Seishun 18 Ticket
The Seishun 18 Ticket (青春１８きっぷ Seishun jūhachi kippu)  is a discount rail ticket offered by Japan's JR network. When available (three times a year), it is easily the cheapest way to get around Japan, costing only ¥11,500 for five days of unlimited travel.
JR argues that "in general, the Japan Rail Pass offers a much better deal to almost all foreign travelers." However, the two are hardly comparable for a number of reasons. The Japan Rail Pass, which offers unlimited travel on almost all JR trains for a 7, 14, or 21-day period, caters to tourists who are planning to visit various points in Japan, and who want to save as much time as possible along the way. It costs much more than the Seishun 18 Ticket, but allows holders to use express and Shinkansen trains that can be many times as fast.
The Seishun 18 Ticket, on the other hand, caters to budget conscious travelers who are willing to sacrifice speed for the ability to get just about anywhere in the country for under ¥5,000. In fact, its name literally means "Youth 18," and its main target audience is college students. However, anyone can purchase the ticket, regardless of age, student status, or nationality.
If you're planning on traveling in Hokkaido or Eastern Japan (Tohoku, Kanto and the eastern Koshin'etsu side of Chubu), also consider the very similar Hokkaido and Higashi-Nihon Pass (covered below), which fills in a few gaps in the JR network but adds some extra restrictions.
Using the ticket
The ticket is actually five one-day passes condensed onto a single piece of ticket stock. When using the ticket for the first time, the passenger presents it at the manned ticket gate, and the employee on hand stamps the ticket, making it valid on every non-express JR train until midnight. After midnight, the ticket becomes invalid unless it is stamped again. The ticket has spaces for five stamps, after which it is invalid.
More than one person can travel on the same ticket: each of the five spaces on the ticket allows one person to ride for one day. For instance, if two passengers were using the ticket, the ticket would be stamped twice; at the end of the day, both passengers could use the ticket for another day and have one stamp space left over, or one of the passengers could use the ticket for three days. Likewise, a group of five could travel for one day on a single ticket: the cost would be only ¥2300 per person, which, for example, is more than 70% off of a regular one-way fare between Tokyo and Osaka.
The ticket cannot be used on super express, limited express, express or sleeper trains, including any train on the Shinkansen network. This is the main catch to the ticket, and the main reason why many travellers may prefer to use the Japan Rail Pass. When using the Seishun 18 Ticket, you are restricted to local (普通 futsū), rapid (快速 kaisoku) and super/special rapid (新快速 shin-kaisoku) trains, which are designed for regional trips, not cross-country travel. Traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, for instance, takes as little as two and a half hours on the Shinkansen, but takes nine hours on rapid trains. The upshot to this is that you can stop in various towns along the way: taking a full day to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, you would have enough time to visit Odawara, Nagoya, and other cities along the Tokaido Line. Using overnight trains can also help dull the effect, and possibly save on lodging expenses (see below).
There are a few exceptions to the above rule, which allow passengers to travel across two areas that have no local rail service:
- Limited expresses on the Tsugaru-Kaikyo Line between Kikonai (木古内) and Kanita (蟹田) stations; this is a very useful exception because it allows Seishun 18 holders to cross between the main island of Honshu and the northern island of Hokkaido through the world's longest undersea tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel.
- Limited expresses on the Sekisho Line between Shintoku (新得) and Shin-Yubari (新夕張), part of the route between Sapporo and Obihiro in Hokkaido.
In both cases, the Seishun 18 Ticket can only be used to travel in non-reserved cars between the designated stations.
- The Seishun 18 Ticket can also be used on the Aoimori Railway in northern Tohoku. Ticket holders can only travel to and from Hachinohe, Noheji and Aomori with no intermediate stops. If you enter or exit the Aoimori Railway at another station, you will have to pay the applicable Aoimori Railway fares. The Ominato Line, which runs from Noheji, is operated by JR and can be used for Seishun 18 journeys. Note that the line from Morioka to Hachinohe, which is operated by IGR/Aoimori, is not covered and requires a regular ticket (¥2960).
Some other express trains in remote areas may also be ridden for the price of a seat reservation. Typically, this is around 250 yen, and would be noted in the timetable books. Ordinary car seat reservations with the Seishun 18 Ticket on local, rapid or special rapid services can be made, if the required surcharges are paid (an example is the Marine Liner rapid service between Okayama and Takamatsu, which costs ¥510 each way for a reserved seat.)
Seishun 18 tickets are effective during Japan's three major school holiday periods, which are generally as follows:
|Effective period||Tickets go on sale|
|Spring break (March 1 - Apr. 10)||Feb. 20 - Mar. 31|
|Summer break (July 20 - Sept. 10)||July 1 - Aug. 31|
|Winter break (Dec. 10 - Jan. 10)||Dec. 1 - Dec. 31|
The tickets can be purchased from a JR ticket window (みどりの窓口 midori no madoguchi). They can also be purchased from discount ticket shops at a small discount (300 to 500 yen).
See also Other passes below for a few Seishun 18-like tickets with different sale times.
Most Japanese people using a Seishun 18 ticket consult a national railway timetable to determine which trains to take and which connections to make. For tourists who can't read Japanese, the best alternative is the Hyperdia website, which provides electronic railway, airline, and bus schedules for the entire country in both English and Japanese. (Be sure to uncheck the boxes for Shinkansen, limited express, express trains and non JR lines before running your search, or else your itinerary will probably include trains that you can't take with the Seishun 18 ticket.) www.jorudan.co.jp has the capacity to limit the search to seishun 18 kippu tickets, but only in Japanese. Google translate works well to translate it.
The Tokaido Line is undoubtedly the easiest line to travel with a Seishun 18 ticket, and probably one of the most convenient for tourists because it forms the shortest link between Tokyo and the Kansai region. Trains run every 15 minutes or so during the day, making it easy to take breaks en route without running over schedule. It takes about nine hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, not including rest or meal stops; this requires about 4-6 transfers along the way depending on when you travel. These transfers will most likely occur in cities such as Atami, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi, Ogaki, and Maibara (the last transfer is to the Biwako Line, which connects the Tokaido Line to Kyoto). Tokyo to Nagoya takes about 6 1/2 hours without stops.
The Chuo Line is a Y-shaped line through the Japan Alps, connecting Tokyo and Nagoya with Nagano. It can be used for a Tokyo-Nagoya trip, but the Tokaido Line is much faster. Although the Tokyo and Nagoya areas are frequently served by commuter trains, the corridor between Kofu and Nakatsugawa is much less densely populated, and trains only run every two hours in some areas. Tokyo to Nagano is about six hours.
The Tohoku Line follows the Pacific coast north from Tokyo to Sendai and Aomori--it is about 7 hours from Tokyo to Sendai, and another 9 hours from there to Aomori. Outside of the Tokyo and Sendai metropolitan areas, services are relatively infrequent, running on an hourly or bihourly basis. If you plan to travel to Aomori or Hokkaido, it may be quicker to take the Moonlight Echigo (below) to Niigata, and then follow the Japan Sea coast northward from there.
The Sanyo Line is the westward extension of the Tokaido Line, from Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto to Hiroshima and Fukuoka. It is not quite as convenient as the Tokaido Line, but generally runs at least every half hour (with frequent service around Kobe, Hiroshima and Fukuoka). Osaka to Hiroshima is about 6 hours; Hiroshima to Fukuoka is another 6 hours.
You can reach Fukuoka from Tokyo on a single Seishun 18 ticket by using the Moonlight Nagara overnight train (below), although 24 hours in local trains may kill you along the way. The alternative is to depart Tokyo in the morning, spend the night in the Kansai or Hyogo area, and then continue on to Fukuoka the next day - though it will cost you another stamp on your ticket.
Travelling to Hokkaido
To travel to Hokkaido, you must change to a limited express, the Hakucho or Super Hakucho, between Kikonai and Kanita. The train is only covered by the Seishun 18 if you ride in a non-reserved seat, and is only covered for the segment between Kikonai and Kanita. Some sample itineraries based around the schedule (there are more trains bound for Kikonai, because more trains in the other direction do not stop):
Be warned that the train schedules in northern Japan, particularly in Hokkaido, are rather scant, and that the lines north of Aomori usually have fewer than ten local trains per day. You'll want to use a timetable like Hyperdia to plan your itinerary, or else you may end up stuck en route for several hours, or even overnight. The basic routes to use:
- From Sapporo to Hakodate, take the Chitose Line to Tomakomai (1.5 hours), then the Muroran Line to Oshamambe via Higashimuroran (just over 3 hours), then the Hakodate Line to Hakodate (about 4 hours).
- From Hakodate to Kikonai, take the Esashi Line (1 hour).
- From Kanita to Aomori, take the Tsugaru Line (45 minutes).
- From Aomori to Akita, take the Ou Line via Hirosaki, Odate, and Higashinoshiro (1 hour to Hirosaki, 2.5 hours to Akita). You may have an extended layover at Hirosaki depending on your schedule.
- From Akita to Niigata, take the Uetsu Line to Shibata via Sakata and Murakami (5 hours), then change to the Hakushin Line for Niigata (30 minutes).
If you take the Moonlight Echigo night train from Tokyo to Niigata, then take the earliest trains available through Akita and Aomori to Kikonai, you can theoretically reach the southern tip of Hokkaido in 24 hours at a cost of about ¥3,000... but you won't be able to reach Hakodate. The Hokkaido and Higashi-Nihon Pass, on the other hand, allows you to get from Tokyo all the way to Sapporo in just under 24 hours.
Because of the great amount of time required to travel on rapid service trains, many Seishun 18 holders utilize JR's handful of overnight rapid trains. The two most well-known are the Moonlight Nagara for trips between Tokyo and western Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the Moonlight Echigo for trips between Tokyo and northern Japan (Niigata, Sendai, Aomori). These trains only run during days when the Seishun 18 season is in effect, and around major holidays.
These are not proper sleeper trains: you will get something comparable to an economy class airplane seat (although with a bit more legroom), without the benefit of jet engine noise to muffle the conversations around you. (While full sleepers are available between many cities, they are not covered by the Seishun 18.)
The Moonlight Nagara runs between Tokyo, Shinagawa and Ogaki, a city in central Japan between Nagoya and Kyoto. From Ogaki, it is possible to get as far as Fukuoka by the end of the day, although more relaxed travelers may prefer to stop at Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, or Hiroshima.
The train departs Tokyo at 11:10 PM (23:10). There is also a non-reserved train that you can pick up further down the Tokaido line without having to use a day of the Seishun 18 Ticket if it is your first day. If your Moonlight Nagara trip is to be your first day using the ticket, buy a regular ticket to the first station that you will reach after midnight, and present this along with your unstamped Seishun 18 Ticket at your destination. For example, if you are travelling from Tokyo, buy a regular ticket (do not use SUICA or PASMO) from Tokyo to Odawara (¥1450 or use Odakyu-Odawara line from Shinjuku to Odawara, ¥850.) as Odawara is the first stop that the train makes after midnight.
The Moonlight Echigo runs between Tokyo (Shinjuku) and Niigata, near the northern coast of Japan. From Niigata, travelers can connect southbound to Toyama and Kanazawa. Travelers can also change at Niigata to a rapid service which runs to Murakami, from which northbound connections to Akita and Aomori can be made. (On the return trip, the connection is made from a local train).
This is also a viable option for travellers wishing to travel to Hokkaido through the Seikan Tunnel, although you won't be able to reach Hakodate (the closest major city) without spending the night somewhere.
|05:10 a||Shinjuku (Tokyo)||23:09 d|
|04:28 a||Omiya (Saitama)||23:43 d|
|23:35 d||Niigata||04:51 a|
|23:25 a||Niigata||04:56 d|
|22:14 d||Murakami||05:49 a|
Taking local trains north from Murakami, travellers can reach Akita around 11:30 am and Aomori around 5:15 pm, although it is possible to be significantly delayed en route as some stretches of the line only have one train every two hours or so.
Other rail passes modeled on the Seishun 18 are available, offering unlimited travel of local trains, but usually in a much smaller area. Three of them, however, are noteworthy for long-distance travel.
Hokkaido and East Japan Pass
The Hokkaido and East Japan Pass (北海道&東日本パス Hokkaido & Higashi-Nihon Pasu)  is a regional (and longer-lasting) version of the Seishun 18 Ticket, priced quite a bit cheaper at ¥10,000 for seven days. The pass allows travel on all JR East and Hokkaido local services as well as the Kanita-Kikonai limited express, and also the following services not covered by the Seishun 18 Ticket:
- IGR Iwate and Aoimori Railways between Morioka and Aomori
- Hokuetsu Express between Echigo-Yuzawa and Naoetsu
- Hamanasu (はまなす号) express night trains between Aomori and Sapporo (unreserved) (you will have to pay a ¥1,260 each way surcharge to be able to use this train)
These speed up travel from Tokyo to Hokkaido considerably, making it possible to get from Tokyo to Sapporo in just under 24 hours if you catch the Aomori-Sapporo express. However, compared to the Seishun 18, the pass imposes three significant additional restrictions: it's valid only on consecutive days, it cannot be shared by multiple people, and it's not valid for any JR services west of Naoetsu or Matsumoto. Like the Seishun 18, the ticket is only valid seasonally, but the dates differ slightly. As of 2008:
|2013 Effective period||Tickets go on sale|
|Spring break (Feb. 22 - Apr. 13)||Feb. 17 - Apr. 9|
|Summer break (July 1 - Sept. 30)||June 20 - Sept. 24|
|Winter break (Nov. 28 - Jan. 25)||Nov. 23 - Jan. 21|
Aki no Norihōdai Pasu
The Aki no Norihōdai Pasu (秋の乗り放題パス), the "Autumn All-You-Can-Ride Pass", can be used in precisely the same way on precisely the same lines as the Seishun 18. However, it's available only once a year for a two-week period in early October (exact dates vary yearly), and tickets go on sale the previous day. The cost is ¥7,500 for three days, making it slightly cheaper per day than the Seishun 18, but unlike the Seishun 18, a half-priced version for kids is available. The main catch is that it must be used on consecutive days and cannot be split up between people.
This ticket's predecessor, the Tetsudō-no-hi Kinen JR Zensen Norihōdai Kippu (鉄道の日記念・JR全線乗り放題きっぷ), was retired in 2012.
Tetsudō-no-hi Kinen Nishi-Nihon Ichinichi Norihōdai Kippu
The Tetsudō-no-hi Kinen Nishi-Nihon Ichinichi Norihōdai Kippu (鉄道の日記念・西日本一日乗り放題きっぷ), a mouthful that translates as "Railway Day Memorial - West Japan One Day All-You-Can-Ride Pass", allows unlimited travel for one day on the JR West network  only: roughly speaking, this means the entire western half of Honshu including Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. The cost is ¥3000/1500 adult/child, and like the Aki no Norihōdai Pasu it's only available for a two-week period in October, but you can buy as many as you like during those two weeks.