The Japan Rail Pass is probably one of the most well-known travel hacks when it comes to travelling Japan on a budget. With great disappointment to us residents, this incredibly convenient pass is only available for those entering Japan on a short-term tourist visa, leaving us no other choice than spending a ton of money whenever we plan a trip within the country. But is that really so? In this article, we are going to reveal a couple of budget-friendly travel passes that are actually available to Japan’s residents as well, and that will allow you to freely travel around Japan, either by train or by bus, at a fraction of the cost!
Bus Travel Passes You Can Buy Even If You Are a Long-Term Resident of Japan
・Willer Express Japan Bus Pass [ON HIATUS]
The Japan Bus Pass provided by the bus company Willer Express is a travel pass available to anyone holding a foreign passport. Regardless of whether you are a short-term visitor or a long-term resident, this pass allows you to ride any Willer Express highway bus, including overnight buses, over 3-7 days (depending on the pass). It is also very flexible, giving you the chance to choose any dates within two months of purchase, and the dates don’t have to be consecutive. A Japan Bus Pass also has the great advantage that you can sleep during the ride when on an overnight bus, saving the money for a hotel and making the most out of the time you have.
Types of Japan Bus Pass
There are two different types of Japan Bus Pass to select from. The first one is called “Japan Bus Pass MON to THU Pass,” and the second one is the “Japan Bus Pass All Day Pass.” There are a few differences between the two that you have to consider before making your purchase. For one, the Japan Bus Pass MON to THU Pass doesn’t allow travel on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, or during the Golden Week Period or Obon Period (more on the dates on the Willer Express website). Meanwhile, the Japan Bus Pass All Day Pass includes travel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays but doesn’t allow travelling on Golden Week and Obon.
Both passes are valid up to two months from purchase and give you access to different types of seats: STANDARD, RELAX, RELAX NEW, RELAX (extra space), RELAX (with private monitor), and RELAX NEW (with toilet). They both allow you to take buses at any time of the day for a maximum of three buses per day* (up to one overnight bus and two daytime buses on the same day).
*Buses scheduled to depart 12:00AM to 3:00AM are counted as buses that depart on the previous day
How Much Is a Japan Bus Pass?
The Japan Bus Pass MON to THU Pass comes in a 3-day package for 10,200 yen, in a 5-day package for 12,800 yen, and in a 7-day package for 15,300 yen. The Japan Bus Pass All Day Pass only has two packages: 3 days for 12,800 yen and 5 days for 15,300 yen.
How To Use and Book the Japan Bus Pass
So, how do you buy a Japan Bus Pass? First of all, check all the routes on the Japan Bus Pass Available Routes page, and once you are sure that they fit your travel plan, proceed with the purchase clicking on the “Get Japan Bus Pass” link. First you need to sign up for the Willer Express membership, then you need to select the type and number of passes you intend to buy, and finally you can go on with the payment, which requires a credit card. Once you complete this first part of the purchasing process, you’ll be able to access your “My Page” on the Willer Express website to make a reservation. You can also change or cancel your reservation through the Reservation Management section of the My Page.
Note also that you need to buy one Bus Pass for each passenger and that one passenger may buy multiple Bus Passes only if the routes for all members traveling are identical. In that case, the purchaser must travel with the other members at all times.
*due to COVID-19 the Japan Bus Pass is temporarily unavailable
・Hokkaido Budget Bus Pass And Hokkaido Inter City Bus Pass [ON HIATUS]
There are two versions of the Hokkaido Bus Pass, and both are available for all overseas-passport holders. The first one, the “Hokkaido Budget Bus Pass,” allows you to travel through all of Hokkaido, and it comes in a 3-day package for 11,000 yen or a 5-day package for 17,000 yen. The “Hokkaido Budget Bus Pass” covers both central areas of Hokkaido such as Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Biei, Asahikawa, and Noboribetsu, and long-distance bus routes reaching areas such as Hakodate, Obihiro, Abashiri, Monbetsu, and Kushiro (see all the available routes and areas here). The second one, the Hokkaido Inter City Bus Pass, only gives access to bus routes of central Hokkaido, and you can check them all at this link. The Hokkaido Inter City Bus Pass is also available in a 3-day version that costs 6,000 yen or a 5-day version that costs 9,000 yen.
To purchase the Hokkaido Budget Bus Pass or the Hokkaido Inter City Bus Pass, you need to create an account on the official website, buy an e-ticket in advance, and exchange your e-ticket with the pass after arriving in Hokkaido in one of the their ticket offices located in major Hokkaido cities like Sapporo, Hakodate, Asahikawa, Abashiri or New Chitose Airport (check all ticket-office locations and business hours here). Be aware that you can’t buy the bus pass at the ticket office, and you can instead only redeem your e-ticket. Payment is by credit card or Alipay.
*due to COVID-19 the Hokkaido Bus Passes are temporarily unavailable
・Sun Q Pass (Kyushu)
The Sun Q Pass can be used by residents as well, that can choose among four different versions of the pass. The “Sun Q Pass Northern Kyushu + Shimonoseki” costs 9,000 yen, is valid for three consecutive days, and covers five prefectures (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, and Kumamoto) as well as Shimonoseki, where you can have unlimited rides on highway buses, city buses, and ferries (three sea routes: Shimonoseki’s Karato Port to Moji Port, Kumamoto Port to Shimabara Port, and Minamishimabara’s Kuchinotsu Port to Amakusa’s Oniike Port).
The “Sun Q Pass Southern Kyushu” is slightly cheaper at 8,000 yen, is valid for three days, but only covers the three prefectures of Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima, where it gives you access to highway buses, city buses, and one ferry route (Kagoshima Port to Sakurajima Port).
There is then the “3-day Sun Q Pass All of Kyushu + Shimonoseki” that includes highway buses, city buses, and ferries (4 sea routes: the combined sea routes from the Northern and Southern passes ) in all 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima + Shimonoseki for 11,000 yen. Finally, there is also the 4-day Sun Q Pass All of Kyushu + Shimonoseki, that offers the same routes as its 3-day version for 14,000 yen. The SUN Q Pass also comes with 15 coupons that you can use around Kyushu for deals at tourism facilities, restaurants, and hotels (see the full list of benefits here).
The Sun Q Pass can be purchased at bus ticket counters (check the full list here), at designated travel agencies and designated convenience stores. Be aware that convenience stores and travel agencies only issue a claim ticket that you’ll need to exchange at one of the bus-company ticket windows in Kyushu included in the list above.
For more details on the Sun Q Pass, check out the official website.
Train Travel Passes You Can Buy Even If You Are a Long-Term Resident of Japan
・JR Tokyo Wide Pass
What Trains Can I Ride With the JR Tokyo Wide Pass?
The JR Tokyo Wide Pass is a pass for exclusive use by non-Japanese passport holders. It provides unlimited travel for three consecutive days on local, express, limited express, and shinkansen trains operated by JR East in the Kanto region and parts of Nagano, Niigata, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka Prefectures.
It also includes some trains that are not operated by JR, such as Tokyo Monorail, Izu Kyuko Line, Fujikyu Railway Lines, Joshin Dentetsu Line, Saitama New Urban Transit, Rinkai Line, Direct JR/Tobu limited express trains between Shinjuku, Tobu-Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen and Tobu Railway between Tobu-Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen. (You can only use the JR TOKYO Wide Pass on Tobu Railway lines if the train either departs from or terminates at a JR station.)
Where Can I Use the JR Tokyo Wide Pass?
The JR Tokyo Wide Pass gives you access to many popular spots. In fact, Kanto contains an assortment of cultural and natural adventures. Enjoy a weekend of old-fashioned, historical Japan in the quaint towns of Kamakura, Kawagoe, or Nikko. Indulge in a soothing getaway in the onsen of Kinugawa, Kusatsu, or Atami. Or see the majesty of Japan’s nature with your own eyes at the forests of Karuizawa, the gardens of Hitachi Seaside Park, the cliffs of the Izu Peninsula, or (of course!) Mt. Fuji and the surrounding Fuji Five Lakes. Finally, but only during the winter months, you’ll have access to Gala Yuzawa and its winter wonderland.
Where Can I Buy the JR Tokyo Wide Pass?
You can purchase the JR Tokyo Wide Pass at Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, as well as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Yokohama, and Mito Stations. Note that you need to present your passport when purchasing and specify a start date for the period of use. The start date has to be within 1 month of the purchase and cannot be changed afterwards. Some trains may also require a seat reservation, so please check with the station staff. In case you need to make a reservation, it can be handled for free at any JR Ticket Office, Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machine, or via the JR East Reservations website.
How Much Is the JR Tokyo Wide Pass and Is It Worth It?
The JR Tokyo Wide Pass only costs 10,180 yen*, while its junior version (for children that are 6 to 11 years old) is just 5,090 yen. The pass is definitely worth it if you compare its price with the normal train fares. For example, a round trip to Shimoda would cost around 12,500 yen, and a round trip to Kusatsu Onsen would normally be around 12,000 yen, the same as a regular round trip to Karuizawa. So the pass is great value and allows you to save a lot of money, especially if you consider you can use it for 3 consecutive days, and you can even board the expensive Japanese bullet trains.
*Separate fares apply when you board the observation car of the Fujisan Express and the Fuji Tozan Densha.
・JR Hokkaido Free Pass
The Hokkaido Free Pass can be used by residents of Japan and offers unlimited travels on JR trains (except Hokkaido Shinkansen) and JR buses* in Hokkaido on 7 consecutive days. Although it’s not available during the peak travel seasons of New Year, Golden Week, and Obon, and it only allows seat reservation for up to six train rides, this pass is the most convenient if you are planning to travel long distance in Hokkaido, since it only costs 27,430 yen and can be purchased at all major JR stations.
*Except the Twinkle Buses and the lines from Sapporo to Asahikawa, Monbetsu, Obihiro, Kiroro, and Erimo
Tobu Railway offers two different types of Nikko Pass. The Nikko Pass World Heritage Area is valid on 2 consecutive days, costs 2,040 yen, and provides a round trip from Tokyo’s Asakusa Station to Nikko and unlimited travel on buses in central Nikko and on trains between Nikko and the Kinugawa Onsen area.
Meanwhile, the Nikko Pass All Area is valid on 4 consecutive days, costs 4,600 yen (April 20th – November 30th) or 4,230 yen (December 1st – April 19th), and also includes buses between Nikko and Okunikko, sightseeing boats at Lake Chuzenji, and Akechidaira Ropeway. Both passes provide discounts at selected tourist facilities, restaurants and shops in the area.
The Nikko passes don’t allow you to get off at stations between Asakusa and the Nikko area (except Tokyo Skytree Station and Tochigi Station), and they cover express or local trains (to use a limited express train, you need to pay a separate limited express fee). Both passes can be purchased at the Tobu Tourist Information Center in Asakusa or Ikebukuro Stations, or alternatively from the official website of Tobu Railway.
・Odakyu Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass
The Odakyu Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass is an economical rail pass to enjoy a round trip on the Odakyu Line between Shinjuku Station or Machida Station and Fujisawa Station, and unlimited rides on the Enoden Line and the Odakyu Lines between Fujisawa Station and Katase-Enoshima Station. It is valid for 1 day, and the price varies depending on the departure station: 1,520 yen when departing from Shinjuku, 1,060 yen from Machida, and 660 yen from Fujisawa. (A separate Limited Express Romancecar ticket is required to use the Romancecar.)
The pass also also allows you to receive discounts at participating facilities, including restaurant and tourist attractions like Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower or the Enoshima Iwaya Cave. This train pass can be bought at Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station and Odakyu’s ticket vending machines at Shinjuku Station.
・Hakone Free Pass
With the Hakone Free Pass, you have unlimited rides on the Hakone Tozan Train, the Hakone Tozan Cablecar, Hakone Ropeway, the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, Hakone Tozan Buses (including the Kanko Shisetsu Meguri Bus), Odakyu Hakone Highway Buses, and Tokai Buses. Optionally, the pass also includes a discounted round trip from Shinjuku Station. Options include a 2-day Hakone Free Pass that costs 5,700 yen from Shinjuku, 5,420 from Machida, and 4,600 yen from Odawara, and a 3-day Hakone Free Pass that costs 6,100 yen from Shinjuku, 5,820 yen from Machida, and 5,000 yen from Odawara. (A separate Limited Express Romancecar ticket is required to use the Romancecar.)
The pass also provides discounted admissions at attractions in the Hakone area, such as onsen, restaurants, and shops, as well as museums, parks and historical sites like the Hakone Open Air Museum, Odawara Castle, and the Hakone-jinja Shrine and Treasure Museum. You can purchase the Hakone Free Pass at the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center and ticket vending machines at Shinjuku Station, or information centers and ticket vending machines at stations included in this list.
・JR Aozora Free Pass (Nagoya Area)
With the JR Aozora Pass, you have access to unlimited rides on local trains in the Greater Nagoya Region on weekends and national holidays for one calendar day. It costs 2,620 yen, and it’s sold at stations covered by the pass. It is good value for money if you are planning a round trip from Nagoya to areas such as the Kiso Valley (Nakatsugawa, Kiso Hirasawa), Gero Onsen, Shima Peninsula (Ise, Toba, Matsusaka), and Gifu (Mino, Gifu City).
・Koyasan World Heritage Ticket
The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket includes a round trip from Namba or Shin-Imamiya to Mount Koya’s Koyasan Station by Nankai Railway (including the Koyasan Cablecar between Gokurakubashi Station and Koyasan Station) and a 2-day pass for unlimited travel on buses on Mount Koya (Nankai Rinkan Bus excluding Tateri Line, Koya Ryujin Line, Koya Niutsuhime Line). It also provides discounted admission to selected tourist attractions (Kongobuji Temple, Kondo Hall, Konpon Daito Pagoda, Reihokan Museum) and selected souvenir shops. The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket can be purchased at major Nankai Line stations, costing 3,080 yen for the regular version and 3,630 yen for the limited express version.
Travel Japan Without Having to Break the Bank!
Hopefully this article has presented some useful tips for your next national trip! Even if you are a resident of Japan, you have access to plenty of ways to save some money on your travel expenses by using these convenient train and bus passes. But in case these travel passes are not enough, you can read more on the brand new JR EAST Welcome Rail Pass 2020 here, or get some more information about the seasonal Seishun 18 Kippu here.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.