This is a guest post by Alessandro, a third-year JET in Kanazawa.
Traveling in Japan can be very expensive. Night buses a valid alternative if you want to save money and time… but in some cases you may need to be able to read Japanese, and you’ll need to be ready to make some sacrifices.
Your best shot for saving money is to travel by night buses. They are cheap, you save time by not traveling by day, and the money from a hotel. In exchange, be ready to be squeezed a little and/or spend a night without sleeping (there are slightly more expensive seats for more space).
Basic Info about Different Companies
1. All night buses have 4 or 5 scheduled stops in station areas on the way to the final destination — this is the worst thing about night buses. It will depend on the driver,but they tend to wake everyone up (lights switched back on + loud announcements) to inform every passenger about the stop.
JR drivers tend to be the less noisy and let passengers sleep, while the worst may be those of 123bus. Although it really depends on the driver –I have traveled many times with the same company and received a different result each time…
2. Arrivals/departures in Tokyo can be from Shinjuku, Tokyo station or Tokyo Disneyland.
Departures/arrivals are from Kanazawa station, Korimbo, Katamachi, Toyama.
Going to Osaka/Kyoto
Well, not much choice for this route. Only the JR buses will take you there.
There are many trips a day and one during the night. JR provides the best quality service, but it is also the most expensive.
One-way trips will cost you 4,300 to Osaka 4,060 to Kyoto. If you buy a round-trip ticket you save a lot and the cost is 7,000 to Osaka and 6,600 to Kyoto. The return trip must be within 10 days from departure.
Where to buy the tickets? At Kanazawa station main entrance (the one with the giant traditional Japanese gate) you will find the ticket office. You can also buy tickets online, and in that case you save another 2% on the ticket. You will then have to pay in a convenience store, which will give you the tickets.
When do you book the tickets? It’s is a mystery why, but you can only book tickets one month in advance. (For example, if it is May 1st, you can only book tickets until June 1st — and if you are buying a round trip you can book the return trip for up to June 10th.)
How long does it take? On a day bus — 5 hours to Osaka 4.5 hours to Kyoto. On a night bus — 7 hours to Osaka and 6 hours to Kyoto. (The bus will stop for a couple of hours.)
(this is the web page for Osaka/Kyoto. Use the main menu for routes around Japan.)
Going to Tokyo
There are many bus companies that will take you to Tokyo for cheap.
The prices will vary depending on the day and peak seasons. The cheapest you may find is 4,000 yen, but this will be in bus with 4 seats across and no commodities at all…
My best picks are:
This company has the best service, but is also the most expensive. A round trip will cost you 14,000 yen. (One-way 7,800)
Other discounts? Yes, if you leave during weekdays and can book 21 days ahead you can get a round-trip ticket for only 100,00 yen.
You can also get the usual 2% discount by booking through the internet.
This night bus is has only 3 seats across, so it is indeed the most relaxing way to get to your destination. It will take 8 hours.
123bus (Willer travel)
This is generally the cheapest company (although check with other companies during peak seasons).
It also has the worst “Let me sleep!” service…
They have a premium membership campaign, so if you join them and pay a mere 1,000 yen yearly membership fee, you will have access to better discounts up to 50%. Note that it will be on a limited number of places for each bus.
Prices start from 4,000 yen, one-way.
The best deal is the 5,000 yen “relaxing seat” bus, which is more comfortable than the normal one.
Also there is the “relaxing wide seat” for 6,000 yen (but this bus tends to be full very easily, so I’ve never had the chance to try it)
Booking can done up to 3 months before leaving. You pay at the convenience store and just print out the confirmation email as a ticket. (editor’s note: I believe you can also pay online via credit card, if you want to avoid the conbini.)
Hotdog kirakira buses
Easy to recognize because the buses are red with a smiling dog.
They only have buses with 4 seats across. The only advantage is that they may be cheaper than 123bus during peak seasons. They have fixed prices 5,000 or 5,500 if you take a round trip and depending on the day you travel.
You can buy a 5 tickets package and each ticket will cost you 4,500, which can be used in any day of the year, including peak seasons. This is a good choice for traveling during Golden Week or at the end of the year!
http://www.hotdog.co.jp/bus/knztoy_kira.htm (page for Kanazawa-Tokyo route)
For another post about night travel (more indepth about 123 bus), check out the Cheap Travel to Tokyo post.
And since we’re talking about cheap travel, this Cheap Holiday Train Travel post (about the Youth 18 ticket) may interest you as well.