Skip JR Pass, take long distance night bus

During my first trip to Japan in 2008, I bought a 7-Day Japan Rail Pass–JR Pass which currently costs 28,300 yen/US$ 367.90–and took the Shinkansen from Fukuoka to Tokyo, stopping in the Kansai region for sightseeing.

While the Shinkansen was speedy and comfortable, I decided not to buy the JR Pass during my last trip to Japan in October for four reasons

  1. JR Pass is really expensive even for one person, imagine splurging for two.
  2. We were in Japan for a 10-day trip and the JR Pass came in only 7-Day, 14-Day and 21-Day form so it wasn’t economically wise.
  3. We only planned to visit the Kansai region. If we were travelling a lot farther, I might have gotten the JR Pass or flew.
  4. By travelling by bus at night, I could save on accomodation but still get to my destination. My cheapest accomodation during the trip was my Tokyo stay at 5,300yen a night while Kyoto’s was 7,980 yen.

Japan Bus Pass
I bought a 3-Day Japan Bus Pass from Willer Express. The pass costs 10,000 yen (US$130) and we did not have to use it consecutively.

Inside Wller Express’ Relax series bus

While buying the cheapest return trip bus tickets (4,300 yen one way) on Willer Express would cost less than 10,000 yen. I decided to use the bus pass to buy the most expensive seats it could get on a night bus.

That “most expensive” seat turned out to be on the RELAX series which includes a toilet. At 5,000 yen one-way, it would mean that my mom and I had not wasted our bus pass. (I also think we could change our dates more freely with a pass than without.)

The bus company also a blanket that didn’t smell. (Unlike my Malaysian bus trip. haha)

Cons of night bus travelling
Travelling long distance on a bus does have its down side. You have to be at the bus stop–most likely in the middle of nowhere like the one in Tokyo or the terminal in Kyoto–in the middle of the night.

My bus to Kyoto was scheduled to leave at 11.30pm, a time which I want to curl up in bed with a heavy blanket. As we checked out early in the morning, we had to brush our teeth in the public toilet and were feeling pretty grimy by the time we got to Tokyo.

Midnight at Kyoto Station

Comfort may be minimum. My friend who also took WIller told me of her terrible experience trying to hold her bladder and sitting on a hard seat.

Luckily, the bus pass got my mom and I really comfortable seats at the back–but not the most back where seats are narrower and cheaper–and there was a loo!

Light blocking thing is a savior. That’s my mom.

The bus driver would mumble into his microphone for a long long long time to inform the passengers of its destination etc. My mom thought he was chanting some religious script. Ha ha

When we got to the meeting points, we found out that there were a lot more buses leaving for the same destination (and by the same company). We were given a card with out bus’ number.

Bus number, coupon for 10% off next ride--I think

The employees would call out the bus number in Japanese when it arrives. Just be sure to ask them if yours has come or not.

Relevant post:

Find out how I used Kyoto as a base to explore Kansai.

17 thoughts on “Skip JR Pass, take long distance night bus

  1. Hi.. I want to know, after you purchase the 3days willer bus pass, did you need to pay for extra (in this case seat fees). And does it need to use in 3 consecutive days? or any days I want but just for 3 days. (eg. Use it in monday, then friday, then Saturday)

    1. Hello Yui,

      Glad that you are considering the night bus. I didn’t pay extra for seats (even though I chose the most expensive seat on my bus).
      You don’t have to use it consecutively (which makes it better than the JR Rail Pass). Your Monday/Friday/Saturday route should be fine.
      My mom and I took the bus to Kyoto from Tokyo, stayed there for 5 days, before we used the pass back to Tokyo.
      Hope that helps.
      -Yun Qing

  2. Hello! I have a question: did you purchase both bus passes from the same account? I want to purcahse 2 passes, one for me and one for my son, but I am worried that he won?t be able to use it as the willer page specifies that they require Photo ID….thanks!

    1. Hello Flor,
      Glad you decided to take the night bus. I used the same account to book the two passes (for me and my mom). I don’t remember them looking at my photo ID but I showed them my print-out ticket. They have a list of passenger names.

  3. Hi Yun Qing, I’m looking at doing the same thing as you (Tokyo to Kyoto) and this seems like a great alternative to the JRpass as I won’t be travelling to other parts of Japan. One quick question, how long is the bus journey?

    1. About 8 hours. Most of it is spent snoozing in the bus so it flies really quickly.
      Safe travels.
      -Yun Qing

  4. Hi thanks for sharing your experience on willer bus travel and I find it very useful. My family will be travelling to Japan this December and I had planned to use the night bus service from tokyo to Osaka. After reading your blog I think it is worth to get the 3day bus pass.
    BTW how many times does the bus make stops along the route. Thanks.


    1. Hello Vincent,
      Thanks for the comment! :D I remember that my bus stopped 2 times at night for toilet break. I got off the bus to see how the rest stops look like but was too cold that I had to run back into the bus to keep warm.
      Safe travels.

  5. Hey there,

    Nice blog with useful information. I will be taking the same route from Tokyo to Kyoto on some days. I am just worried about the bus stop since they don’t have a dedicated spot. Is it hard to find? Is there personal of Willer Express before the bus arrive? How do you know that you are in the correct place?

    Sharing your experience is appreciated, thanks Yun! :)

    Miguel Gonzalez

    1. Hello Miguel,
      I believe they will have maps of pickup locations. It was not terribly hard to find since about 50 other people will be gathered there.

      1. I just came back from my trip. As you said, it was not hard to find. I just had to take the maps on Willer Express’s web site and locate the same place on my GPS, just turning on the corner I knew I was there because of people waiting the bus and Willer Express staff (wearing pink hats).

        I recommend these buses for limited budget travelers. They are ok if you have no problems spending a night on the bus.

        Thanks Yun! :)

        Miguel Gonzalez

  6. hihi,

    im considering the willer bus ride as well. just one question – you mentioned something about choosing seats? does that mean that we are able to pick just the type of seats that we want, or where the seats are? i’m worried about this because i will be travelling with a friend who has never been to japan before nor can she speak japanese, so i would prefer to be sitting next to her, but i’m not sure how to go about booking it that way.

    1. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve taken the bus. If you are booking the tickets at one go, I’m sure you can choose the seats you want. There were different prices for seats in different areas (the ones at the back with more room were slightly more expensive).

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