If you are looking for a cheaper way to get to Kyoto or Osaka, you might want to consider taking the overnight bus. The bus starts at Mito at 9:10pm, stops over in Tsuchiura at 10:24pm, and in Tsukuba at 10:53pm on its way to Kyoto (6:40am) and Osaka (8:15am) the following day.
The return bus leaves Osaka at 9:30pm, stops over in Kyoto at 11:03pm before arriving at Tsukuba (6:41am), Tsuchiura (6:59am), and Mito (8:15am) on the following day.
A one-way ticket from Tsukuba to Kyoto is 8900 yen and a return ticket is 16,020 yen. A one-way ticket from Tsukuba to Osaka is 9700 yen and a return ticket is 17,460 yen. Children under 6 can ride for free if they will not take up a seat. If they do take up a seat, they have to pay the children's fare (approximately half of the adult fare).
By comparison, a one-way ticket from Tsukuba to Kyoto (using Tsukuba Express, Yamanote Line, and the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station) is 14,670 yen. (However, that trip will only take 3 hours and 40 minutes.)
You must reserve a seat, and you can do that by calling the reservation office (029-852-5666), buying a ticket at a convenience store (Lawson's, Family Mart, Sankus), or using the online reservation system (http://www.j-bus.co.jp/new_module/index.html).
Of course, when you travel by bus, you have to be aware that the schedules are not set in stone, but are subject to change according to traffic conditions.
Tip from Tim: Take a pair of those blindfolds you can get for airline travel. Even though the bus has heavy curtains to make it dark inside, there are always a few cracks that let in light, and so you will experience frequent flashes of light hitting your eyes as the bus goes by bright streetlights, making it even more difficult to sleep than it already is.
Kanto Tetsudo (Mito): 029-247-5111
Kanto Tetsudo (Tsukuba): 029-852-5666
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