Osaka: cheaper, dirtier, and a whole lot friendlier than Tokyo. A vibey city of 2.5 million, it’s bigger than neighboring Kyoto and also more down to earth. It’s also famous for its local food culture (earning the city the nickname “Japan’s Kitchen”). But most importantly, how are you getting there?
tl;dr Generally speaking, the Shinkansen is the all-around best choice: it’s the fastest way to travel (when you consider transit time between the airports and city centers).
Osaka is about 250 miles (400km) west of Tokyo as the crow flies. By rail or road, the journey is more like 320 miles (515km).
Pro tip: If you’re visiting Japan and this is not going to be your only domestic trip, aJapan Rail Pass(JR Pass) will almost certainly work out to be the most economical option. This discount rail ticket allows virtually unlimited travel on Shinkansen trains for 7, 14, or 21 days. If you’re making a quick trip 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? Discounted Shinkansen tickets are worth considering. So are buses and other cheapo alternatives. Read on for a full breakdown of options.
How to save money with discount tickets and packages
There are a few cheaper ways to take the bullet train. If you’re coming from outside Japan, it’s recommended that you take advantage of a Japan Rail Pass.
If you live here, or your schedule is flexible and you’re cool with 4 hours on an older model of bullet train, you could use the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Economy Planand ride down to Osaka on the Kodama.This gets you a one-way ticket for between ¥10,800 and ¥12,400, depending on the time of year. You have to buya Puratto tickets at leastone dayin advance, and numbersare limited. Purchase them from JR Tokai Tours or from any JTB Travel counter in Tokyo.
The Hokuriku Arch Pass: If slow travel is your jam, you might want to check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass, too. It’s a nifty regional rail pass that takes you between Tokyo and Osaka, meandering along an arching route that includes Nagano, Toyama, and Kanazawa.
If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. New Shinkansen luggage rules dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations. This is not at any extra cost; however, space for luggage is limited. And if you are reserving a spot for your luggage you also have to reserve a seat for yourself (meaning you can’t go for the cheaper unreserved seats). Bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all.
One other great fact about the Shinkansen is that it is the lowest emissions per passenger mode of transport (apart from walking or cycling). According to JR and our own calculations, the Tokyo to Osaka Shinkansen — with about 4.65KG CO2 per passenger — is about 1/12 of the carbon emissions of flying.
Flights from Tokyo to Osaka
Taking to the sky is also an option, but it’s not always the most convenient way to travel between Tokyo and Osaka. A one-way ticket can go for as low as ¥4,000 or up to ¥12,000 on a low-cost carrier like Peach or Jetstar, but you’ll need to factor in other expenses.
The easy 1.5-hour direct flight is complicated by the transit time/cost required to get to Narita Airport as well as from Kansai International Airport (KIX) into Osaka.
Here’s an overview of current flight prices:
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar||¥4,214 (US$31)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥4,723 (US$34)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Japan Airlines||¥8,436 (US$61)||Details|
You can grab this discount pass for the Kansai Airport Haruka Express train.
What about Haneda Airport? And Osaka Itami Airport?
There are direct flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Osaka Itami Airport. Both of these airports are closer to their respective city centers than Narita and KIX.
However, low cost carriers like Peach and Jetstar do not fly this route. The only airlines that do are the pricier legacy carriers, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Both offer discounted plane tickets to foreign travelers — currently as low as ¥7,700 one-way on the Haneda to Itami route — but this is still usually more than the LCC fares.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that although flights might save you money they won’t help towards saving the planet. With likely around 12 times the CO2 emissions of taking the Shinkansen, unless you plan on driving a car all on your own, flying is likely the worst option for the environment.
Highway buses from Tokyo to Osaka
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 ¥3,500 to ¥10,200 one way, depending on what level of comfort you’re after. There are night buses 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.Most buses have toilets; some don’t, but they all stop regularly for loo and smoke breaks.
Being a form of mass transit traveling by coach is one of the more energy efficient options for traveling longer distances in Japan. We estimate the Tokyo to Osaka journey by coach will create CO2 emissions of around 15kg per passenger.
Travelers who are happy going nowhere slowly might want to consider the ultra-cheap Seishun 18 Pass, available three times a year (coinciding with university holidays). For ¥12,050, you’ll get 5 (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 ¥2,410 per day of travel. This means you can, technically anyway, get to Osaka and back for ¥4,820 (with 3 days of travel left on your ticket). It’s not the most efficient way of doing things but certainly an adventure!
You can also share the tickets with friends — for example, one set of the 5 tickets could get 5 of you down to Osaka (that would use them all up). The snag? You’re looking at at least 9 hours of total travel time, with at least 7 transfers. You can usethe rail route planning site Jorudan (Japanese and English)to plot your trip.
If you were keen on using regular trains to get from Tokyo to Osaka without the Seishun 18 Pass, think twice: the cost of the trip is around ¥9,000 one way, making pretty much everything else more economical.
Driving from Tokyo to Osaka
You can also rent a car and drive from Tokyo to Osaka, but the highway tolls and speed limits make this a less-than-fun journey. The drive takes about 5 or 6 hours and costs about ¥10,000 in tolls (ETC fare). And then you’ve got a car in Osaka, where driving and parking are a pain.
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 mamachariacross the country. Or you could travel with a sense of class and ride that discount unicorn you found at Donki…
Summary of transport options from Tokyo to Osaka
Thefastest, easiest, and most convenient optionis the Shinkansen, especially if you have aJapan Rail Passor are looking to arrive quick-fast. The cheapest optionis usually a highway bus, followed by flights — but these are both a bit time-consuming.
Video guide to travel between Tokyo and Osaka
Going the other way: Traveling from Osaka to Tokyo
If you’re heading east to the capital of Japan, your transport options are pretty much identical, with the exception of some of the discount deals. We have a dedicated guide to the Osaka to Tokyo route — give it a quick read.
Tokyo to Osaka travel FAQs
When is the best time to book travel between Tokyo and Osaka?
Osaka is an evergreen destination, though the usual peak travel season cautions apply. Travel in Japan is always more hectic, crowded, and expensive during peak periods, which include: year-end/New Year’s, cherry blossom season (late March to early April), Golden Week, summer break (late July through August).
Shinkansen tickets fluctuate only slightly — a few hundred yen — but flights and buses, with dynamic pricing, can cost as much as twice the price of an off-peak ticket. There are no black out dates on the discount fares for international tourists offered by JAL and ANA, though flights may very well sell out during busy periods.
Generally speaking, weekdays are better than weekends (though beware of getting on city trains during rush hour with luggage).
Is it possible to do a day trip to Osaka from Tokyo?
Yes, it is. The Shinkansen starts running around 6am and the last return train from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo is around 9pm. This gives you a whole day in Osaka — but does mean missing out on Osaka’s famous nightlife.
A night bus gives you slightly more time, but even an 11pm return bus still requires a relative early night (by Osaka standards!).
Osaka is much more doable as a day trip from Kyoto, which is only a 30-minute train ride away.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published in 2016 and is updated regularly. Last updated October 2022 by Maria Danuco.