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, check out Universal Studios Japan, or you’re on some secret cheapo mission, this guide explains the fastest and cheapest ways of getting yourself 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? One-way Shinkansen tickets are available. So are buses and other cheapo alternatives. Read on for the full story!
Shinkansen (Bullet train)
The ride from Tokyo to Osaka is a reasonable 2.5-3 hours, 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 old Kodama, the slowest 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 a popular one, 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 JR Railways. Kyoto is half an hour away.
During peak season (that’s spring and summer holidays, Golden Week and the New Year period), a regular one-way ticket costs about ¥14,650. It’s a few hundred yen cheaper the rest of the year. To save a bit of cash (about ¥900), 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.
There’s also the option of buying a really economical 3-day shinkansen and hotel package (from ¥28,200),or this 1-night option from ¥32,875, both of which can save you time and money. You could also scoop this 3-day train + 4-star hotel deal, starting at ¥46,700, which sees you based in nearby Kyoto.
Finally, 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 ¥10,500 and ¥12,000, 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 JR Tokai Tours for more information.
Taking to the sky is also an option, but 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 complicated by the transfers to either Haneda or Narita Airport (most likely the latter), as well as from Kansai International Airport into Osaka.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥6,269 (US$58)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar Japan||¥7,470 (US$68)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||ANA (All Nippon Airways)||¥11,081 (US$101)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||STARFLYER||¥12,459 (US$114)||Details|
Pro 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. Also, grab this discount pass for the Kansai Airport Haruka Express. It comes with a rechargeable IC card pre-loaded with ¥2,000, which will allow you to breeze through the ticket barriers at stations all over Japan.
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 ¥1,600 to ¥10,000 one way, depending on what level of comfort you’re after. 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. Some buses have toilets, some don’t, but they all stop regularly for loo and smoke breaks.
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 or under one-way.
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 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 nine transfers. Use Hyperdia when plotting and scheming your trip.
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 a highway bus, followed by local trains—but these are time-consuming.
You can technically also rent a car and drive down from Tokyo to Osaka, but the highway tolls and speed limits make this a less-than-fun journey. Trains or buses are better.
Of course, 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.
Pro tip: Here’s what to do in Osaka once you’re there.
This post is updated regularly. Last update: May 7, 2018.
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