, different types of seats)

・Expensive, prices are fixed; hard to get discounts

How to get on the Shinkansen and limited express trains?

You need to get a ticket at major stations or online. Go to one of the stations that have ticket machines or station counters for Shinkansen and Limited express trains. They can also be reserved online (JR-EAST Train Reservation). Make sure to be on the railway platform 15 minutes before the departure time. To get to the platform, put your ticket (sometimes more than one if your ticket is divided into a basic fare ticket and express train ticket) through a gate. Do the same thing when you get out of the station. If your tickets are divided into 2, your express ticket will not come back once you are done using the Shinkansen. Use the other ticket to get on/off local trains to get to your destination.

*Shinkansen and limited express trains require 2 tickets: a Basic fare ticket and a Super (LImited) express train ticket. The Basic fare ticket is for the fare, and the Super (LImited) express train ticket is for express train service. They are combined if you are only using Shinkansen or limited express trains. Tickets are separate if you are using Shinkansen or Limited trains and local trains to get to your destination. (2 types of Super (LImited) express train tickets are available: non-reserved seat or reserved seat tickets. Non-reserved Super (LImited) express train tickets are just a little cheaper, but it is possible that there is no seat available depending on how crowded the train is)

*Having an app like this helps you to know when and where to get on/off: Japan Travel by NAVITIME.

 

Airplane


Airplanes are one of the options for traveling long distances. It is the fastest way to go. The price range is wide depending on the season and the services. LCC (Low Cost Carrier) airlines offer very affordable flights. However, most of the airports are located far from major cities; you may need to take a shuttle bus or train to get there. You are also required to be at the airport about an hour before the departure time, so it takes more time than you think.

Pros

・Fast (ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus:8~10 hours/ Shinkansen:2.5 hours/ Airplane:1.5 hours)

・Convenient

・Affordable during off season 

・LCC flights are affordable

Cons

・Tickets can be very expensive during busy seasons (March, July, August, around new year’s, etc.)

・Going to the airport takes time and money because they are located far from major cities

・Long waiting time before boarding 

・Another fast way to get to the airport, Shinkansen, can be faster when you combine all the things you do to go by airplane (Go to the airport by bus or train, wait at the airport, get on and off, retrieve your luggage, head to the city by using other public transportation)

・A lot of moving around with your luggage

・In exchange for the low cost, LCC flights are not comfortable (narrow seats, no food or drink, etc.)

 

How to get on an airplane in Japan

The way to take a local flight in Japan is not different from what you do in your country. Make a reservation, and issue a ticket. Get to the gate at least 30 minutes before the departure time.

 

Ferry


Using Ferries is an option if you do not like trains and airplanes and still need to travel long distances. The greatest benefit of using a ferry is your car or motorcycle can be brought inside the ferry. You can rest on the ferry and drive your car after it arrives at the destination.

Pros

・You can load your car or motorcycle inside

・Reasonable prices

・Spacious (you do not need to be at one place; walk around the deck, take a nap, eat food, take a shower...)

Cons

・Seasickness

・Traveling by ferry takes a long time

・You can only travel to places that are close to the sea

・The lowest class room can be uncomfortable (the only place you can lie down is shared with a bunch of other people)

・Ferries only stop around the seaside

 

How to get on a ferry

It is necessary to make a reservation online or by phone. The boarding process differs depending on the company.

 

Taxi


Uber is not common in Japan. However, taxis can be found everywhere if you are in major cities. Pricing varies a little depending on where you board the taxi. In Tokyo, it costs 420 yen for the first 1.052 kilometers. There are some apps that help you call taxis: JapanTaxi, Fulcul

Pros

・Convenient - you do not need to walk to stations

・Available 24 hours

・You can split the cost with your friends

Cons

・Not suitable for long distances 

・Expensive

・Hard to catch a taxi depending on the time and location 

 

How to use Taxis in Japan

Raise your hand and wait for the taxi to stop (The door opens automatically). Get in and tell the driver where you are going (Showing the location or address in Japanese helps). Pay in cash or by credit card when you get off

 

Car Rental


If you have a valid driver’s license, then getting around with a car could be an option for you. Renting a car is recommended if you only need it for short amounts of time. It costs 5000 yen~ per 24 hours depending on what type of car you choose.

Pros

・More affordable than traveling via public transportation in some cases

・It is possible to visit the places where public transportation is not available, or hard to get there

・Suitable for day trips or 3-4 hours of driving

・If you have friends riding in the car with you, you can split the cost

Cons

・Someone needs to drive

・Japanese driver’s license is necessary

・Traffic rules can be a little different from your home country

・You need to pick up and return the car at a certain place 

・Other components like fuel and expressway toll fees are not included in the rental cost

 

How to use car rental services in Japan

Make a reservation online or by phone. Visit a shop and complete the application process. Take the car back to the shop with a full tank.

Recommended car rental services:  TOYOTA Rent a Car, Budget, NIPPON RENT-A-CAR, Times CAR RENTAL

Recommend to check the following when renting a car

・Damages on the car

・Whether or not car insurance is included, and how much it covers

 

Bicycle

Using a bicycle is a common way to explore the area you are in. In Japan, bicycles are commonly used to go to places close enough to walk, such as going grocery shopping, commuting to school, etc.

Pros

・Bicycles are inexpensive if you do not choose the brand

・It is good for going places where there is no bus stop or station around

Cons

・Only good for short distances

・You may not use it that much unless you live far from the nearest station or supermarket

・Sometimes it takes time to find a place to park

 

Conclusion

For short distances

CostSpeedComfortability
Local BusLowMidMid
TrainLowHighMid
TaxiHighHighHigh
BicycleLowLowMid

The first options for traveling short distances are local trains or buses. They are affordable and convenient. If you are only comparing speed, then trains are faster. However, trains tend to get more crowded than buses. Whether you should take a train or bus depends on where you are and planning on going. Apps like this will help you make the decision: Japan Travel by NAVITIME.

Taxis in Japan are useful when you are traveling short distances with a small group of people. They are available 24 hours, so taxis are an option after the last trains.

Bicycles are very useful for going around your neighborhood. In Japan, things around you, stations, bus stops, supermarkets, and banks are within walking distance. With a bicycle, your daily life will be more convenient.

 

For long distances

CostSpeedComfortability
Highway busLowLowLow
ShinkansenHighHighHigh
AirplaneMidHighMid
FerryMidLowLow
Rental carMidLowMid

(ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus: 8~10 hours/ Shinkansen:2.5 hours/ Airplane:1.5 hours)

(ex. Tokyo to Osaka/Highway bus: 2000 ~6000 yen/ Shinkansen: 13870 ~14,720 yen/ Airplane: 5000 ~20000 yen)

If you are only thinking of cutting down on costs, then the highway bus is the cheapest option. However, it takes more time than other types of public transportation and you may feel uncomfortable sitting on a small chair for hours.

For people who care about the time it takes and comfortability the most, I recommend taking Shinkansen/limited express trains or airplanes. The good thing about shinkansen is that its stations are in the center of cities. However, a one-way ticket costs 14000 yen. 

On the other hand, airplanes are cheaper depending on the season. The ride is shorter than the Shinkansen, but you need to think about how to get to the airport. Airports in Japan are located far from the center of cities, so it takes time and money to get there.

Ferries could be an option only when you have a car or motorcycle to move with you. Compared to other public transportation, you have the freedom to walk around; but Ferries take hours to get to destinations and are not that affordable. Unlike other public transportation, ferries only go places near the sea.

Car rental is useful when you go on a 1 to 2 day trip with a small member of people. With a rental car, you can go anywhere (mountains, lakes, places where public transportation is not available). Going somewhere far away by rental car is not recommended; in this case, it would be better to take a highway bus, Shinkansen, or airplane, then rent a car.

 

-Getting Around, Living, Travel

© 2022 MisoDog