Travel around Japan for $20 per day with the Seishun 18 Ticket

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.

Daytime Trip

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

Day 1
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

Day 2
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.

Day 1
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

Day 2
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.

Conclusion

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.

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Tokyo to Kyoto for $21… and other cheap ways to transit Japan

Thanks to everyone for reading this hobby blog of mine for the last few years. For some reason or another, everyone keeps reading and commenting on my post about traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen (under September 2014 exchange rates, about $21)… So because so many people are interested, here is a list of some ways that you can travel around Japan on the cheap!

– Bring a few friends to Japan and travel with the Seishun 18 Ticket 

If you bring a few friends, or know a few friends willing to travel around with you, the Seishun 18 Ticket – a travel ticket offered at certain times of the year – could be your best friend. Literally translated “Youth 18” and initially targeted to those traveling on school breaks, the Seishun 18 is actually offered to everyone. The ticket has gone up in price slightly this year because of the national tax rate hike, but it’s still a value at 11,850 yen per ticket. The ticket is valid for unlimited travel on LOCAL trains all around the Japan Railways network – this means, you cannot use the bullet trains, you cannot use premium “limited express” services that run on conventional railways (with one exception), and you cannot use most overnight trains. You can also use the ticket for the JR Ferry that runs to the island of Miyajima (typically a 180 yen trip).

It’s important to note that the ticket can only be purchased and used during school holidays. There are three periods of the year when the ticket is offered:

Spring: Purchase between February 20 and March 31 for use between March 1 and April 10
Summer: Purchase between July 1 and August 31 for use between July 20 and September 10
Winter: Purchase between December 1 and December 31 for use between December 10 and January 10

There are five “spaces” that are stamped by manned station staff every time the pass is used, with one space representing one person traveling in a single day (midnight to midnight). By maximizing the spaces used, you can save a considerable amount of money. If you are a solo traveler and chose to make five long trips in five days (which don’t have to be consecutive), each trip would cost only 2,370 yen! If you have four friends and make a long trip over the course of a day – such as Tokyo to Kyoto – each person pays only 2,370 yen! There are many combinations possible as far as usage – a group of four, for example, can travel a long distance in one day on the pass for 2,960 yen.

It’s important to do some research to see if the Seishun 18 is best for you. Long-distance journeys such as Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka will pay off, but if you’re only doing a short trip from, say, Tokyo to Yokohama, it’s not worth it.

A few other notes: You are permitted unlimited stopovers on each day, and the price of the Seishun 18 is the same for children and adults – there are no discounts for kids.

– Buy a local ticket that allows stopovers

On any day of the year, buying a long-distance local ticket can save on per-day travel costs because under Japan Railways rules, the longer you travel from point-to-point, the longer you have to make the journey.

The rules are: Within a major Japanese city or for all journeys 100km or less, you have one day to make the trip, and in many cases stopovers are not allowed. From 101 to 200km, you have two days. From 201 to 400km, you have 3 days. For each additional 200km traveled you get one additional day.

To find out the distance of your trip, look it up on timetable search engines such as Hyperdia, being sure to clear the checkmarks on everything except “local train” and “Japan Railways” otherwise you will see a few bullet trains and airplanes!

A few examples:

Tokyo to Nagoya is 366km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 6,260 yen. You can take the trip over a course of 3 days, so if you decide to stop and spend a night at two cities along the way you will be paying about 2,086 yen per day, and if you spend one night along the way it’s 3,130 yen per day.

Tokyo to Kyoto is 513km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 8,210 yen. You can take the trip over 4 days! So, traveling over the course of 2 days splits the cost to 4,105 yen…. 3 days is 2,736 yen…. 4 days is 2,052 yen per day!

With this plan, you can direct the money saved on travel into reasonably-priced hotel accommodations along the way – many of which will be considerably cheaper compared to staying in larger cities. This will also allow you to enjoy more of Japan, including some areas that many foreign tourists will pass over.

You are allowed unlimited stopovers along the route that you are taking – it’s important not to stray from the route that you paid and are ticketed for, otherwise there may be a difference in fare. You’ll also want to know that since these are regular fares, there are discounts for children!

Also, major cities in Japan are designated into certain “zones”, and travel in between two major cities is sometimes designated as traveling from one zone to the other. For example, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka would be defined as the Tokyo ZONE to the Osaka ZONE. Stopovers are NOT allowed in zones of your origin or destination, but are permitted anywhere in between. Kyoto is close to Osaka, but since Kyoto has it’s own ZONE you could technically stop over in Kyoto on the trip from Tokyo to Osaka without any extra charge, as long as it’s within the days permitted to travel and, as mentioned earlier, you don’t stray away from the path ticketed. Once you stop anywhere in Osaka and get out of the system, the ticket is considered USED.

Please visit Takeshi’s JP Rail page which gives a lot of great information about this.

– Use the Japan Bus Pass for cheap trips on highway buses

The Willer Express Japan Bus Pass was introduced for foreign tourists in Japan a few years ago. At a cost of 10,000 yen for 3 days of bus travel and 15,000 yen for 5 days, you can make considerable savings over regular bus costs. There are many other bus operators in Japan, including those operated by branches of Japan railways, but the Willer web site allows reservations and bookings in English. Rather than go through a lot of the details, simply read my recent post about the Japan Bus Pass.

– Fly to Japan on a Star Alliance or oneworld airline and take advantage of domestic air passes for tourists

If you travel to Japan on a certain airline, you may qualify for an air pass for tourists. The Star Alliance Japan Airpass is valid for travel on All Nippon Airways (ANA) and can be used if you travel on Star Alliance airlines (including ANA, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa). The Oneworld Yokoso Japan pass is valid for travel on Japan Airlines (JAL) and can be used if you travel on oneworld airlines (including JAL, American, British Airways, Qantas).

For each pass, you can take between one and five trips by plane, with each trip costing just 10,000 yen plus tax. It’s a great and quick way to travel around several regions of Japan. You will always find flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka’s Itami Airport as they continue to compete with the bullet train – but longer distance flights can pay off if you don’t have much time to spare – Tokyo to Fukuoka or Tokyo to Sapporo are great examples. Note though, that there ARE a number of blackout dates where these passes cannot be used.

If you do not qualify for these fares, i.e. by traveling on a different airline, both ANA and JAL offer regular tourist passes – up to 5 trips at a cost of 13-14,000 yen per trip. A minimum of two trips is required.

– Fly domestically on low cost airlines

Over the last few years, the low cost airline concept has boomed in Japan. A number of carriers are springing up offering tremendous fare discounts. Some of the top airlines that you can make reservations with in English include Skymark, Peach Aviation, Jetstar and Vanilla Air.

As these are low cost carriers, services and amenities are reduced compared to carriers JAL and ANA, and the airlines sometimes serve airports that are not close to the center of the city… but the airfares are sometimes hard to beat.

A random fare search for a weekday in November yielded these one-day fares:

Skymark: Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo for 8,500 yen
Peach Aviation: Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai for 3,390 yen … ?!?!
Jetstar Japan: Nagoya Centrair to Sapporo for 6,590 yen
Vanilla Air: Tokyo Narita to Okinawa for 8,200 yen

– Use a Japan Rail Pass

If you’ve got a limited amount of time and intend to visit a lot of places around the country, a Japan Rail Pass is still a great way to go around. You get unlimited travel on Japan Railways, and unlimited seat reservations on nearly ALL bullet trains and limited express services for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Prices start at 29,110 yen for seven consecutive days of travel, or about 4,160 yen per day. The 14-day pass starts at around 3,300 yen per day, and if you do the 21-day pass it’s about 2,800 yen per day. Green class (first class) passes are higher.

– Use a Japan Rail Pass and stay on the cheap

Utilizing a Japan Rail Pass when traveling between major cities, you can make an intermediate stop at a small city along the way and potentially save with hotel rates that are cheaper than in major cities. For example, if you travel from Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train, you could opt to begin your travel in the evening and stop at one of the intermediate bullet train stations such as Hamamatsu. In Hamamatsu there are hotels where you could spend as little as 4,800 single occupancy or 6,800 yen double occupancy, complete with your own bed, bathroom and shower – then just move on the following morning to Kyoto and Osaka. (The quote is from the Toyoko Inn, a national chain of business hotels)

– RESEARCH!

The best way to save on your trip is with research. I’ve presented you with a few options, but these just scratch the surface. There are so many deals out there that one can take advantage of in Japan. The key is to price what you want to do (transit, food, lodging), and do price comparisons to see what is best for you.

Of course, if you ever need advice about your next trip to Japan, leave a message and I’ll be happy to reply when I can.

Tokyo to Kyoto for only 2,300 Yen!?

For more up-to-date information, please read the September 2014 post Tokyo to Kyoto for $21… and other cheap ways to transit Japan

I’d like to take an opportunity to thank those of you who are reading my blog. I’m happy to share my thoughts about Japan travel and assist people in any way that I can!

My most popular post on this blog is how to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto for just 2,300 yen. That post was written back in 2009, so I think it’s time for me to update this information to reflect current events.

Without question, Tokyo and Kyoto are THE two destinations that should be included if you are intent on visiting Japan for the very first time. Of course, Tokyo and Kyoto are separated by some 231 miles (372 km) if you were to draw a straight line.

Between Tokyo and Kyoto, the two major methods of public transportation are the train and the highway bus. (You might also add air, if continuing to Osaka, but this article will focus on the first two methods of transit.)

So how much will you pay for a ride between Tokyo and Kyoto? This article breaks down the various bus and train options by price.

Obviously if you have a Japan Rail Pass then this question is moot; simply use your rail pass (Hikari or Kodama only) to make the journey.

But if you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, then you’ll want to examine the prices carefully to see what fits your budget. Note that the prices listed here are rounded to the nearest 100 yen, and are subject to change, including a variance of a few hundred yen either way depending on the time of the year.

18,200 yen: For this price you will get a reserved first-class seat (called the “Green Car”) in the premium Nozomi service. You may expect to be personally greeted by a Green Car attendant as you enter the train, and the attendant will check your ticket. Hot towel service is provided and you can order food and drinks on board. The seats are wide and comfortable, and the lighting is noticeably softer than in the other seating areas.

13,300 yen: For this price you will get a reserved standard-class seat in the premium Nozomi service. You sit in the standard bullet train seats, and food and drinks are sold on board. In these first two instances the travel time from Tokyo to Kyoto is 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Running about 500 or 600 yen cheaper than the above prices are the respective surcharges for travel on the Hikari and Kodama services, which are slower than the premium Nozomi because they make more stops. In the Hikari service, hot towel service is provided in the Green Car, but you are not “greeted” as you board. There is no “greeting” or hot towel service in Kodama trains, and as of 2013, there is no food or drink service on board Kodamas either. Hikari trains make the run to Kyoto in 2 hours, 45 minutes; Kodamas, which stop at EVERY station, take 3 hours, 45 minutes.

My recommendation if you’re purchasing tickets “a la carte” is to spend the extra 500-600 yen and take the Nozomi. There are more Nozomi trains than the others and it is the fastest way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto. Fall back only to the Hikari (and worst case, Kodama) if the Nozomi sells out.

9,800 yen: You can make a cheap trip aboard the bullet train at this price, but it is strange why it’s only marketed to Japanese travelers. I haven’t tried this, but I have read reports of other foreign travelers that have used this method successfully. For 9,800 yen you can purchase a “Puratto Kodama Ticket”, which is a discounted one-way ticket on the Kodama (the slowest bullet train service). You must make a reservation at least one day in advance at a JR Tours office located at a station served by the Shinkansen, i.e. Tokyo or Shinagawa in Tokyo, or at Kyoto station. The JR Tours office is operated by JR Central, and is recognizable by their orange colors. As a bonus, when you purchase this ticket you are entitled to one free drink – since food and drinks are no longer sold on board Kodama services, you pick one up at the train station before getting on. The “Puratto Kodama Ticket” is also available in the Green Car for 11,300 yen. The prices go up during times of high demand. If you get stumped, you can visit the website for the Puratto Kodama Ticket (http://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/), print the page and show it when you want to purchase your ticket.

8,000 yen: At this price you can make a journey on local JR trains from Tokyo to Kyoto, via the Tokaido Main Line.  You will be sitting in regular commuter trains and will have to change trains frequently along the way. On the other hand you’ll be passing through the rural and urban Japanese landscape, getting a better and closer look at areas that the bullet train will just whiz through. Connection times can range anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes for each train that you take. The travel time is approximately nine hours – but that doesn’t figure in the time that you might need for pit stops or a meal.

Extra Tip (Added 6/9/13): As pointed out on the Rocketnews blog, regular tickets allow you to hop on and off as many times as you like within a certain time period, as long as your ticketed journey is at least 200 kilometers. If your journey is between 200 and 400 kilometers you can complete your trip in a two-day period. You gain an extra day of travel for every additional 200 kilometers. Since the route from Tokyo to Kyoto via the Tokaido Line is 513.6 kilometers, you have up to three days to make the journey… you’ll have to stop along the way once or twice to rest (Nagoya makes a nice destination for a few nights) but if you factor only the trains this will make the travel cost 2,660 yen per day.

7,000 yen: For this price you can travel overnight between Tokyo and Kyoto by bus. There are many bus operators between Tokyo and Kyoto, and JR is one of them – bus tickets can be reserved at several channels, including green ticket windows at major JR train stations. On their “Dream” service, which is their standard overnight bus service, you are entitled to a comfortable reclining seat with head and foot rests on a double-decker bus that is configured in a 1 x 1 x 1 configuration; in other words you will have no other passengers directly next to you – you’ll either have an aisle or window. There are also blankets and slippers at your seat, and a toilet is on the first floor of the bus. The price is valid for weekday travel; add about 1,000 yen or so for weekend or holiday travel. An advance purchase of 5 days lobs 1,000 yen OFF of the price. Travel time is 7 1/2 hours from Tokyo Station; buses also run from Shinjuku Station on a different route, taking eight hours. A bus also operates from Tokyo Station restricted to female travelers.

6,000 yen: At this price you can use the same buses described above for a DAYTIME journey between Tokyo and Kyoto. The trip takes eight hours and the bus makes several stops along the way, including a few stops at service areas. There is a discount of 1,000 yen for a 5-day advance purchase. The price does not change depending on the day of the week or whether or not it’s a holiday.

5,000 yen: This is the price for a bus trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the “Seishun Dream”, translated as “Youth Dream”. It is discounted because it offers less amenities than the regular bus service. Seats are configured 2×2, just like you’d find on a North American Greyhound bus. Seats offer recline, and there is a toilet on board. Regardless of time of day or holiday, the price is 5,000 yen with a 500 yen discount for a 5-day advance purchase. Travel times are similar to the other bus services.

2,300 yen: At last, the price tag of 2,300 yen. Is it possible to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto at such a low price?? Indeed, it IS possible, but as the old saying goes, “Certain restrictions apply.”

The rules are as follows: First, you must travel to and within Japan during one of the country’s three designated school holiday periods: March 1 – April 10, July 20 – September 10, and December 10 – January 20.

Secondly, you must travel with four other people… either four of your friends who want to go to Japan, or four Japanese friends, etc… finding the four people to go with you is your choice, and of course, your responsibility.

Finally, one person must purchase a ticket sold DURING the school holiday periods, called the “Seishun 18 Ticket”. This ticket sells for 11,500 yen and allows for unlimited travel on JR’s LOCAL TRAINS only: NO BULLET TRAINS!

The Seishun 18 Ticket essentially has five “SPACES” that can be used. Each space is good for one person on one day. So one person could use it for five separate days within the validity of the ticket. Or two people could use it together for two days, etc.

Indeed, FIVE people can use the seishun 18 ticket on a single day, as long as travel is completed by 12 midnight. What a cheap way to travel! Simply purchase the ticket, and make sure everyone stays together. As you go into the system, your ticket is stamped five times. So all five of you are set for the journey.

As mentioned above, you will travel on local trains only – no bullet trains. The travel time is about 9 hours, not accounting for pit stops or meal stops. But here’s a good thing: with the Seishun 18 ticket, if you all stay together, you can exit the system at any station and return to the system on the same day – just show your stamped ticket. With this in mind, perhaps you can exit the system at a major train station – say for example, Odawara, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi or Nagoya – and head into a restaurant within the station, or enjoy some treats within the floors of a Japanese department store.

This 2,300 yen plan also works for other long-haul trips such as Tokyo to Nagoya or Tokyo to Osaka. The ticket price of 11,500 yen, divided by five, equals 2,300 yen. Even if four or three were to take the trip, the trip breaks down to 2,875 yen or 3,830 yen per person respectively – which can very well be a TREMENDOUS savings compared to standard train prices, or even bus prices.

My motto when it comes to Japan travel: always research as much as possible about your trip. This way it will make your trip much more enjoyable when it happens – not to mention it MAY just be a little lighter on the wallet!

With that, here is an idea that someone could use to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto by local JR trains. This itinerary assumes a regular weekday in May of 2013, leaving at 6:30 in the morning – just as the morning rush begins to ramp up.

Train 1: Tokyo-Numazu
Leave Tokyo at 6:34 (Platform 8)
Leave Shinagawa at 6:43
Leave Yokohama at 7:00
Arrive Odawara at 7:57
Arrive Atami at 8:20
Arrive Numazu at 8:39

From other parts of Tokyo, you can take the JR Yamanote Line to Shinagawa and change to the above train. These Yamanote Line departures will give you about 10 minutes to transfer at Shinagawa:
Ikebukuro: 6:05
Shinjuku: 6:13
Shibuya: 6:20
Ueno: 6:12 (Keihin-Tohoku Line)

Train 2: Numazu-Shizuoka
Leave Numazu at 8:42
Arrive Fuji at 9:01
Arrive Shizuoka at 9:36

Stay in Shizuoka one hour for a bathroom and meal break.

Train 3: Shizuoka-Hamamatsu
Leave Shizuoka at 10:42
Arrive Hamamatsu at 11:51

Train 4: Hamamatsu-Toyohashi
Leave Hamamatsu at 12:02
Arrive Toyohashi at 12:36

Train 5: Toyohashi-Nagoya (Special Rapid Train)
Leave Toyohashi at 12:51
Arrive Nagoya at 13:41

Stay in Nagoya one hour for a bathroom and meal break.

Train 6: Nagoya-Ogaki (Special Rapid Train)
Leave Nagoya at 14:45
Arrive Ogaki at 15:16

Train 7: Ogaki-Maibara
Leave Ogaki at 15:37
Arrive Maibara at 16:12

Train 8: Maibara-Kyoto (Special Rapid Train)
Leave Maibara at 16:18
Arrive Kyoto at 17:12
(Train continues to Osaka at 17:43, Sannomiya/Kobe at 18:06, Himeji at 18:47)

The total travel time from Tokyo, including breaks, is approximately 10 1/2 hours. Of course, you can tailor the breaks/rests to suit your needs.