A Comprehensive Guide to Traveling from Tokyo to Osaka: Comparing Shinkansen, Highway Bus, and Air Travel



A Comprehensive Guide to Traveling from Tokyo to Osaka: Comparing Shinkansen, Highway Bus, and Air Travel

On any Japanese sojourn, Tokyo and Osaka are two of the most favoured destinations. For getting between these two cities, you have a trio of transport options available: the famed Shinkansen, highway bus, or airplane. Whilst the bullet train generally reigns supreme in terms of ease and popularity, the bus and plane are good alternatives, depending on budget and itinerary constraints. This concise guide aims to illuminate the pros and cons of each, delving into cost, travel duration, and more.

  • 01

    Option 1: Shinkansen

    Also known as 'bullet trains’, Shinkansen travel between Tokyo and Osaka, with the particular line in question being the Tokaido Sanyo Line. This line offers a choice of three Shinkansen services: Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama.

    Of these, Nozomi outstrips its competitors in terms of speed, delivering you from Tokyo to Osaka in just two hours and 40 minutes. Whilst marginally slower, Hikari manages the journey in a respectable three hours and 10 minutes. Kodama takes a more leisurely approach and stops at all stations, resulting in a travel time of approximately four hours and 10 minutes.

    Despite their differences, the cost for these expeditions remains relatively similar and fluctuates between 14,030 yen and 19,040 yen, depending on your chosen seat and the weight of your luggage. Admittedly, it may seem a tad on the costly side, but the Shinkansen's reputation for punctuality, efficiency and dependability create a strong argument for this mode of transport.

    Famed for their adherence to timetables, Shinkansen trains are largely immune to delays, save for those rare instances of severe weather disruptions. On board, one enjoys a comfortable ride with minimal vibrations, not to mention the commendable legroom offered by the seats. With departures every three minutes or so, the ease of scheduling your travel itinerary is another compelling reason to choose the Shinkansen.

    Each carriage is fitted with accessible lavatories, complete with baby changing facilities. A charging port is available at every seat and the overhead storage can accommodate large luggage pieces. Refreshments are readily available on the Nozomi and Hikari trains, with snack carts providing a range of traditional snacks and local lunchboxes to satiate your hunger during the journey.

    accessible lavatories, complete with baby changing facilities.

    accessible lavatories, complete with baby changing facilities.

  • 02

    Seat types

    The Shinkansen offers a variety of seating options to cater to your needs: non-reserved, reserved, and the luxurious ‘Green car’ option. The latter is akin to business class on an airplane and offers more spacious seating. The standard cars are arranged in a 3 + 2 formation while the green cars offer more room to move with a 2 + 2 seating arrangement.

    Reserved seats are slightly more costly than non-reserved, although Japan Rail Pass holders can secure a seat without additional charge. Non-reserved seats operate on a first-come, first-served basis, offering a more spontaneous option for those without a rigid schedule.

    For the assurance of knowing your seat is secure (especially when travelling as part of a group), reserving a seat is advisable. This is particularly prudent during peak times, such as Golden Week (late April to early May), the Obon festival (mid-August), and New Year holidays (late December to early January).

    The standard cars

    The standard cars

    The green cars

    The green cars

  • 03

    How to buy tickets

    Tickets for Shinkansen trains can be purchased at Japan Rail stations, either from 'Midori no Madoguchi' counters or ticket machines. Information such as the number of passengers, travel date and time, departure and arrival stations, and seating preferences (Green or Ordinary, reserved or non-reserved) will be required.

    It’s preferable to secure your Shinkansen tickets ahead of time via the official Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen SmartEX website. Creating an account is necessary but once you do, you can make reservations up to one month in advance. Paper tickets can then be collected from any Shinkansen ticket machine, facilitated by a QR code that is issued upon completing your reservation. Your SmartEX password will also be required.

    Suica or Pasmo (rechargeable transport cards) can be a convenient tool when traveling in Japan and are technically usable for Shinkansen travel. However, the initial set-up is rather convoluted, so if you're merely visiting the country, opting for paper Shinkansen tickets is a simpler choice.

    Top tip for seat selection: For the best views of Mount Fuji on the Tokaido Sanyo Line, select a seat on the right-hand side of the train (F or D in Green Cars). This iconic natural landmark is best appreciated as the Shinkansen sweeps past Shin-Fuji Station in Shizuoka.

    Midori no Madoguchi

    Midori no Madoguchi

  • 04

    How to get to the Shinkansen platform

    To board the Shinkansen, you must first access the Yaesu side of Tokyo Station, which is essentially split from the Marunouchi section. There are multiple entrances available for accessing the Shinkansen platform: Yaesu North, Yaesu Central, Yaesu South, and Nihonbashi.

    Keep your paper ticket(s) handy as you approach the Shinkansen ticket barriers. In most cases, you will be issued two tickets - a passenger ticket and an express ticket. Certain trains may only require a single ticket. Either way, insert your tickets into the machine and remember to retrieve them as they emerge on the other side. If you have two tickets, they can be inserted together.

    In Osaka, the Shinkansen stops exclusively at Shin-Osaka Station, not Osaka Station. To reach Osaka Station, you’ll need to take the JR Kyoto, JR Kobe, or JR Takarazuka lines - a swift, four-minute journey that is covered by your Shinkansen ticket (hence the importance of retrieving your tickets at the Shin-Osaka Shinkansen gate). Shin-Osaka Station is set across four levels, with the Shinkansen arriving on the fourth floor. After alighting, descend to the third floor and look for signs marked “Transfer to JR Lines”.

    Shinkansen ticket barriers

    Shinkansen ticket barriers

    Shinkansen ticket barriers

    Shinkansen ticket barriers

  • 05

    Boarding tips

    For a seamless boarding experience on the Shinkansen, be sure to inspect your tickets beforehand as they detail your departure time, train name, carriage number, and seat number. Electronic signboards found throughout the station provide timely updates on impending trains.

    After reaching the correct platform, locate the electronic display to identify the position of your carriage and look for the lane markings on the platform that dictate where you should wait.

    An effortlessly streamlined process, tailored for your convenience!

    the electronic display

    the electronic display

  • 06

    First and last trains

    One of the Shinkansen's many benefits is its early and late departures. The first train pulls out of Tokyo Station at 6:00 am, rolling into Shin-Osaka Station by 8:22 am. For night owls, the last service departs Tokyo at 9:24 pm, reaching Shin-Osaka Station at 11:45 pm.

  • 07

    Option 2: Highway bus

    For those keeping a close eye on their budget, the highway bus proves to be a thrifty choice. Granted, it takes eight to ten hours to complete the journey from Tokyo to Osaka, but you can cleverly economise on overnight accommodation by selecting a night bus. Night buses usually depart from Shinjuku or Tokyo Station between 9 pm and midnight, and will have you at Osaka Station between 6 am and 9 am the next morning.

    Highway bus fares fluctuate depending on the season and the day of the week. But as of June 2023, you can find seats for a paltry 3,000 yen. Mind you, ticket prices can surge during the high season and on weekends, so it's prudent to steer clear of these periods.

    Of course, the cost of a highway bus will rise if you require additional personal space. Companies such as Willer Express offer extra legroom and single occupancy, shell-style seats, which might set you back 10,000 - 20,000 yen. Reservations should be made online, with seats allocated in advance.

    For the comfort and safety of female travellers, some companies provide women-only buses or sections. The latter ensures a woman will only be seated next to a man if they're part of the same travelling group.

    Many buses come equipped with lavatories and usually make pit stops en route for comfort breaks. If long journeys are not your forte, it's recommended that you capitalise on these intervals for a quick stretch, thus warding off any discomfort later on.

    Highway bus

    Highway bus

  • 08

    Option 3: Airplane

    For those with an inclination for air travel, you can fly into Osaka from Tokyo. Flights from Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport are available via carriers such as All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan Airlines (JAL), or Star Flyer. Fares start from around 10,000 yen, with the flight duration approximately one to one and a half hours. Once you land, the journey to Osaka Station takes an hour by a combination of monorail and train or is just 30 minutes by limousine bus.

    Alternatively, Kansai International Airport can be accessed from Narita International Airport with low-cost carriers Jetstar or Peach. Fares start from around 4,000 yen, with flights taking one and a half hours. From Kansai to Osaka Station, you can expect a journey time of about one and a half hours by train or just one hour by limousine bus.

    Do bear in mind that the efficiency of air travel can be somewhat diminished when factoring in the time it takes to commute to and from airports and the necessity for early check-ins. Moreover, if your journey in Osaka commences with a train trip, the additional time and cost associated with airport transit may well tip the scales.

    Peach Airplane

    Peach Airplane

Click here for a summary article including this article