Most cities in Japan are covered by local bus networks. In larger cities, local buses tend to serve as the secondary means of transport, supplementing the train network; but in smaller cities and more rural areas, buses are often the primary mode of public transportation. Local buses can be intimidating to foreigners because of a variety of different boarding and payment systems and a common lack of English timetables, signs and announcements.

In addition, Japan has an extensive network of long-distance highway buses which connects different regions with each other. Some highway buses travel overnight. Although slow compared to the shinkansen, highway buses tend to be very economical. The Japan Bus Pass is a particularly attractive option for budget travelers. Most highway buses require advance seat reservations, but not all can be reserved online in English.