Osaka: cheaper, dirtier and a whole lot friendlier than Tokyo. A vibey city of 2.7 million, it’s bigger than neighboring Kyoto and also more down to earth. Osaka, a port city, was once the business hub of Japan, with merchants from all over selling their wares and serving up good grub. The food culture prevails—Osaka is known as the kitchen of the country. Whether you’re heading from Tokyo to Osaka to chow down, check out Universal Studios Japan, or you’re on a secret mission, here are the fastest and cheapest ways of getting there.
Note: If this is not your only domestic trip while you’re here, a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) will almost certainly work out to be the most economical option. This discount rail ticket allows virtually unlimited bullet train rides for 7, 14 or 21 days. If you’re making a quick visit from Tokyo to Osaka, then popping down to Hiroshima, for example, the pass will more than pay for itself.
Only doing the Tokyo to Osaka route? Discounted Shinkansen tickets are available. So are buses and other cheapo alternatives. Read on for a full breakdown of options.
Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka
The ride from Tokyo to Osaka is a reasonable 2.5-3 hours, with no transfers required. The speediest bullet train, the Nozomi, will get you from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka in just 2 hours 30 minutes. Taking the Hikari will add an extra 30 minutes or so to your travel time. The sluggish Kodama, the oldest in the fleet, takes closer to four hours, and is generally avoided except by last-minute riders and super discount-seekers.
If you’re using a Japan Rail Pass, you’ll be limited to the Hikari and slower bullet trains, but this won’t make much difference. The route is popular, served by multiple Shinkansen every hour.
Note: Shin-Osaka Station is actually a couple of stops away from Osaka Station proper—but your bullet train ticket will cover the additional fare on the JR Line. Kyoto is just half an hour off by regular train, or the next bullet train stop over (15 minutes away).
During peak season (that’s spring and summer holidays, Golden Week and the New Year period), a regular one-way ticket costs about ¥14,920. It’s a few hundred yen cheaper the rest of the year. To save a bit of cash (about ¥1,000), you can risk unreserved seating (jiyuuseki), but this could see you standing the whole way. If you are traveling with kids, have big bags or aren’t comfortable being on your feet for hours, it’s best to book a reserved seat (shiteiseki). You can do this in advance.
How to save money with discount tickets and packages
If your schedule is flexible and you’re cool with four hours on an older model of bullet train, you could use the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Economy Plan and ride down to Osaka on the Kodama. This gets you a one-way ticket for between ¥10,700 and ¥12,300, depending on the time of year. You have to buy a Platt Kodama ticket at least one day in advance, and numbers are limited. Talk to a company called JR Tokai Tours for more information.
The Hokuriku Arch Pass: If slow travel is your jam, you might want to check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass too—it’s a nifty regional pass that takes you between Tokyo and Osaka, meandering along Japan’s “golden route” that includes Nagano, Toyama and Kanazawa.
Pro tip: If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. New Shinkansen luggage rules from May 2020 dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (included in your JR Pass), and bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all. Read more about the new baggage rules.
Flights from Tokyo to Osaka
Taking to the sky is also an option, but it’s not always the most convenient way to travel between Tokyo and Osaka. You might be able to snag a one-way ticket for ¥3,000 to ¥12,000 on a low-cost carrier like Peach or Jetstar, but you’ll need to factor in other expenses.
|Tokyo => Kansai||SAM Columbia||¥5,127 (US$47)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar||¥5,556 (US$51)||Details|
Pro tip: Here’s a nifty little hack—check which day of the week you’ll get the best deal.
Also, you can grab this discount pass for the Kansai Airport Haruka Express train.
Highway buses from Tokyo to Osaka
Hopping on a highway bus will get you from Tokyo to Osaka in around 6-10 hours (8 on average) and set you back between ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 one way, depending on what level of comfort you’re after. There are night buses and day buses, with the former departing around midnight and rolling into Osaka at the crack of dawn. The buses leave from major stations in Tokyo. Some buses have toilets, some don’t, but they all stop regularly for loo and smoke breaks.
Travelers who are happy going nowhere slowly might want to consider the ultra-cheap Seishun 18 Pass, available three times a year (coinciding with university holidays). For ¥12,050, you’ll get five (non-consecutive is fine) days of travel on any and all local JR trains, as well as rapid JR trains that don’t require seat reservations. That’s ¥2,410 per day of travel. This means you can, technically anyway, get to Osaka and back for ¥4,820 (leaving you with three more days of travel).
You can also share the tickets with friends—for example, one set of the five tickets could get five of you down to Osaka (that would use them all up). The snag? You’re looking at at least nine hours of travel time, with at least seven transfers. You can use the rail route planning sites Hyperdia or Jorudan to plot your trip.
If you were keen on using regular trains to get from Tokyo to Osaka without the Seishun 18 Pass, think twice: the cost of the trip is around ¥9,000 one way, making pretty much everything else more economical.
Summary of transport options from Tokyo to Osaka
The fastest, easiest and most convenient option is the Shinkansen, especially if you have a Japan Rail Pass or are looking to arrive quick-fast. The cheapest option is usually a highway bus, followed by flights—but these are both a bit time-consuming.
Here’s a quick comparison, in table form:
|Transport:||Bullet train||Flights||Buses||Regular trains|
|Price:||¥10,700– ¥14,920, cheaper with discount packages||From about ¥4,500, plus transfers||¥2,000–¥10,000, see rates for your dates||¥2,410 with the Seisun 18 Pass, otherwise about ¥9,000|
|Time:||2.5 – 4 hrs||4 – 5 hrs (incl. transfers)||6 – 10 hrs||+- 9 hrs (possibly much longer)|
You can also rent a car and drive from Tokyo to Osaka, but the highway tolls and speed limits make this a less-than-fun journey. If you’ve got weeks at your disposal and a good pair of walking shoes, you could hoof it hobo style (although to be honest, we wouldn’t). You could also put pedal to the metal and roll that mamachari across the country. It’s only 500km or so between Tokyo and Osaka. Or you could travel with a sense of class and ride that discount unicorn you found at Donki.
Video guide to travel between Tokyo and Osaka
Going the other way: Traveling from Osaka to Tokyo
If you’re heading northeast to the capital of Japan, your transport options are pretty much identical, with the exception of some of the discount deals. We have a dedicated guide to the Osaka to Tokyo route—give it a quick read.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published in 2016 and is updated regularly. Last update: October 1, 2019.
The most adorable place in Japan.