Before my Japan backpacking trip I purchased a Willer Express Japan Bus Pass. After comparing the more popular JRail pass to the Willer Express one I decided that the Willer Express 3 day bus pass would suit my needs.
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The Japan bus pass was considerably cheaper than the cheapest JRail Pass option and I only planned to travel over three nights (3 trips) between Tokyo and Kyoto, Kyoto and Hiroshima and Hiroshima and Tokyo (to catch my flight out of Japan). I did not think about the cost of day trips that I undertook to Kamakura, Kobe, Osaka and Miyajima. The costs of these day trips added to the unplanned Shinkasen train ride that I undertook from Kyoto to Hiroshima, added to the cost of the Willer Express 3 day Japan bus pass surpassed the cost of the JRail Pass. So, before I even consider the comfort and foreigner friendliness of Willer Express’ service, I am regretting my purchase.
Being Japan, train travel is incredibly expensive. Infact, everything in Japan is greatly more expensive than anywhere else I have ever been such as London, apart from cheap and healthy food funnily enough. The fact that the bus pass was not able to be used on certain days due to some Japanese holiday/festival/peak period meant that I had to fork out $120USD for a shinkasen (bulletin train) ticket. This blew my budget out of the water.
How much does it cost?
The Three Day Willer Express Japan Bus Pass cost 10,000 Yen ($120USD) which was about $280USD cheaper than the cheapest JRail Pass (for three days) I believe. But, as mentioned above, unplanned travel (which is undertaken by train 99% of the time) combined with the expensive (but awesome) Tokyo subway/JR line tickets easily cost more than $280.
However, I traveled at night and slept on the bus, therefore saving myself the cost of a couple of nights accommodation. It depends what you are comfortable with.
So, unless you plan to walk everywhere and only travel long-distance by Willer Express bus, this bus pass just isn’t cost effective for foreign travelers.
What’s it like on the bus?
The buses were always clean and comfortable. You will be allocated a seat before you board and remain in that seat for the rest of your journey.
The seats recline almost fully, however they are not wide enough or tall enough for a Western traveler. One fellow Westerner remarked that the seats were “Japanese people seats”. All-in-all I could easily sleep at night on this bus if it wasn’t for the following problems:
- It was always very hot, too hot for me to sleep. They had the heater on non-stop at about +30c
- The drivers (there are two and they swap every 2 hours did not speak English so I did not understand where we were, how long we were stopping for and why
- On my epically long trip back to Tokyo from Hiroshima the bus was 7 hours late due to heavy traffic and snow. Trains do not have to worry about traffic jams!
Avoid the Willer Express Japan Bus Pass and spend a little extra and buy a JRail pass.