One of the most popular ways for the Japanese to travel around the country – but not known to many foreign tourists – is using a national rail ticket offered by Japan Railways called the Seishun 18 Ticket. It is only available to use during three peak travel periods in the year, but if you want to travel long distances, or if you are traveling with a group, the Seishun 18 is one of the greatest bargains in Japan.
I have alluded to the Seishun 18 Ticket in previous posts such as Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen. The literal translation of “Seishun” is youth. Despite the name, though, the “Youth 18” ticket can be used by anyone, regardless of age.
The travel periods for the Seishun 18 Ticket are as follows:
* March 1 – April 10
* July 20 – September 10
* December 10 – January 10
Tickets are sold 10 days before the first day of validity until 10 days before the last day of validity.
The Seishun 18 costs 11,850 yen and can be used for conventional local and rapid JR trains across the country – that is to say, standard commuter trains only. You cannot use the Seishun 18 for bullet trains (shinkansen), the higher-speed limited express trains, or most overnight services.
Each individual Seishun 18 Ticket contains 5 spaces. Each space is stamped manually for every person that uses the ticket for the first time on any given day, and the ticket is valid for the remainder of the calendar day until the first station after midnight – or in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, until the final trains of the calendar day run.
This means that one person can travel up to 5 times during the validity period for a cost of 2,370 yen… OR, up to five people can travel in one calendar day for 2370 yen each. That’s around US $20 (as of September 2015). You can break the daily travel costs down by just dividing the cost of the ticket by the number of passengers, up to a maximum of five. So, two spaces is 5,925 yen; three spaces is 3,950 yen; four spaces is 2,962 yen and five spaces is 2,370 yen.
A Seishun 18 ticket is not for the traveler that hops around one city alone… but for the traveler that wants to travel long distance between cities, it should definitely be considered as long as you are traveling during the valid travel periods. For comparison, a regular ticket from Tokyo to Nagoya costs 6,260 yen, and from Tokyo to Osaka, 8,750 yen.
You should consider the following when using the Seishun 18 Ticket:
– As stated, it is only valid during three periods during the year. Outside of these periods, you’ll have to pay standard fares.
– There are no child fares for the Seishun 18, whereas child fares (6-11 years old) are usually available for a 50% discount off the cost of regular fares.
– Since the Seishun 18 Ticket is only valid for the standard trains, you will need to budget extra time to make a long trip, and plan on making lots of train transfers along the way.
– There are a few local JR services with reserved seating, or unreserved Green Car seating. Examples of this include the Marine Liner (Okayama-Takamatsu) and the open Green Cars on JR commuter lines in Tokyo, respectively. Seishun 18 Tickets can be used for these specific cabins with payment of an additional fare. There are also morning and evening services called “Home Liner” trains that require a small surcharge for a seat. With a few exceptions, “Home Liner” trains can also be used by Seishun 18 Ticket holders by paying the extra “liner” fare.
– If you are traveling to Hiroshima and decide to visit Miyajima island, the Seishun 18 Ticket gives you free access to the JR Ferry to and from the island.
– There are special arrangements in place for Seishun 18 Ticket holders to use a small number of non-JR lines. These lines were originally operated by JR, but were transferred off when new bullet train segments opened. These arrangements are in place to access JR lines that are now isolated from the rest of the national JR network.
In order to consider whether a Seishun 18 Ticket is right for you, you need to consider the number of people in your party, how far you want to travel, and the timetables. An excellent resource is HyperDia, which allows you to search train timetables between cities without having to include faster bullet trains or other limited express services. Just go into the options and just leave “Japan Railways” and “Local Train” checked. (You can leave “liner” checked too – see above for the explanation.)
If you are going to travel long distances, there *are* a few overnight services that run during the period of the Seishun 18 Ticket, but since these do tend to get full, I would suggest the overnight stay strategy that I brought up for Japan Rail Pass holders in an earlier post. I also suggest, as one might do on a long road trip, to stop for rest, bathroom breaks and food every few hours.
Since so many people have inquired on this blog in the past about ways to move about under the Seishun 18 Ticket, I will offer a few examples. Note that these are shared subject to the disclaimer of the blog. You can also use these suggestions even during times when the Seishun 18 Ticket is not valid and you would rather pay the local fare to enjoy a different slice of Japan not seen from services like the bullet train.
These itineraries are for weekday trips. Weekend trips will be slightly different.
Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka
One of the more popular options using the Seishun 18 Ticket is the trip from Tokyo to the Nagoya and Kansai regions. The Tokaido Main Line, tracing in the steps of the old Tokaido Road dating back to the 1600’s, is among the busiest in the country. Usually you will have to wait no more than 20 minutes for a service.
It’s easier now to start your journey from Tokyo and cities to the north – even Saitama prefecture and beyond – with the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo through line. You can start from Omiya, Akabane, Ueno, Tokyo, Shimbashi or Shinagawa. You can also take trains from Ikebukuro, Shibuya or Shinjuku and connect.
You can easily make the trip during the day, or take your time and spend the night somewhere along the way. Here are two ideas on weekdays, using timetable data from the Japanese site ekikara.jp.
Depart Ueno 6:20, Tokyo 6:30, Shimbashi 6:34, Shinagawa 6:43
Arrive Atami 8:20
– 3 minute transfer –
Depart Atami 8:23
Arrive Numazu 8:41
– 3 minute transfer –
Depart Numazu 8:44
Arrive Shizuoka 9:37
– 65 minute rest stop –
Depart Shizuoka 10:42
Arrive Hamamatsu 11:51
– 12 minute rest stop –
Depart Hamamatsu 12:03
Arrive Toyohashi 12:37
– 14 minute rest stop –
Depart Toyohashi 12:51 (Special Rapid)
Arrive Nagoya 13:42
Arrive Ogaki 14:17
– 24 minute rest stop –
Depart Ogaki 14:41
Arrive Maibara 15:16
– 2 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 15:18
Arrive Kyoto 16:12
Arrive Osaka 16:42
With the above itinerary, the trip including rest stops takes around 10 1/4 hours from Tokyo Station to Osaka. Shortening your rest stops will result in earlier arrival times.
From Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya: You should take the JR Yamanote Line or Chuo Line to one of the four starting stations.
Night Trip – requires two travel days on Seishun 18 Tickets
Depart Ueno 17:01, Tokyo 17:07, Shimbashi 17:10, Shinagawa 17:16
Arrive Atami 18:53
– 1 minute transfer –
Depart Atami 18:54
Arrive Hamamatsu 21:29
[ Alternatively, get off at Numazu (19:12) and buy a 320 yen ticket for the Home Liner from Numazu (19:32) to Hamamatsu (21:11) ]
Spend the evening in Hamamatsu
Depart Hamamatsu 6:01 (Special Rapid Train)
Arrive Nagoya 7:27
Arrive Ogaki 8:09
– 33 minute rest stop –
Depart Ogaki 8:42
Arrive Maibara 9:16
– 7 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 9:23 (Local; becomes Special Rapid at Yasu)
Arrive Kyoto 10:28
Arrive Osaka 10:58
With the above itinerary you are traveling for about 4 hours on Day 1 and 4 1/2-5 hours on Day 2.
From Ikebukuro (17:38), Shinjuku (17:45), Shibuya (17:50): Take the Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Totsuka Station (18:31). It is a 4 minute wait across the platform to the Tokaido Line train leaving at 18:35, arriving Atami at 19:53. Continue as above.
Tokyo to Hiroshima – Requires two days on Seishun 18 tickets
We will use this example to travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima using the Tokaido Main Line and San’yo Line, spending one night somewhere along the way.
Depart Ueno (10:31), Tokyo (10:36), Shimbashi (10:40), Shinagawa (10:47) (Rapid “Acty”)
Arrive Atami 12:15
– 20 minute rest stop –
Depart Atami 12:35
Arrive Shizuoka 13:48
– 53 minute rest stop –
Depart Shizuoka 14:41
Arrive Hamamatsu 15:51
– 12 minute rest stop –
Depart Hamamatsu 16:03
Arrive Toyohashi 16:37
– 24 minute rest stop –
Depart Toyohashi 17:01 (Rapid)
Arrive Maibara 19:10
– 8 minute transfer –
Depart Maibara 19:18 (Special Rapid)
Arrive Kyoto 20:12
– 62 minute rest stop –
Depart Kyoto 21:14
Arrive Himeji 22:48
Spend the evening in Himeji
Depart Himeji 7:04
Arrive Mihara 10:10
– 48 minute rest stop –
Depart Mihara 10:58
Arrive Hiroshima 12:13
All together it’s 12 hours of travel on Day 1 and 5 hours on Day 2, including rest stops. You can leave later and spend the night somewhere closer along the way if you want to balance out your travel times.
From Ikebukuro (10:24), Shinjuku (10:30), Shibuya (10:35): Take the Shonan-Shinjuku Line Rapid to Totsuka Station (11:11). It is a 3 minute wait across the platform to the Tokaido Line Rapid “Acty” train leaving at 11:14, arriving Atami at 12:15. Continue as above.
I hope these are starting points for you to build your own Seishun 18 Ticket itineraries. Remember to use web searches like HyperDia (and if you can understand Japanese kanji, ekikara.jp) to plot out trip times in advance, and always allow yourself some time along the way to stretch your legs, use the restroom and have a meal. The breaks that I have intentionally listed here keep those ideas in mind.
Once again, even if you don’t have – or can’t use – the Seishun 18 Ticket – local trains will offer you a different look at Japan compared to bullet trains. If you buy a local ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto (8,210 yen), you have up to four days to make your trip, with unlimited stopovers allowed as long as you stay on the ticketed route and don’t backtrack. Come to think of it.. if you do end up taking 4 days, it’s only 2,052 yen or $17 US per day. Tokyo to Hiroshima (11,660 yen) is valid for 6 days. So the more you stretch out the journey, the less per day it will cost regardless. The advantage with local tickets is that you can add a supplemental ticket for a faster service – such as the bullet train – for any part of the route at any time, whereas with the Seishun 18 it is not allowed. Also, as mentioned earlier, Child tickets can be used for half the cost.
Happy travels! Please reach out if you have any comments or questions.