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Tokyo to Osaka: Are Night Buses in Japan Worth It?

jam jam liner - Tokyo to Osaka

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Just under a month ago, I took the night bus from Tokyo Station all the way to Osaka. Did it get me there in one piece? Yes. Was it an enjoyable experience? Hardly. 

Today, I’m going to run through what we did, where we booked our tickets, and why I think you probably shouldn’t take the night bus. But, we’re also going to talk about the main reasons you should take it, and how to make your journey as painless as possible.

Is the Tokyo – Osaka Bus the Cheapest Option?

Making the journey from Tokyo to Osaka is an incredibly popular one with both domestic travellers and international ones. It’s normally followed by a trip to Nara or Kyoto, and perhaps even Hiroshima for those who want to travel out a bit further. As such, it means you need to budget accordingly if you’re on vacation to Japan. So what are your options?

Train

Tokyo to Osaka Shinkansen alternative

The most expensive of the lot, but it gets you directly from Tokyo Station to Osaka Station in 2 hours and 40 minutes. That’s absolutely wild. But at over $100 we decided it was far too expensive for our little weekly getaway. If only we had known about Platt Kodama!

Bus

You really wouldnt think I have a degree in photography sometimes…

The cheapest of all of them at around $40 each way depending on the bus you chose. You can opt for the day bus which gets you to your destination in the evening or the night bus which gets you there in the morning.

Perfect! We’ll grab the night bus, won’t have to pay for accommodation that night, and we’ll be ready to go and explore the day after! Oh, how wrong we were… More on that later.

Car

Driving from Tokyo to Osaka
Fancy a 6-hour 30-minute drive to Osaka in one of these?

Technically the easiest and perhaps cheapest in terms of fuel only, if you’ve got a car, especially with more than one passenger. It means you won’t even have to go to the train station and can ride straight from your hotel/Airbnb in Tokyo to the one in Osaka. Of course, the big issue is actually having a car and that’s not usually something I’d recommend to prospective holiday goers, especially if it’s your first time in Japan.

It also takes 6 and a half hours to drive, but I suppose you could stop along the way which might turn into quite a nice road trip. But if you’ve only got a Kei car, I wouldn’t recommend i!

Plane

If you can spring for it, JAL are probably the best internal airline in Japan!

In terms of actual flight time, it’s pretty fast, but the problem is the transfers and getting to the airport several hours beforehand. As well as getting through security, it’s a 50-minute train journey from Kansai airport to central Osaka. 

Peach airways and other budget airlines in Japan probably provide some good deals from time to time on this route, so it’s definitely worth considering if it lines up with your itinerary. I’m not saying I’m the biggest fan of peach airways, but it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

What Website should you book your Tokyo to Osaka Night Bus on?

Willer Express

willer express book Japan bus ticket
A really easy website to use. A rarity in Japan for sure!

Willer Express is the website I usually use, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone else. You’re presented with a month view calendar which, if your dates are flexible, allows you to see the cheapest options out of the entire month. 

Your confirmation for almost any bus will arrive via email. That means you can book your tickets while you’re still at home and just show the bus driver your email on your phone when you get to Japan. If you’re after a specific bus or are travelling at a peak time, make sure you book in advance!

Tokyo to Osaka night bus – The Experience  

I won’t lie to you, I’m a complete nerd when it comes to transport, so the thought of going on my very first-night bus in japan was damn exciting! 

On the night of the journey, we packed our bags and headed to Tokyo Station to get ready for the 21:35 Jam Jam Liner to Osaka. And before you ask, yes you’re correct it is the greatest name for a bus in the history of mankind. 

We were far too early, so grabbed a ridiculously tasty dinner at Ts Tan Tan (Highly recommended if you can find it in the station) and then took a slow walk to the mini terminal. When I say terminal, it’s just an underground area where all the buses come along, with a couple of staff members making sure everyone gets on the right bus. 

As with most things in Tokyo, it was incredibly clean and more than comfortable enough to sit there for a few hours. We got there at about 7 so there was a 2-hour wait until our bus left. If you’ve got spare time on your trip, you could always look around the connected shopping mall, but I decided to spend the majority of my time on the Miyoo Mini 2, perhaps the world’s greatest gaming travel companion!

The bus arrived at Toyko Yaesu Underground Terminal

I’m sure you won’t be surprised, the bus arrived and left bang on time. Perfect! We were on a bus that had three seats in a row rather than the normal 4 which meant extra legroom, and a slightly wider seat. We did pay more for it, and there are a number of cheaper and less “luxury” bus models to choose from but I thought it was still fair value.

The Jam Jam liner Tokyo to Osaka night bus also had a toilet on it which is also a rare thing apparently. I didn’t realize that until I started researching potential options on Willer Express, but there we go!

Anyway, there were around 10 of us that got on the bus at Tokyo Yaesu, though the bus soon filled up to capacity over the next few stops before we were on our way to Osaka for the night. The last stop was at Hachioji, a place I’d probably only recommend visiting for one thing.

What I’m about to say next probably won’t be a problem for 99% of you, but it was a little annoying to me. Obviously, at night people want to sleep so there are curtains on the windows, but being the child I am, I wanted to look out from time to time. Sadly the curtains were securely attached to the window which didn’t give me a chance to do so, even before the bus filled up.

The Journey from Tokyo to Osaka

Ok first off, no one used the toilet. I don’t know if it was broken or if Japanese people don’t tend to use the toilets on buses out of respect, but either way, it was very confusing. So don’t put too much emphasis on whether your coach has a toilet or not during the booking stage.

That brings me to the second and most annoying part of this journey. About 20 minutes after we made our final pickup of the evening (I think that was around midnight?) I managed to get to sleep. Perfect! I rarely wake up for the toilet anyway, so I was expecting a pretty restful night all things considered. 

I’d say maybe an hour or so into the journey, a voice blares the speakers announces the first of many toilet stops and the lights flash on. Believe it or not, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get to sleep when tired, zombie-like people are attempting to walk past your chair but end up accidentally falling into your lap.

So after about 5 stops along the way, and someone’s cockerel alarm clock going off at about 4 in the morning, it’s safe to say I didn’t exactly have the best night’s sleep. Granted, this could just be a one-off experience, but it doesn’t fill me will confidence that’s for sure. In all honesty, I had better sleep on the plane coming over to Japan, and that had way less seat space. I think the main problem was being woken up so frequently which never gave us a chance to get into any deep or meaningful sleep.

I’d be very interested to know if you’ve been on this route via night bus and whether it’s stopped at service stations along the way, despite having a toilet? If it’s only this bus company that does it, then maybe i’ll change my tune!

Who Should & Who Shouldn’t Book the Night Bus from Tokyo – Osaka?

If you don’t have to get on one, I would say it probably isn’t worth it. That said, there definitely are a few types of people that getting the night bus from Tokyo to Osaka would be worth it.

For those on a budget

I understand this review might come across as a particularly negative attack against the Tokyo to Osaka Japanese night bus, but I do think that it’s the right choice for a couple of people. The first type of person is someone who absolutely cannot afford to get to Osaka any other way. As I look now, the cheapest way to get from Tokyo to Osaka is ¥2,800 (just over $20) and that’s by bus. None of the other transport modes even come close to offering such a good deal. Granted, that is in the most bog standard bus, and I can’t vouch for how comfortable your trip will be, but for that price, if you’re willing to risk it, it’s a great saving.

If your itinerary syncs up correctly

Relaxing places in Tokyo like this should always be on your itinerary

Getting the saving of a cheap bus & having your “accommodation” included in that fee as well is pretty fantastic. In theory, it means you can get a restful night’s sleep on the coach, and continue your exploration the day after. No need to worry about your baggage either because you can store it at pretty much any Japanese train station for a very small fee.

In theory, this is a fantastic idea, and it’s the one I thought would be perfect for our situation when I booked the overnight bus to Osaka. Unfortunately, it didn’t really plan out that way. Instead, we got a relatively cheap mode of transport to Osaka, got woken up several times in the night, and were both grumpy and tired for the entirety of the next day.

That said, that’s not too much of a problem if you can check into your hotel as soon as possible (and don’t mind wasting a day), but for anyone who has a later check-in, you’ll be left wandering around not knowing what to do with yourself. Too tired to go out and explore, but not able to sleep. So, double-check your check-in times and don’t just assume the night bus is a free night’s accommodation!

Tips if you do book the night bus

If it seems like your best option is going to be the night bus then there are a few things you can do to make your trip a little more successful than mine. First up, let’s talk a little bit about travel accessories.

My backpack is normally stocked with a myriad of different things to help make even the worst journeys more bearable. Granted, the majority of space is given to my camera and lens collection but I’d rather have the 35mm 1.8 than another clean pair of socks!

Top 4 Things to Buy for the Tokyo – Osaka Night Bus

1. Manta Sleep Mask

Image © Manta Sleep on Amazon

Perhaps the most important product you could buy to make your night bus journey a better experience is a sleep mask. In fact, I’d strongly consider trying the exact same route again if I had a sleep mask like the Manta.

With 100% blackout, moveable eyecups that won’t pressure your nose, I doubt you’ll find anything better than the extremely popular Manta Sleep Mask. Most of the ones I’ve tried have either been bad quality or dug into my face making it an uncomfortable experience. From the reviews left on amazon, this product seriously changes the game!

No more getting woken up for toilet stops on the Tokyo – Osaka night bus!

2. Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Cancelling Earphones

sony wf1000xm4
Instant Inner Peace, Wherever you end up!

Most of you will probably have a set of earphones, probably some AirPods right? If you’re looking to make your Japan night bus trip even better then I highly recommend purchasing some of these Sony WF-1000XM4‘s. I stupidly left mine in my backpack (which was placed in the hold of the Jam Jam liner bus) which meant I couldn’t benefit from their incredible noise-cancelling abilities.

They specialise in being able to block out background noise like engines (think bus, plane, car, train), and general background noise, perfect for getting a moment of quiet in noisy environments. While I use these earphones in noise cancelling mode extensively around Japan, I also take use of the ambient sound function. This allows me to listen to music at a normal volume whilst happily communicating with those around me. It’s a really great idea to stay safe if you enjoy listening to music while you walk.

3. Kindle Oasis

Incidentally, the book I’m currently reading ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ by David Goggins is an absolute masterpiece

I love books, and I really don’t know what I would do without my Kindle Oasis. It’s a little on the pricey side, but I can categorically tell you that it’s been the absolute best digital/tech purchase I’ve made in the last 5 years. I can carry around thousands of books with me, listen to them on audible with the earphones I’ve linked above, and fill any amount of time I need with a high fantasy novel or a boring (but not to me!) digital marketing book.

I could write an entire article on how this thing has changed my life while I travel, but that’s something that would fit a little better over at my digital nomad website “Your Office Sucks!

4. Miyoo Mini

Emulating ps1 games on this tiny little thing is so cool!

As a travel content creator, I’m constantly working on the go. Whether that’s writing a new article for this website, pitching to travel magazines, or posting a new video to youtube, it sometimes seems like the list of things to do is never-ending.

That’s why gaming on the go is such a fun way to decompress. I don’t like anything that connects to the internet (way more fun to disconnect from everything for a few hours), but I also wanted the flexibility to have any number of retro games I wanted.

The Miyoo Mini V2 fit my criteria perfectly. It’s tiny, can hold loads of games, doesn’t connect to the internet, and can emulate everything up to PS1 games. Playing Tony Hawks Pro Skater on a Japanese night bus was honestly one of the coolest, most surreal things I’ve done. Highly recommended purchase to make your journey a little less boring!

5. Snacks

Japanese snacks for the night bus are crucial to ensuring a good trip!

No long journey in Japan would be complete without a load of tasty food! Pop to 7-Eleven or any other Konbini to grab a few bits before you depart. Japan seems to do cakes and pastries exceptionally well even in convenience stores, so grab a few of those if you want to treat yourself.

I wrote an article a while ago on the best Japanese snacks, so take look over there if you need some inspiration! ^_^

Pick the Right Bus

The final tip I have for you if you still want to get the night bus from Tokyo to Osaka is to pick the right bus.

If you can afford it, there are two buses I would recommend that I believe will give you the most comfortable and pleasant journey between the two cities

Dream Sleeper

The most luxurious Tokyo to Osaka night bus

While it is a little pricey, you cannot get a more comfortable journey between the two cities. With only 11 separate compartments, you’ll get plenty of space and truly understand what Japanese luxury is all about. Click around on the link above to see just how incredible this hotel on wheels actually is.

I haven’t been on this yet but I’m planning to in March of 2023, so stay tuned for the review!

ReBorn

It looks far easier to relax in something like this than what I ‘slept’ on!

If your budget can’t stretch to the sometimes ¥20,000 one-way ticket of the Dream Sleeper, Willer Express provides a night bus that goes from Tokyo to Osaka (and back) called the ReBorn. While passengers don’t get their own compartments, they do get their own pod-like seats which are easily the most spacious and private out of all the ‘standard’ buses on offer. It costs around ¥12,000 one way depending on the time of year you book for.

So, while I wasn’t a great fan of the night bus from Tokyo to Osaka, it’s clear that in the right circumstances they can be a great alternative to the train and plane.

To recap: Get the night bus from Tokyo to Osaka if you need to save money, if it perfectly alines with your schedule and you have time to do it, or if you have enough money to get one of the two premium options we talked about.

Would you get the night bus? Let me know what your experience was like in the comments below because while it certainly wasn’t that successful for me, I’ll probably give it another go. …only on the Dream Sleeper, though 😉

Jonny Gleason

Photographer, Magazine owner, Matcha drinker. One of these is definitely the most important, just unsure which...

Instagram: @jonny.gleason

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