Japan’s a big country and if you’re short on time it can be tough to see everything you planned on—but long-haul bus trips are one way to make it happen.
While it’s great to spend days or weeks (or months!) in each destination, that’s not exactly practical. Sometimes squeezing things in is your best/only option. Plus, it’s better to see part of a place than not see it at all, right? Bullet trains are a great help in speeding things up, but they’re pricey and can easily make a day trip cost the same as a full-on weekend getaway. The other option? Your trusty highway bus! Be it a curated tour or an overnight option, you can maximize your sightseeing in a more affordable manner—just make sure you bring your headphones.
Japan bus tours: starting points and types
For this post we’ve focused on two of the transport hubs: Tokyo and Osaka. Both are fantastic cities with plenty to do, but they also only offer a slice of what Japan has to offer. Pair that with great transport links and they’re perfect bases for exploring!
The tours come in three forms: 1) DIY transport ideas, 2) one-day trips, and 3) multi-day getaways. So depending on your time and budget you can see what gets your travel taste buds tingling.
Bus trips from Tokyo
Spots like Hakone, Kamakura and Nikko offer great day trip options, but if you’re setting your sights a little higher—or should we say farther—you can see Kyoto’s shrines, Takayama’s markets or Shirakawago’s thatched roofs all in a trip from Tokyo.
4 DIY day trips from Tokyo
For those pressed for time and money, make the most of Japan’s night bus services and wake up in a new city ready for a day of sightseeing. We’re not saying you’ll get a great night’s sleep, but you can add few extra thousand yen to your ticket if you want to upgrade to a comfier seat. If you don’t mind being a little tired, this is a fantastic way to see somewhere new and then hop back on the bus that night for your trip home. It also saves you two nights of hostel costs!
Tottori | Overnight – 12 hours | ¥10,500 return
Known for sand dunes and camels, waking up in Tottori can be one of the more surreal changes in scenery you could wish for. This is one of the longest over-night bus options, taking about 12 hours and costing from ¥6,500 on a weeknight, but can go up to ¥10,500 on more popular days. Tottori is well known for the unique landscapes and opportunities to try out some extreme sports while you’re there.
Kyoto | Overnight – 9 hours | ¥3,200 return
The journey to the ancient capital takes approximately 9 hours. The bus leaves from Shinjuku for the handsome price of ¥1,600 on a weeknight (beware Friday to Sunday is more like ¥7,000).
The traditional city is a must-visit for spots like Fushimi Inari Taisha, the Golden Pavilion and the countless stunning shrines and temples that aren’t always on the cover of guidebooks. While Kyoto is certainly deserving of more than a day (we have a two-part guide for the East and West sides), one is is better than no days. And if you’re keen, you can always get a cheap hostel for the night and stretch it to two days.
Osaka | Overnight – 9 hours | ¥3,200 return
Osaka is the neon capital of Japan and offers a more friendly, rough-around-the-edges kind of experience, in addition to being known as the kitchen of Japan. With the (in)famous Dotonbori crammed with street food specialties like takoyaki and okonomiyaki as well as standing ramen, crab and fugu, you’ll certainly never go hungry.
It has one of the best nightlife scenes in the country and drinking by the river in summer is a must. You’ll end up with more friends than you ever thought possible and can even try river jumping (or be an observer).
The city has plenty of traditional spots too though, like Tennoji Temple, which is also home to a Sunday flea market, the throw-back area of Shinsekai, an impressive castle and of course Universal Studios Japan.
Hiroshima | Overnight – 12 hours | ¥15,000 return
Hiroshima is high on the list for many sightseers and can be combined with nearby Miyajima too. Although, we recommend you add an extra day if you can!
The journey takes almost 12 hours and costs around ¥7,500, but these cheaper tickets can sometimes sell out. The historical importance of the city means there are some incredible museums and landmarks, but it also has its own delicious delicacies like okonomiyaki and plenty of beautiful spots like Shukkei-en.
The nearby island of Miyajima is a 30-minute train and boat ride away. The area offers a day of hiking and torii-gate admiring, plus deer, street food and sunsets you won’t forget.
Bus tours from Tokyo
If you don’t fancy the planning and want to relax on your trip knowing everything is taken care of, tours are for you. They can also help you see much more than you normally might if relying on public transport, so keep them in mind even if you’re usually a DIY kind of traveler.
The full monty (one way)
3 days | Fuji–Kawaguchiko–Takayama–Shirakawago–Kyoto/Osaka | ¥38,648
If you were planning on making your way down to Kyoto or Osaka anyway, this tour is a great way to make the journey with some sightseeing spots included along the way. It’s all neatly tied up in a package including hotels.
You’ll begin from Tokyo with the first stop-off being Mt. Fuji. You’ll explore the 5th Station and make your way to Kawaguchiko for the first hotel stay of the trip.
The following day you’ll visit the Lake Suwa Observatory and wind up in Takayama for the night. Waking early for the morning markets, you’ll move on to the famous gassho-zukuri houses of Shirakawago. After visiting the Kenrokuen gardens you’ll spend time sampling soba and visit Lake Biwa before being dropped off in Osaka or Kyoto.
Two hotel nights, all transport as well as the odd meal and entry to Kenrokuen—it’s certainly not a bad deal and takes the stress out of getting from A to B.
Bus trips from Osaka
If you’re basing yourself in Osaka, then there are plenty of options for extended day trips, stretching out from Miyajima’s floating torii gate to the vine bridges of the Iya Valley. Read on for some ideas on planning your next city escape.
4 DIY day trips from Osaka
The overnight buses from Osaka reach pretty far into the lower half of Japan and are cheap, frequent and reliable—so you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you’re on your way to a new destination while you dream of the adventures to come.
Fukuoka | Overnight – 9 hours | ¥7,400 return
The city is home to the oldest Zen temple in Japan, the beautiful Ohori park and is most famous for its ramen culture (the city is the home of tonkotsu ramen). And while you can visit a whole host of restaurants during the day, the real treat is to visit the street stalls at night. Found mostly at the bottom of Nakasai Island, the stalls serve more ramen than you could ever hope to try, plus street-food favorites like yakitori and yakisoba.
Hiroshima | Overnight – 7 hours | ¥8,400 return
Hiroshima is a popular spot and not so far from Osaka so it makes for a pretty short night bus ride. You will be arriving pretty early in the morning but can find an onsen to soak off the bus sweat and begin your day with breakfast.
The city has an infamous history with plenty of museums to explore but also some beautiful gardens, a castle and some great local specialty food.
Miyajima is a half-hour journey away and has the famous floating torii, great hikes and deer. Ideally try and spend a day in each, but if not, you can squeeze them both in one day.
Alternatively, there’s a two-day tour which will whisk you to Hiroshima, Miyajima and Okayama if you prefer to have travel plans taken care of.
Iwakuni & Hagi | Overnight – 12 hours | ¥18,000 return
Ideal if you’re looking for a quiet corner of Japan, Yamaguchi has plenty going for it. Since the night bus stops in both towns of Iwakuni and Hagi, you could wake up in one and spend your day exploring before getting on the bus home in the next.
Iwakuni has a mountain-top castle, snake center and samurai museum. There’s also the famous bridge, great festivals and its own special sushi.
Hagi, accessible by bus or train, is a famous pottery town where you can try your hand at crafting a souvenir to take home with you. It also has some incredible temples and a relaxed village vibe.
The bus takes 12 hours and costs about ¥9,000 each way, so a night at a local hostel could make it more of a worth-while weekend break.
Takamatsu (potential for Iya Valley or Matsuyama) | 4.5 hours | ¥4,000 return
Available through JR Shikoku buses, but significantly cheaper on Willer, the Takamatsu Express takes you to Takamatsu in the morning and even stops outside the famous Ritsurin gardens.
The city of Takamatsu and the surrounding areas are famous for Sanuki udon, which you can eat to your heart’s content and even learn to make. The area is a great stop-off if you’re on your way to the vine bridges of the Iya Valley. Traveling there is what makes this a bit more long haul. Alternatively, you could visit Matsuyama and see the famous onsen which inspired the Ghibli movie Spirited Away! Either way, there’s plenty to explore in Shikoku during a day or two (or 20).
2 bus tours from Osaka
Exploring the Kansai region is pretty exciting, but the more rural you get, the more public transport starts to determine your itinerary. Not great when you’re tight on time to start with. These tours offer trips to locations which can be a hassle to get to, especially if you’re time is limited, so keep them in mind when planning your options!
The artist’s island of Naoshima
1 Day | Osaka–Naoshima–Osaka | ¥6,500–¥8,100
Known for the giant yellow pumpkin by Yayaoi Kusama, Naoshima often appears on the bucket lists of Japan travelers. The trip includes transport to the island (bus and ferry) as well as coupons for lunch. You’ll also get free time to explore the island as you wish. Since the place is famous for modern art museums, installations and sculptures, it’s perfect for wandering and will definitely get your creative juices flowing.
Traditional Takayama (one way)
1 day | Osaka Biwako–Gujo Hachiman–Shirakawago–Takayama | ¥14,868
Packing in plenty of sights into a single day, this tour offers a chance to see Lake Biwa before heading to Gujo Hachiman—a town famed for its clear waterways. There, you’ll stroll through the city and watch food replicas being made after lunch.
The next stop is Shirakawago—home of the famous gassho-zukuri houses. After exploring the area you’ll head to the final stop of the day, Takayama.
While the tour doesn’t take you back to Osaka, it’s pretty handy if it takes you along your full travel route. You could also return to Osaka by night bus if preferred. This similar trip is also available from Kyoto if you’re planning to travel from there!