Planes, Bullet Trains, and Buses

As I mentioned last week, Japan’s school year provides exchange students with plenty of opportunities to explore the country. In this post, I’ll share some of the ways that I’ve traveled from city to city during my holidays.

1. Shinkansen (新幹線)

The Shinkansen, sometimes referred to as the ‘bullet train,’ is a high-speed (approx. 300 km/h) train network connecting most of Japan’s major cities.

It’s perhaps the easiest way of traveling across the country. Tickets can be purchased at most stations, whether they service the Shinkansen or not, and trains come every few minutes. Boarding is as simple as passing through a ticket gate and getting on the train. However, the cost of the Shinkansen is a little steep for students. A one-way, three-hour ride from Tokyo to Hiroshima, for instance, costs about $180 – comparable to the price of some one-way plane tickets. However, I suggest splurging at least once for the experience of riding the Shinkansen.

2. Local Train (Seishun 18 Ticket)

The local train is a great option for students traveling across Japan on a tight budget. It’s slow, but far cheaper than the Shinkansen. At certain times of the year, operator JR (Japan Railways) offers a promotion called the ‘Seishun 18 ticket.’ It allows five days of travel for 11,850 , i.e.  ¥2,370 (approx. $25) per day. Moreover, it can be split between five different passengers. In this way, if traveling with friends, each friend can consume one day’s worth of travel in the same day, thereby collectively using all five days’ worth of travel all at once at a cost of ¥2,370 per person.

This image shows a scan of a seishun 18 ticket. It's face is marked by Japanese text and a red stamp.
A Seishun 18 Ticket. [source]
3. Plane

Japan is home to a few budget airlines, such as Peach and Jetstar. They sometimes offer prices that are cheaper than those of the bullet train. However, they are far less convenient because of the security requirements of flying. Getting to Tokyo’s main airport (Narita – NRT) also requires a significant amount of time. Hence, if similarly priced, a Shinkansen ticket might be a better option.

ANA recently started offering promotions as well.

4. Night Bus

Lastly, a number of charter bus companies offer night buses between Japan’s major cities. I can say from experience that this is the least comfortable of the four options, but it’s relatively affordable. A  twelve-hour ride from Tokyo to Hiroshima, for instance, can cost as little as 4,000 ($42). Riding the night bus also allows travelers to dodge accommodation fees, albeit at the cost of comfort.

This image shows a service station in Japan. A mountain covered in mist can be seen in the background.
Buses stop at these service stations every few hours, so that passengers can buy food for the road.

Anyway, these are some of the ways that I’ve traveled around Japan. I recently took a night bus to Hiroshima. I’ll catch a local train to Osaka in about a week, after which I’ll hop on a plane to Okinawa.

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