Can you use JR pass for bus?
Tips to use JR pass on busesMay 24, 2023 | Read time 8 minutes
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You can generally use the JR pass for buses, but they have to be specifically marked buses. The bus that have the JR (Japan Railway) logo.
Similar to using the JR pass to travel on trains and Shinkansen, you get unlimited travel for the period that you have opted for (7, 14 or 21 days).
However from my travels in Japan I found that the bus options that the JR pass is not as good as the train options. The buses are only available in certain regions.
For example in Tokyo, there are no JR buses that you can board - you have to stick with the other companies. The JR buses are just a small operation of the JR Group (Japan Railway Group) so it sort of makes sense that their offerings for buses are not that great.
What is the JR Pass?
First things first, what is the JR Pass? For those unfamiliar, the JR Pass is a cost-effective rail pass designed for visitors from overseas.
It offers unlimited travel on JR trains (including Shinkansen bullet trains), JR ferries, and even some JR buses for 7, 14, or 21 days.
This is a great option for travelers intending to explore extensively across the country.
Using the JR Pass on Buses
Yes, you read it right above. The JR Pass can indeed be used on some buses. However, it’s essential to note that this only applies to JR buses, not all buses nationwide.
The majority of city and local buses in Japan are run by different companies, and the JR Pass isn’t applicable to these services.
In larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, most buses are operated by other companies, so the JR Pass won’t cover your bus journeys here.
However, in some areas and specific routes, you can use the JR Pass on JR-operated bus lines. For example, the pass covers the JR bus service between Nagano and the Snow Monkey Park. Another route is from Nara to Mt. Yoshino during cherry blossom season, a sight not to be missed!
This is an example of a JR bus. We can see that the bus have the JR logo and is in the Kanto region.
This is the JR office in Tokyo. From here you can book tickets on JR buses to go to over cities like Osaka or Kyoto. I used this service to get to the airport!
This is inside the JR ticket office in Tokyo Station
Areas that you can use the JR local buses
JR buses only operate in certain areas of Japan.
- JR Chugoko: Higashi Hiroshima, Hikari, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi
- JR Hokkaido: Fukugawa, Samani, Sapporo and surroundings,
- JR Kyushu: Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Saga
- JR Shikoku: Ehime, Kochi
- JR Tohoku: Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate
- JR East: Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Nagano, Tochigi
- JR West: Fukuchiyama, Fukui, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Shiga
As you can see there are limited number of cities that the bus operations. There are no JR buses for popular cities such as Tokyo or Osaka. Fortunately cities like Kyoto have JR buses that you can use.
Generally in cities like Tokyo or Osaka, the train lines that JR provides are pretty good to get you around to the major touristy spots!
Using the bus
Boarding a bus in Japan may differ from your familiar practices, so having an understanding of the process there can be highly beneficial. Here’s a guide to help you navigate:
- Enter the bus through the rear entrance; this is where passengers board.
- Ticket machines are conveniently placed near the doors, but as a Japan Rail Pass holder, you are exempt from obtaining a ticket.
- The bus driver’s electronic display or monitor indicates the upcoming stop.
- If your destination is the next bus stop, simply press any of the yellow buttons located on the walls or backs of the seats to notify the driver.
- Upon reaching your stop, proceed to the front of the bus, present your pass to the driver, and exit through the front door.
When Buses Make Sense
Although the JR Pass isn’t valid on most buses, that doesn’t mean you should write off buses altogether.
Buses are often the best or only method of reaching certain destinations, especially in rural areas or smaller towns where JR train lines don’t reach.
Plus, some cities offer their own day or multi-day bus passes, which can save you money if you’re planning to travel extensively within a specific city.
For example, lets look at the JR East region (this is usually where you would end up if you arrived in Tokyo)
We can see that the JR East buses cover areas such as Tohuku, Nagano and Niigata areas.
So you can visit nature spots like:
- Kusatsu Onsen - hot spring resort located in Gunma Prefecture.
- Karuizawa - popular resort town located in Nagano Prefecture. It is situated at the foot of the active volcano Mount Asama and is known for its natural beauty, pleasant climate, and serene atmosphere.
- Ryusendo - fascinating limestone cave located in Iwaizumi Town, Iwate Prefecture. Famous for its crystal-clear underground lakes and rivers, stalactites and stalagmites and glowworms.
- Lake Towada - the largest caldera lake on Honshu Island, with a surface area of about 61 square kilometers. It reaches a maximum depth of approximately 327 meters, making it one of the deepest lakes in Japan.
- Oirase Gorge
- Shiobara Onsen
So, to sum up, while the JR Pass is not a catch-all ticket for all bus services in Japan, it does offer an incredible value for unlimited train travel and access to specific bus routes and other services. When you think about zipping across the country on bullet trains, the price tag seems pretty justified.
Make sure to keep note of the areas that have JR buses - for example if you just arrived in Tokyo or Osaka, there are no local JR buses and you will have to take the train or other local bus companies.
Traveling by bus routes allow you to see spots that the train lines can not provide - such as nature spots, caves, resort towns, etc. The downside is that it takes more time and the frequency of the buses are not like the trains.
Personally, limited options for buses is not a downside for getting a JR Pass, you can always use the other local buses. They fares are quite reasonable (200 to 500 yen) to travel locally.
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Hi there, I am James and I love exploring countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore.
My blog focuses on budget travel and offers tips on how to save money while still having a great experience. I share honest reviews of hotels and restaurants, and my travel guides are designed to inspire others to embark on their own adventures.