Using a bus is another alternative way to travel in Japan, especially in Nagano where several hidden sightseeing spots can be accessed only by bus.
- 1. Pros of traveling by bus
- 1.1. Less fuss about luggage
- 1.2. Extensive bus network
- 1.3. Less transfer, less stress
- 1.4. Cheaper
- 1.5. Straightforward usage
- 1.6. More access to hidden sightseeing spots
- 2. Cons of traveling by bus
- 2.1. Longer travel time
- 2.2. Less variety of bus passes
- 2.3. Traffic jam
- 3. Transport Hubs in Nagano
- 3.1. Nagano Station
- 3.2. Matsumoto Bus Terminal
- 4. Types of bus (by distance)
- 4.1. Highway bus
- 4.2. Express bus
- 4.3. Local bus
- 5. Types of bus (by reservation)
- 5.1. Reserved bus
- 5.2. Non-reserved bus
- 6. How to buy a bus ticket
- 6.1. Buy the ticket online
- 6.2. Buy the ticket at a ticket counter
- 7. Bus routes to major hot spots in Nagano
- 7.1. Buses to Kamikochi
- 7.2. Buses to Hakuba
- 7.3. Buses to Matsumoto
- 7.4. Buses to Norikura
- 7.5. Buses to Nagano
- 7.6. Buses to Suwa
- 7.7. Buses to Togakushi
- 8. Local bus companies in Japan
Not that the bus is always the best mean of transport in Nagano. Depending on your travel plan, there are times when it is more convenient to use a bus or a combination of bus and train.
Pros of traveling by bus
Less fuss about luggage
Traveling by bus in Japan might not be familiar to the foreigners, but many Japanese opt this mean of transport because of its convenience especially when you travel with luggage. Once you put your luggage into the bus trunk, that’s it! You don’t have to hold on your luggage so that it won’t roll around and hit people.
Unless you board an airport train with a designated luggage space like N’EX, Rapi:t or Shinkansen, it can be stressful when traveling with large suitcases. Luggage of a size larger than a carry-on suitcase often don’t fit on luggage racks. Also, some train stations don’t have an elevator, so you end up having to carry heavy suitcases up and down the stairs. Don’t even have to think about transferring from a train to another. That’s quite tiring.
Extensive bus network
If you ever look at the digital signage of departing buses at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal, you will be surprised at how extensive the bus network in Japan is. Not only that, depending on the bus lines, the services are also frequent.
There are about 200 routes going to more than 300 cities in 39 prefectures, with over 1,600 buses going in and out Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal in a day during the peak season. That’s a lot! Counting only the buses operated by Alpico and its co-operating companies that go to Nagano prefecture, there are more than 60 buses departing in a day!
Not only departing from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal, there are also bus routes departing from Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya to Nagano and Matsumoto as well.
Buses to Nagano
Buses to Matsumoto
Less transfer, less stress
Japan’s railway network is said to be one of the best in the world. Even so, it sometimes cannot beat a bus as some buses are more direct to the destination. For example, from Tokyo to Kamikochi, it takes 5 hours without any transfer to get to Kamikochi. But by train, you have to transfer to a train and local bus 1-2 times, and it takes at least 4.5 hours to Kamikochi, about the same time as bus.
Not all the buses are cheaper than trains, but in general, they usually are. Let’s compare the fares of bus and train (in case you don’t have a JR pass) to some major sightseeing spots.
From Nagoya to Matsumoto
Bus: 3hrs 30min / 2,800 – 4,100 yen
Train: 2hrs / 5,940 yen
*No transfers needed for both.
From Shinjuku to Matsumoto
Bus: 3hrs 15min / 3,800 yen
Train: 2hrs 40min / starts from 6,620 yen
*No transfers needed for both.
From Tokyo to Hakuba
Bus: 5hrs 10min / 2,800 – 6,100 yen
Train: 3hrs 10min – 4hrs 40min / starts from 8,050 – 10,140 yen
*No transfers needed for both.
(Data as of Dec 11, 2020)
There are many types of train and fare: local, express, limited express, green car, reserved, non-reserved, basic fare, limited express fare, etc. It is also somewhat confusing because many train lines depart from the same platform.
On the other hand, using a bus in Japan is easier than you think. You buy the ticket, then you show it to the driver before boarding. If it’s a wrong bus, you will know right away.
More access to hidden sightseeing spots
About three-fourth of the land of Japan is mountainous. A lot of fabulous off the beaten places lie at the mountain top or deep in the forest that cannot be accessed by train. Or some places even have a no private car policy. This is when you have no option but to use the bus.
Especially in Nagano, there are many times you can only get to the nearest station by train or bus, then need to transfer to a bus to get to the attractions.
Here are some places you can go by car and/or bus only.
Cons of traveling by bus
Unfortunately, there are also some downsides of using a bus.
Longer travel time
First, buses usually take longer than trains, from a few minutes to hours. For example, the JR Azusa Express train takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes, while the Alpico highway bus takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes to reach Matsumoto.
Less variety of bus passes
Traveling in Japan by train is so popular due to various types of JR passes. The Jr pass has become known as a must when traveling in Japan. Owing to the various JR passes, train fares are cheaper, especially if you travel between prefectures and regions a lot.
Unlike the JR train passes that make you benefit more from traveling a long-distance trip between prefectures or regions, bus passes in Japan are mostly made to make it easier for the tourists to dive deep into the area that using a train is impossible or inconvenient.
Below are the bus passes for traveling in Nagano:
- 2-Day Free Passport
- 4-Day Alps WIDE Free Passport
- Alps Crossing Ticket
- Three-Star Route Ticket
- Zenkoji & Togakushi 1-Day Ticket
- Shoryudo Bus Ticket
- Traveling to the Michelin Three-Star Attractions with the Three-Star Route Ticket
- Roam around the Japanese Alps with a bus pass, 2-Day Free Passport
Another con of using a bus is that you may get caught in a traffic jam and that’s unpredictable. It may be from a road accident or merely a heavy traffic. Even though the train can also be delayed due to the accident, we have to admit that transport by rail is faster than road. But we can reassure you that if not for the unprecedent circumstances, buses in Japan are always very punctual just like the trains.
Transport Hubs in Nagano
There used to be a bus terminal which is about 8-minute walk from the station. But since it is more convenient to board the bus from bus stops around the station, the ticket offices are no longer in operation from December of 2020.
Main bus stops at the Zenkoji exit (only bus stops to tourist destinations are listed here.)
Bus stop ①: Buses to Zenkoji Temple
Bus stop ③: Buses to Matsushiro
Bus stop ⑦: Buses to Togakushi, Shinjuku, Narita airport, Osaka/Kyoto, Nagoya, Matsumoto, Nozawa Onsen (New route! Starting from 2020/12/19.)
Bus stop ⑨: Buses to Ikebukuro
Matsumoto Bus Terminal
Matsumoto Bus Terminal is one of the biggest transport hubs in Nagano. It is just across the street from the JR Matsumoto station.
Main bus stops at the Matsumoto Station
Bus stop ①: Buses to Matsumoto Castle, Town Sneaker North course
Bus stop ②: Buses to Town Sneaker Bus East/South course
Bus stop ③: Buses to Shinshu Univ.
Main bus stops at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal (only bus stops to tourist destinations are listed here.)
Bus stop ❸: Buses to Utsukushigahara Onsen (bus no. 31)
Bus stop ❻: Buses to Shinjuku, Nagoya, Osaka/Kyoto
Bus stop ❼: Buses to Takayama/Shin-Hotaka
Bus stop ❽: Buses to Nagano (weekdays only), Shinshu Matsumoto Airport
Bus stop ⓫: Buses to Ueno/Tokyo Disney Resort/Narita Airport
Please note that Kamikochi and Norikura are accessible by Alpico’s Kamikochi line train that departs from JR Matsumoto station, followed by a bus transfer at Shin-shimashima station.
Types of bus (by distance)
Generally, buses in Japan are divided into 3 categories: highway bus, express bus and local bus.
Highway bus（高速バス）or an intercity bus, is a bus that travels between prefectures by using a highway. It is a reserved bus so you must reserve your ticket beforehand.
These days, most highway buses, including Alpico buses, are equipped with facilities to make your journey more comfortable, such as free Wi-Fi, electric sockets, leg rests and an on-board toilet. Some long-distance bus lines even provide you with special service like a blanket and a wider 3-row sofa seat.
As for Alpico bus, we normally put our newest bus in operation but for some reasons such as maintenance or extra buses being added during peak seasons, we may have to use older buses that might not include those facilities mentioned above.
Express bus（特急バス）is a bus that travels between cities or tourist spots within a prefecture, or sometimes to the neighboring prefectures. Normally, you don’t need to reserve a ticket beforehand, but it may vary depending on bus lines. It stops at only major stops to shorten the travel time.
Local bus（路線バス）is a short-distance bus that travels for less than 2 hours. It stops frequently and usually doesn’t require seat reservation.
Types of bus (by reservation)
There are 2 types of bus, classified by reservation: a reserved bus and a non-reserved bus.
It is a bus that you can reserve a seat in advance. This 100 percent guarantee that you will be able to board the bus you wish. You can buy the ticket from both online and walk-in counter.
The non-reserved bus is a bus that operates on the first come, first served basis. You buy the ticket at a ticket counter and queue to board the bus in order.
Note: There are 2 bus lines that cannot be called either a reserved bus or a non-reserved bus, which are Matsumoto-Kamikochi line and Nagano-Hakuba line. These two lines are originally non-reserved buses, but they are very popular routes that we need to make them partially able to reserve beforehand to ease the crowds. You can read more in the links below.
How to buy a bus ticket
Buy the ticket online
Every bus that requires a ticket reservation is available for online purchase. Alpico bus tickets can be purchase from either highwaybus.com or Japan Bus Online, depending on the routes. We have put the purchase links on each timetable pages. If a message like “Search result 0 bus(es) found.” or “There are no buses available for the selected date. Please select a different bus/plan.” appears, it can mean that the reservation has not started yet. Usually, online tickets can be purchased 1 month before the departure date.
Note: You can also buy the ticket at the ticket counters before boarding as well if there are still seats available.
Buy the ticket at a ticket counter
Ticket counters are available at each route’s starting point. If you board the bus half-way you can buy the ticket from the bus driver or staff on board (if any). Credit cards are accepted at most ticket counters, but you cannot use them to buy the ticket on the bus.
Bus routes to major hot spots in Nagano
Buses to Kamikochi
- Shinjuku – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Osaka/Kyoto – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Tokyo Station – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Shibuya – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Kawagoe/Omiya – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Matsumoto – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Nagano – Kamikochi bus timetable >
- Sawando – Kamikochi bus timetable >
Buses to Hakuba
- Nagano – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Narita airport – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Haneda airport – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Shinjuku – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Osaka – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Shiga Kogen (Snow Monkey Park) – Hakuba bus timetable >
- Matsumoto – Hakuba bus timetable >
Buses to Matsumoto
- Shinjuku – Matsumoto bus timetable >
- Osaka/Kyoto – Matsumoto bus timetable >
- Nagoya – Matsumoto bus timetable >
- Kamikochi – Matsumoto bus timetable >
- Takayama – Matsumoto bus timetable >
Buses to Norikura
- Matsumoto – Norikura bus timetable >
- Norikura Kogen (highlands) – Mt. Norikura (Tatamidaira) bus timetable >
- Norikura Snow Wall bus timetable >
- Norikura Sunrise Viewing bus timetable >
Buses to Nagano
- Zenkoji Temple – Nagano bus timetable >
- Shinjuku – Nagano bus timetable >
- Ikebukuro – Nagano bus timetable >
- Osaka/Kyoto – Nagano bus timetable >
- Nagoya – Nagano bus timetable >
Buses to Suwa
Buses to Togakushi
Local bus companies in Japan
In each prefecture, there are always a few local major bus companies that mainly operate bus services within or connecting the prefecture to other main cities. In Nagano, Alpico Kotsu (under ALPICO Group) is the largest bus operator. If you’ve been to Takayama, you may have already boarded one of Nouhi buses. Or if you’ve been to the Mt. Fuji area before, there’s no way you haven’t seen a Fuji Q highland bus.
If you know the name of the major bus company in each prefecture, it is much easier for you to find the routes and timetables to your destination.
For the reserved buses, you can find the bus to your destination on one of these booking websites. They are websites for booking bus tickets, not only to Nagano but to all around Japan.
Most of Alpico’s reserved buses are available for booking through highwaybus.com or Japan Bus Online. Go to our timetable pages and click “Reservation” button. It will lead you to the online booking website!