Osaka: cheaper, dirtier and a whole lot friendlier than Tokyo. A vibey city of 2.7 million, it’s bigger than neighboring Kyoto—and arguably 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, on business, for sightseeing, just passing through or you’re on some secret cheapo mission, this guide explains the fastest and cheapest ways of getting yourself there.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, probably your best bet is getting the amazing value JR Rail Pass, especially if you’re planning to visit multiple cities during your stay in Japan. But if you’re a true cheapo, then read on for the full story.
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
If you’ve got yen to burn (you probably need to ask yourself what you’re doing on this website), shinking down to Osaka is by far the fastest, most convenient option. The speediest bullet train, Nozomi, will get you from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka in 2 hours 30 minutes, for a cool ¥14,650. The Hikari shinkansen will save you ¥310 but add an extra 30 minutes or so to your travel time.
There are a few cheaper ways to take a bullet train. If you’re coming in from outside Japan, you could take advantage of a JR Rail Pass, or discount round-trip ticket from Japanican. Or if your schedule is flexible and you’re ok with four hours on an older, slower model of bullet train, you could use the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Economy Plan and ride down to Osaka on the Kodama for a reasonable ¥10,300.
Finally, there’s also the option of buying an economical 3-day shinkansen and hotel package (from ¥34,700),or this 1-day alternative from ¥33,000, both of which can save you time and money. You could also take advantage of this 3-day train + 4-star hotel deal, starting at ¥46,700, which sees you based in nearby Kyoto.
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 JR Railways. Kyoto is half an hour away.
Time: 2.5 – 4 hours.
Cost: ¥10,300 to ¥14,650 (one way).
Money-saving tip: If you’re traveling to several cities, buy the JR Rail Pass. Otherwise, consider one of the above shinkansen and hotel packages.
Flying is also an option, but be warned that it’s certainly not 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-budget carrier like Peach or Jetstar, but you’ll need to factor in other expenses. The easy 1.5-hour flight is made complicated by the necessary transport to either Haneda or Narita Airport (most likely the latter), as well as from Kansai International Airport into Osaka proper.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Vanilla Air||¥3,460 (US$31)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥4,035 (US$38)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar Japan||¥4,507 (US$51)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Japan Airlines||¥10,191 (US$94)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||ANA (All Nippon Airways)||¥11,091 (US$98)||Details|
If you do go this route, grab this discount pass for the Kansai Airport Haruka Express. It comes with an IC card pre-loaded with ¥2,000, which will allow you to breeze through the ticket barriers at stations all over Japan. The card is rechargeable.
Cost: Approximately ¥3,000 to ¥12,000 one way.
Time: 1.5 hours plus travel to and from the airports.
Money-saving tip: Search for flights about two months in advance, and if you have flexibility over the exact day of travel you’ll usually get the cheapest fares.
Hopping on a highway bus will get you to from Tokyo to Osaka in around 6-10 hours (8 on average, in our experience) and set you back between ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 one way, depending on what level of comfort you’re after. We’ve done a ¥2,000 bus trip. Can’t say we would do it again. Budget at least ¥2,900 for a semi-decent ride. There are night 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. There are various operators, but try Kosoku Bus for reasonably priced bus tickets—it’s pretty standard to find a night trip for ¥3,000 one way.
Some buses have toilets, some don’t, but they all stop regularly for loo and smoke breaks anyway.
Cost: ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 one way.
Time: 6-10 hours.
Travelers who are happy going nowhere slowly might want to consider the ultra-cheap Seishun 18 tickets, available three times a year (coinciding with university holidays). For ¥11,850, you’ll get 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 only ¥2,370 per day of travel. This means you can get to Osaka and back for ¥4,740 (leaving you with 3 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 (but that would use them all up). The snag? You’re looking at at least nine hours of travel time, with at least nine transfers. Take a look at Hyperdia when plotting and scheming your trip.
Cost: ¥11,850 or less.
Time: 9+ hours.
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 600km or so. Or travel with a sense of class and ride that discount unicorn you found at Donki. As always, share your pictures and comments!
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