Willer Express Bus Trip

Nagoya to Tokyo overnight and in comfort

By Todd Wojnowski   Sep 12, 2013 - 3 min read

Travelers know that one of the biggest downsides to exploring Japan is the high cost of transportation. One way to avoid the wallet-draining costs of domestic flights and high speed trains is to use an overnight bus. But for travelers with long legs, cramped Japanese buses can be a major problem. One answer?

Willer Express is a long-trip bus company that offers some of the most spacious and comfortable seating arrangements that I've come across. On top of that, they have a fully functional English reservation system on their website as well as English-speaking staff to assist you along the way.

Though they don't go into Hokkaido, Willer's bus routes stretch from Sendai in the north to Fukuoka in the west, and hit nearly every major city in between including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Yokohama. They have multiple types of buses and many classes of seats, ranging from budget buses to luxury ones.

I tried Willer Express for the first time on an overnight trip to Nagoya from the Tokyo area. My bus departed from the parking lot of Tokyo Disney Land, in Chiba Prefecture. There was a team of Willer staff members readily standing around the bus, making it very easy to find. Some of the staff spoke English, and not only confirmed my reservation but guided me on the bus and helped me store my luggage. This was the"Standard" bus class, which is the second-cheapest. The overall experience was quite average. Though the bus was spotless and I had a fair amount of space compared to other bus lines, the seat wasn't very comfortable and I woke up with a sore neck. The seats did not recline. The trip was quiet and the bus made its scheduled stops for restrooms breaks along the way. We arrived at our destination - Nagoya Station - a bit earlier than was scheduled.

On the return trip, I took a higher class of bus, the "Relax" class, which was quite comfortable. The seats reclined back to 140º, and had not just foot but also leg rests, which made for a very comfortable position to sleep in. What's more, there was even a hood that folded out over your head to keep things dark. Blankets were provided, and even when the person in front of me was fully reclined, there was more than enough space. There was also an electric outlet in the armrest. I slept very well on this bus, and we arrived on time.

Willer's variety of buses include a variety of other options, such as wireless LAN, personal monitors and entertainment systems, women's only buses, and restrooms. On all buses, women can be seated next to each other. There are budget buses for traveling on a shoestring, and extra wide seats for those who like to spread out. One class of bus is called the "Cocoon," which has a sliding wall to ensure complete privacy and reclining ability.

Overall, my trip on Willer was a positive one. The company seems well-run, the buses were as advertised, and there are a ton of options and bus types. To save some money on transportation, it should be a strong consideration.

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Todd Wojnowski

Todd Wojnowski @Todd Wojnowski

I am an avid backpacker, writer, marathon runner, hiker, eater of spicy foods, watcher of B-movies, and user of the Harvard comma. I'm originally from Buffalo, New York, and arrived in Japan in 2008.

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Todd Wojnowski Author 5 years ago
Chris: Thanks for the details! It seems worth the upgrade.

Theo: Transportation needs to match the kind of trip you're taking. With what you're looking to do, perhaps a bus isn't the best bet, but in many other cases it is. Also, you paid 840 yen to get from Machida to Shinjuku? That route only costs 360 yen on the Odakyu Line. If you really wanted to take the JR lines, it costs 890 and takes more than double the amount of time to get there, so I'm not sure why you'd want to do that.
Chris Barnes 5 years ago
I rode with Willer today in their "New Premium" seats and must say it was the best bus experience i've had in all my travels. The seats are HUGE, have a fold-out table, seat pocket, foot rest, coat hangers, power and are electric reclining. There are also privacy curtains on each seat and adjustable head-rests. I loved how quite the bus was, and it was handy having the departure time displayed at the front of the bus at our rest stops. I wont hesitate to use Willer Express again, it was fantastic!
Theo Lübbe 5 years ago
I think I'd personally prefer a JR Pass. Depending on just what one wants to get out of the Willer bus passes or ticket prices, one might end up spending as much as simply getting a JR pass and utilizing hotel accommodation, being that you'd still need to clean up (bathhouses, an extra cost), still do local commuting at your destination (like trains, which are largely covered by a JR pass), clean your clothes (an extra cost at most hotels as with a laundromat, but at least you know where to find the laundromat and it's a quicker commute), store your luggage if you're not traveling light and don't want to carry a backpack of extra, unnecessary weight with you all day (coin lockers, which a hotel room serves quite nicely as, and which involves less commuting, again).

A 7-day JR pass is around 27,840jpy. 8 days in total on Willer bus passes is already 25,000jpy.

Even if you use overnight buses and are in a new city every day, you'd likely want to wash up twice each day; before you get on your bus and after you get off it the next morning. With bathhouses, by my knowledge, easily running 250jpy, that's 500jpy/day you could cut off hotel accommodation.

Day-long storage at a coin locker could easily run you another 500jpy if you have to use one of the larger lockers, which is another deductible from hotel accommodation. There's also the issue of getting your dirty clothes from your luggage to the laundromat and then back from the laundromat to your luggage, which can be a time-consuming pain, unless you simply carry your clothes with you and leave other heavier items (and the bulk of your traveling bag or suitcase) in the coin locker.

Some hotels will include breakfast while costing as little as 3,500jpy overnight, so that could be another deductible; not having to get breakfast somewhere the next morning; let's say 500jpy for some basic consumables from a department store. That brings the hotel stay down to 2,000jpy or so (or 3,000jpy if working with a more realistic 4,500jpy hotel stay).

Local train trips can cost in the region of 500jpy depending on where you are and where you're wanting to go (Machida to Shinjuku in the Tokyo Metropolitan area being 840jpy one way without a pass when I was there in '08), so if you make at least one 1,000jpy return trip in a day, that brings the effective hotel accommodation down to 1,000-2,000jpy compared to overnighting on the bus.

If you're willing to do overnighting on a bus, you're probably willing to make use of hostel accommodation, for which there's the Kyoto BakPak hostel, which averages 2,300jpy/night in a dorm style room, but grants you access to a kitchenette where you could prepare your own food (breakfast, lunch and snacks for the day). 180jpy for a 5min shower and probably another 250jpy or so to use laundromat services with tumble-drying brings the total for that to around 2,730jpy before deductibles. That means you're running a profit if you make use of such accommodation vs using the Willer pass.

25,000 8-day bus pass, 'accommodation' each night and a new city each day, if not bouncing back and forth between two cities - 3125jpy/day
500jpy bathhouse use/day - 3625jpy/day
500jpy coin locker use/day - 4125jpy/day
500jpy for basic breakfast-oriented food - 4625jpy/day
1,000jpy average for local train trips per day - 5625jpy/day
250(125)jpy for laundromat usage every other day (more frequent because of sleeping in clothes) - 5750jpy/day

27,840 7-day JR pass, 4,500jpy avg hotel stay/night - ~8500jpy/day
bathing included - 8500jpy/day
luggage storage included - 8500jpy/day
breakfast generally included - 8500jpy/day
local train trips included and unlimited (so let's double up our train trips because they're 'free') - 7500jpy/day
250(83) jpy laundromat usage every third day - 7583jpy/day

Hostel as alternative to the business hotel accommodation; 5563jpy/day (accomm cost deficit and bathing factored)
Making your own breakfast, lunch and snacks from locally sourced staples, such as rice, vegetables etc - I've managed to make a week's worth of basic food off of just 1500jpy, so let's use a 'generous' budget of 2500jpy for a week's basic groceries; 5920jpy/day

It's worth keeping in mind at this point that in the Willer bus pass scenario, no food has been factored in beyond that morning's 500jpy, the hotel stay generally means a buffet, so you'll be well fed going into the day but will still need to eat something around lunchtime and might want/need snacks during the day. In the hostel's case and any business hotel offering a small kitchenette in your room (the Weekly Mansion Tokyo chain tends to have these - the Machida one at the very least does) you're able to make these food items yourself, which brings the relative cost to a bit below buying snacks from convenience stores or the like.

So all in all, the Willer buses end up looking like they cost roughly 'the same' for the kind of traveling I'd personally do versus simply getting a JR rail pass, but the JR rail pass and the other aspects factored mean I have the increased relative comfort of a 'room' to sleep in at night rather than a bus, and have the privacy of my own personal bathroom, all without the largely needless running around to get to coin lockers, laundromats, bathhouses and the like.
Todd Wojnowski Author 5 years ago
Let us know how it goes, Chris.

Thanks, Larry! It's been a lot of fun. Looking forward to cashing it in.
Chris Barnes 5 years ago
Thanks for the heads up, im travelling with Willer next week, looks great!