Japan Railways (JR) offers a number of long-distance buses that are comfortable and inexpensive. You can use Japan Rail Passes on some, but not all, of these buses. Routes and schedules are constantly changing, but tourist information offices will have up-to-date details. It's now possible to travel from Osaka to Tokyo for as little as ¥5,000 one-way. Buses are nonsmoking, generally modern, and very comfortable, though overnight journeys still mean sleeping in your seat. Foreign travelers are not often seen on these buses, and they remain one of the country's best-kept travel secrets. Japan Rail Passes are not accepted by private bus companies. City buses outside Tokyo are quite convenient, but be sure of your route and destination, because the bus driver probably won't speak English.
Local buses have a set cost, anywhere from ¥100 to ¥200, depending on the route and municipality, in which case you board at the front of the bus and pay as you get on. On other buses cost is determined by the distance you travel. You take a ticket when you board at the rear door of the bus; it bears the number of the stop at which you boarded. Your fare depends on your destination and is indicated by a board at the front of the bus. Japan Railways also runs buses in some areas that have limited rail service. These buses are covered by the JR Pass, even if some reservation clerks tell you otherwise. Bus schedules can be hard to fathom if you don't read Japanese, however, so it's best to ask for help at a tourist information office. The Nihon Bus Association has information about routes and which companies have English information online.
Reservations are not always essential, except at peak holiday times and on the most popular routes, like Tokyo–Osaka.
JR Kanto Bus (03/3844–1950. www.jrbuskanto.co.jp.)
Nihon Bus Association (www.bus.or.jp.)
Nishinihon JR Bus (06/6466–9990. www.nishinihonjrbus.co.jp.)
Willer Express (050/5805–0383. willerexpress.com.)