As a tourist, we’re always looking to get the most out of our vacations by visiting as many fantastic sites or cities as we can in one go. We try to squeeze all possible attractions that you can think of in a single trip, and this is especially true for Japan. A country that has fascinated me for years, I would have chosen to visit all its fabulous cities in my first trip, especially cities like Tokyo and Osaka. There’s just one problem, these cities are pretty far from each other.
Fear not, the great thing about Japan is its efficient transportation networks. With ease of use and impeccable respect to time (almost no delays at all), the Japanese transportation system is a model to the world. This makes going from Tokyo to Osaka a lot easier and cheaper than comparable countries and distances.
Here, I’ve compiled the best possible ways I’ve found for tourists to travel from Tokyo to Osaka and back, with reasonable travel time and cost. I hope this article will help you choose the best option for you and your travel companions, so read on.
1. Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Duration: 2.5 to 4 hours
Fare: Approximately 14,000 yen per passenger, each way
The fastest and most efficient way for you to travel between Tokyo and Osaka is by taking the bullet train, in Japan more commonly known as the Shinkansen.
Among the bullet trains, there are several options to choose from – depending on the travel duration and the price tickets. The fastest train, Nozomi, reaches Osaka from Tokyo in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The second option is taking the Hikari trains, which is just 30 minutes longer than Nozomi. Finally, if you are not short of time and want to enjoy the leisurely views, take the Kodama trains, which will take you about four hours from Tokyo to Osaka.
Now that you know how long each bullet train ride takes, how much are you willing to pay for the tickets? In Japan, you can choose between buying a non-reserved seat or a reserved seat.
Non-reserved seats for a regular one-way trip usually costs about ¥13,700. If you are willing to pay more for a reserved seat, it would cost you about ¥14,200, just ¥500 more for a reserved seat. Buying a reserved seat is recommended when traveling during weekends and Japanese holidays, as the non-reserved cars tend to be crowded. You can read more about the difference between reserved and non-reserved seats here.
For Hikari and Kodoma trains, the ¥14,200 one-way trip ticket is applicable. But for the fastest bullet train, Nozomi, it will cost you an additional ¥300, at ¥14,500 per way. Nozomi, was the train I took when I went to Osaka to visit Universal Studios Japan. It was only a 2 hour and 15 minute ride from Shin-Yokohama station.
If you have JR Pass, please be reminded that JR Pass only covers Kodama and Hikari bullet trains for Osaka. It does not cover Nozomi bullet trains. You can reserve seats free of charge with your JR Pass too. Just go to any JR Ticket office.
Another cheap train option you have when traveling from Tokyo to Osaka is by taking the “Puratto Kodama Economy Plan.” In a reserved seat at the Kodama trains, you can pay just ¥10,300 but with a catch; you have to buy your ticket at least a day before your trip at designated JR Tokai travel booths.
Finally, if you have more time and/or a smaller budget, the best option for you is to purchase the Tokyo-Osaka Hokuriku Arch Pass. Traveling via Kanazawa route at the Hokuriku train, it will take you a couple of hours longer than the top three fastest shinkansen. But the route is quite amazing. The best part is that is cheaper than the 7-day JR Pass.
Where to buy Shinkansen tickets
There are mainly two ways to buy your bullet train tickets. First, is directly through JR Ticketing Offices located on the departure train stations. Second, through online travel concierge called Voyagin (Voyagin, being where I obtained my bullet train tickets). Should you wish to buy your bullet train tickets in advance, it can only be done through the Voyagin website. The JR Ticketing Office does not have an online website to sell tickets in advance for tourists who have not yet arrived in Japan.
Duration: 6 to 8 hours
Fare: Between ¥3,500 to ¥10,000 per way
Thanks to the competition which developed within the bus industry, the Tokyo – Osaka route now offer better choices at cheaper prices in the past few years. With available daytime and nighttime bus schedules, tourists and locals alike are faced with better options. Most of these buses leave from the major stations in Tokyo.
The most popular among these buses is the Willer Express. They offer a variety of options with discounted fares, starting at ¥3,500, to the most expensive premium buses at ¥10,000, all of it at one way.
Another option is taking the Willer Japan Bus Pass, which can be purchased online with any major credit cards. The Willer Japan Bus Pass offers several options: 3 day, 5 day or 7 day validity, of course at different price ranges. The only catch is that these bus passes are not valid for premium bus. If used correctly, you can reduce your travel cost up to ¥500.
So, if you don’t want to waste any time traveling, I suggest buy a night ticket, sleep in the bus and by the time you arrive at your destination, you would be fresh and ready for a day worth of Osaka adventure.
Duration: 1 to 2 hours (not including travel time to airports)
Fare: Between ¥4,500 to ¥23,000 per way
Since many airlines have local operations between Tokyo and Osaka, flying between these two wonderful cities is another option. You can choose to fly from either the Haneda and Narita airports in Tokyo, or Osaka’s Itami and Kansai airports.
The tricky bit in choosing to travel by air is the fare. If you are lucky, you can book discounted tickets at ¥4,500 one way, which is amazingly cheaper than bullet trains. But this means that you will be flying from airports farther from the center of the city — Narita or Haneda – Osaka Kansai Airport. Airline carriers such as Peach, Vanilla Air, or Jetstar have ticket prices that range from ¥4,500 to ¥23,000, of course depending on the flight schedule and the day of your booking.
You should be warned though, traveling by air may be appealing to most of you, but you should consider several factors. It might take you longer since you have to navigate your way to the airport. This also adds a considerable amount of time to your travel duration, not to mention additional expense. Also, booking tickets is quite tricky due to fluctuating ticket prices. Tickets can go as high as ¥23,000 per way, or as low as ¥4,500. So you have to choose wisely and book a few months in advance to score the better deal.
4. Local trains
Duration: 9-10 hours (not including transfer time)
Fare: Between ¥2,370 to ¥8,750 per way
Finally, another option is to take the local trains. Since Tokyo and Osaka are well connected with series of different transportation networks, traveling by local trains is relatively easy, but very lengthy as compared to other options.
Local trains, commonly known in Japan as Kakue-Teisha, or Futsu-Densha, are different from the Shinkansen because they stop at every station, and are obviously much slower. This makes your travel time longer as compared to other options. From Tokyo to Osaka, the trip will take you between nine to ten hours, and about four train transfers. This is not ideal if you have tons of luggage with you.
The cheapest ticket is the Seishun 18 Kippu, which translates to something like Youthful 18 Ticket. It is a seasonal ticket that is available only at a specific season. With this ticket, you can have an unlimited 5-day nationwide access to local and rapid JR trains for only 11,850 yen. That means you have unlimited ride for only 2,370 per day! To check the sales period and availability of Seishun 18 Kippu, visit this website.
Having presented you with four different options of traveling from Tokyo to Osaka, let’s discuss which is the best for you.
If you are tight on the budget, traveling by local train is the best option for you. Just purchase a Seishun 18 Kippu ticket, which will cover your transportation needs for 5 days and you are good to go. But if you are tight on the time, then traveling via the bullet train is the best option you have. It is the most direct and most convenient, with about two and a half hours travel time.
If you were to ask me, I would choose bullet train for two reasons. First, the departure station is close from where I Iive (Shin-Yokohama). Second, the bullet train ride is actually very relaxing as opposed to taking a flight where you have to deal with check-in luggage and all annoying airport and airplane procedures. Plus the seats in bullet trains are far more comfortable than airplanes.
At the end of the day, you can choose whichever mode of transportation you want based on your time and your budget. The most important thing is that you enjoy the ride and make the most of your vacation in both the wonderful cities of Tokyo and Osaka.