There are many ways to get around Japan through public transportation including subways, busses and bullet trains. One of the most popular options is the JR Pass, (Japan Rail), which provides train and ferry access throughout the country. It is only offered to foreigners who are traveling in Japan and must be purchased before entering the country.

Several people recommended the JR Pass before our departure and many travelers we met raved about it during our trip. However, we chose not to us the JR Pass since the one-way route we wanted to take and our 16-day timeframe didn’t quite fit what the JR Pass offered. It was also cheaper for us to take a combination of busses and trains instead.

Our methods of transportation were less popular with other travelers, but it provided us with a variety of ways for us to see the country: a highway bus switchbacking through the Japanese Alps; a cable car steeply climbing Mount Koya; the Hiroshima street car zipping through the city; and the Nozomi Superexpress!

Here’s how we got around the five cities we visited in Japan and how we traveled between each major stop.

Tokyo Metro

TOKYO

Daily Transportation: We used the Tokyo Metro to get around the enormous city. The metro day pass was 710 yen/person and had lines that took us almost everywhere in Tokyo. It would take us all the way from Asakusa, where we were staying, to as far away as Shinjuku. There were two times when the pass didn’t cover our route, but that was when we were visiting friends on the outskirts of Tokyo. This day pass will perfectly suit someone who is visiting the main attractions of Tokyo. The day pass can be purchased easily at the ticket machines at any metro station.

Tokyo to Takayama by bus: After Tokyo we headed to Takayama in the north. To get there we took a highway express bus to Takayama from the Shinjuku bus station in Tokyo. It took some time to get out of Tokyo with all the traffic, but once outside of the city the ride took us up beautiful winding roads through the mountains. It took 5.5 hours to get to Takayama with three welcomed rest stops during the ride. We purchased the tickets in advance on the Nohi Bus website for 6,700 yen/person. To make the same journey by train would have cost us 15,000 yen/person.

Travel in Japan

TAKAYAMA

Daily Transportation: In Takayama almost everything is within walking distance. A popular side trip from Takayama is to Shiragawa-Go. For this we booked a half-day tour with J-Hoppers since it was cheaper to travel with them than doing it on our own. The tour was 4000 yen/person unless you are a guest of J-Hoppers Hostel, then they give you a small discount.

Takayama to Kyoto by bus: We took a highway express bus with Chuo Kotsu from Takayama to Kyoto. Unfortunately the Chuo Kotsu doesn’t have an English booking site. We emailed J-Hoppers ahead of time to see if they could reserve it for us and they were super helpful booking the bus tickets we needed. Not many people were on the bus so we were able to recline the seats all the way back and lounge during the ride. Our driver was also really fast and got us to Kyoto a half hour early, making it a 5-hour bus ride. This was the cheapest way we found to get to Kyoto at 3,100 yen/person. To make the same journey by train would have cost us 10,000 yen/person.

Chuo Kotsu Bus in Japan

KYOTO

Daily Transportation: In Kyoto we did a combination of walking, using the subway and taking the local bus. A one-day bus pass was 500 yen/person which we used for a jam-packed day visiting different parts of the city. We met other travelers who rented bikes to get around for the day at 500 yen/person. We would’ve rode bikes, but we were still trying to get use to which direction the traffic was moving from what we were used to back home, so crossing the street was hard enough!

Kyoto to Koyasan by train, cable car and bus: It was quite a trip getting to Koyasan located south of Kyoto. We had to make several train transfers to get to the Nankai Line. At the end of the line it dropped us off at the base of a cable car that steeply climbed the mountainside. After a five-minute ride to the top we had to transfer once more onto a city bus that finally drove us into Koyasan. It was around 3,100 yen/person for the four-hour route from Kyoto to Koyasan.

Cable Car to Koyasan

KOYASAN

Daily Transportation: Koyasan is a small mountain town so it was easy to walk everywhere. The town offers an one-day ticket for the bus at 830 yen/person, which was useful for those who were visiting for a day trip. We also visited an onsen for which our guest house host drove a group of us in his minivan to the small local onsen. The tour was 1,600 yen/person plus an additional 1,000-2,000 yen for dinner at a restaurant located at the onsen.

Koyasan to Hiroshima by Shinkansen:
We headed back north to Osaka through the town bus, cable car and train. Once in Osaka, we purchased tickets on the Nozomi Shinkansen, (bullet train), to Hiroshima that reached speeds over 180 miles-per-hour during our ride. This was our most expensive transportation mode at 9,700 yen/person, but it was well worth it for the experience. It was a five hour total trip from Koyasan to Hiroshima.

Mark with the Bullet Train

HIROSHIMA

Daily Transportation:
The main attractions of Hiroshima are the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Park and Museum, all of which are easily accessed by the city street car. It has a flat rate of 160/yen each ride no matter which station you are headed to, so we used the street car frequently to get around Hiroshima. To get to the popular Miyajima for a side trip, we took the JR train and ferry from Hiroshima Station, which was around 1,150 yen/person for a round trip.

Hiroshima to Hiroshima Airport:
To get to the Hiroshima Airport to catch our flight to Shanghai, we took the Airport Limousine Bus from the Hiroshima Station. It took about 40 minutes and was 1,350 yen/person. We didn’t have to reserve tickets and could just buy them right before the next departing bus at the station’s ticket machine.

About The Author

Britnee traveled around the world with her husband on a shoestring budget for a year. A few of her favorite destinations include Scotland's Isle of Skye, Chile's Torres del Paine, Bolivia's Salt Flats and Nepal's Annapurna Circuit.

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