Buying Night/Highway Bus Tickets in Japan

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So, some people say that the best thing to do regarding buying night/highway bus tickets in Japan is by going through Willer Travel.  I highly suggest that you don’t use Willer.  They have poor customer service and are highly overpriced.  Willer Travel is an example of a company that uses mediocre English to get non-Japanese-speaking customers to overpay for low-quality service.

Now, onto the important thing about buying a night bus ticket:

Rakuten Travel is the best method that I’ve seen so far.  7 Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, and Circle all offer in-store ticketing, but here are the issues:
1. It’s through JTB, which doesn’t have as big of a selection as Rakuten Travel.
2. You should buy your tickets 2 weeks to 2 months in advance, so you likely won’t be able to get bus tickets (at least cheaply) if you are just visiting Japan.
3. You have to use their ticketing machine boxes, which can be confusing and troublesome if you haven’t used them before.  (You often-times have to reset everything if you need to change anything.  Rakuten Travel allows you to change dates without resetting everything you just did.)

Okay.  Now that hopefully you’re with me and will only use Rakuten, I’m here to help.

The problem?  Rakuten Travel is in Japanese.  If you want to rent a car or a hotel room, they can serve you in English.  Things and stuff, yeah.

I’ll provide a walk-through translated into English (with fancy descriptions) to help you through the process.

Rakuten Travel Bus Page

Above is a general overview of the important parts of the Rakuten Travel Bus page.  Account registration/creation, Login, and Reservation Confirmation/Cancellation are located in the upper-right corner.  Coupons for specific routes and companies will be in some of the images in the center of the page (they’re usually 500-1000 yen per trip, so if you can’t speak Japanese, it may be easier to just not deal with them).  And finally, the Date/Route search is available in the box on the left side.

It’s important to note that you can only select one-way trips through Rakuten Travel.  It makes things a little more difficult, so just make sure that you have already found the trips that you want each way, and that there are enough seats for everyone in your group, before you purchase any tickets.  It may allow you to buy five tickets leaving Tokyo for Sendai on one day, but not have any availability for five people on one bus (at least inexpensively) for the return trip.  Don’t be afraid, though, because you can always book your group on multiple buses with very similar travel times or you can just find another day that will work.

Rakuten Travel Bus Search Box

Here are all of the cities listed, in order, as of 5/11/2016:
東京 Tokyo
大阪 Osaka
仙台 Sendai
金沢 Kanemachi
名古屋 Nagoya
福岡 Fukushima
—–
青森県(青森・弘前) Aomori (Aomori – Hirosaki)
岩手県(盛岡)Iwate (Morioka)
宮城県(仙台)Miyagi (Sendai)
秋田県 Akita
山形県 Yamagata
福島県 Fukushima
茨城県 Ibaraki
栃木県(宇都宮・佐野・那須)Tochigi (Utsunomiya – Sano – Nasu)
千葉県(千葉・TDR)Chiba (Chiba – TDR)
東京都 Tokyo
神奈川県(横浜・鎌倉・小田急・箱根)Kanagawa (Yokohama – Kamakura – Odakyu – Hakone)
新潟県(新潟・長岡)Niigata (Niigata – Nagaoka)
富山県 Toyama
石川県(金沢)Ishikawa (Kanezawa)
福井県 Fukui
長野県(長野・松本・諏訪・飯田)Nagano (Nagano – Matsumoto – Suwa – Iida)
岐阜県(飛騨・高山・平湯) Gifu (Hida – Takayama – Hirayu Onsen)
愛知県(名古屋・豊橋)Aichi (Nagoya – Toyohashi)
三重県 Mie
滋賀県 Shiga
京都府 Kyoto
大阪府 Osaka
兵庫県(神戸・明石・姫路) Hyogo (Kobe – Akashi – Himeji)
和歌山県 Wakayama
岡山県(岡山・倉敷)Okayama (Okayama – Kurashiki)
広島県(広島・福山)Hiroshima (Hiroshima – Fukuyama)
山口県 Yamaguchi
徳島県 Tokushima
香川県(高松) Kagawa (Takamatsu)
福岡県 Fukuoka
長崎県 Nagasaki
熊本県 Kumamoto
宮崎県 Miyazaki
鹿児島県 Kagoshima
沖縄県 Okinawa
北海道(道内)Hokkaido (Within Hokkaido)
群馬県 Gunma
埼玉県 Saitama
山梨県 Yamanashi
静岡県 Shizuoka
奈良県 Nara
愛媛県 Ehime
高知県 Kochi
佐賀県 Saga
大分県 Oita
鳥取県(鳥取・米子)Tottori (Tottori – Yonago)
島根県(松江・出雲)Shimane (Matsue – Izumo)
北海道(函館発フェリー付)Hokkaido (Hakodate Departure Ferry)
兵庫県(湯村・城崎) Hyogo (Yumura – Kinosaki)

Now that you’ve (hopefully) picked out your departure and arrival cities, now it’s time to pick the specific bus and departure and arrival locations.  Let’s use Tokyo->Osaka as an example.  I’ve selected departure locations of Shinjuku, Nakano, and Suginami, and arrival locations of Osaka Station, Umeda, and Universal City.

Rakuten Travel Bus Locations Search

Make sure to hit the Reload Search button (再検索) after you’re done editing the details, because it won’t change the results until you do so, even though the details at the top may update.

You can hit the Reverse Directions button to find buses that are going the opposite route, with all of your search settings.  You can use this to make sure that there are buses available for you on the way back at the right times, but make sure that you change your departure date each time as well.

Rakuten Travel Bus Search Options

As seen above, there are a number of different options for the types of buses.  Some buses are very cheap and have nothing, others are expensive and have nothing (Willer Transit).  As long as you book in advance by a few weeks to a couple months, you should be able to find a cheap bus that has at least some good things.  I usually find 2 of these 3 available with ¥2000-3000 routes: Free water, free-to-use blanket (you can’t keep it), and extended leg area.

3列シート 3-seated rows – This means that the bus has larger seats and a larger middle walkway.  The spacing is 2 seats, then walkway, and final seat.
4列シート 4-seated rows
足元ゆったりシート  “Spacious” leg area
トイレ付き Toilet is on the bus (though the quality and size aren’t always listed)
女性専用または女性安心 Women-only bus or a mixed-gender bus that doesn’t allow men and women to sit together (unless if they’re in the same group and request so).
昼行便 Daytime-only bus – The bus basically only runs during daylight.
夜行便 Nighttime-only bus – The bus basically only runs when the sun’s down.

These are things that you can’t select, but describe each specific bus (sometimes they’ll have buses with WiFi or free water/blanket without it being listed, but it’s up to you whether or not to drink the water or use the blanket if it’s not in the listing).

2名乗務 Two-person crew – Two drivers to ensure additional safety and proper arrival.
1名乗務 One-person crew
2列シート 2-seated rows – Even more spacious than 3-seated rows.
男性不可 Men are not allowed on the bus at all, even if they’d be sharing a seat with a spouse or friend
アメニティ Amenities – This is often-times not described anywhere, and has a large range.  Sometimes they’ll just give you a bottle of water, but other times they’ll give you single-use slippers, wet wipes, etc.  These items will usually be supplied by a makeup company as an advertisement.
ブランケット Blanket – You can never keep this, but it’s nice if you like to keep yourself covered.  They usually keep the buses at a decent temperature, but if it’s cold outside and you’re next to the window, you might need more than just the thin blanket.
コンセント Power outlets are on the bus – This will be the usual two-pronged outlets, so your computer adapter might not work.
Wi-Fi – Yes!  Some buses have Wi-Fi.  As they add this to their buses, the listings might not say it has it, but the bus indeed does.

Let’s look at some of the pricing and specifics of each bus:

Rakuten Travel Bus Search Comparison

These are the first three buses that comes up, as it lists the cheapest first by default.

The first is Heisei Enterprise (平成エンタープライズ).  For women and girls under 12, this is the best option of the three, judging by time and all the fancy stuff on the bus, as long as you’re fine with only one driver.  (Highway bus drivers in Japan are fairly safe drivers and will make sure to keep you safe, and if you’re driving at night you won’t have to worry about crazy drivers.)  3-seated rows, more leg space, toilet on board, women only bus (no men), blanket, and amenities.  (The description says: 女性に嬉しいパウダールームや無料ドリンクバーも充実, which means there’s a nice powder room and a free drink bar.  I’ve never seen one of these drink bars, so I can’t comment on what it would be like.)  Children under 12 pay half price.

Next up is Tokyo Fuji Transport (東京富士交通).  Their bus has two drivers, 3-seated rows, toilet on board, doesn’t allow men to sit next to women, blanket, and amenities (water).

Finally is Willer Transport, a company that I don’t like.  They’re the most expensive of the three listed, and have the least amenities.  Two drivers, 3-seated rows, toilet on board, blanket, and electric outlet.  If you’re in desperate need of electricity, you may have to use this one.

[I’ll add more details on purchasing and creating an account soon.]

[Sorry about not getting everything set up for this post immediately.]

**Special Note**
I’ve dealt with/ridden on a number of different bus companies in Japan, but I’m not receiving any benefit from any of them, or Rakuten, for writing this.

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