Now that the Japan Rail Pass has lost most of its value following the massive price increase, travelers on a budget might be wondering if there are any tickets that could serve as an alternative.
The Seishun 18 Kippu (Rough translation: Youthful 18 Ticket) is a seasonal ticket that allows five days of unlimited travel on any JR train.
The price is very reasonable at 12,050 JPY.
Great deal, right? The major restriction is that only local and rapid services can be used. The ticket is not valid for any Limited Express trains, let alone a ride on the Shinkansen.
This is a seasonal product, sold during the school holidays as the ticket was originally marketed towards the younger generation.
Spring season: March 1st-April 10th (Purchase by Mar 31st)
Summer season: July 20th - September 10th (Purchase by Aug 31st)
Winter season: December 10th - January 10th (Purchase by Dec 31st)
Rules of the ticket:
Despite the name, there is no age limit. Non-residents are welcome to purchase the ticket though I have never witnessed a foreign tourist using this ticket. It can be purchased at the ticket office or from the ticket machines that can sell reserved seat tickets (These are usually set up in the bigger stations).
The date of usage does not need to be designated at time of purchase. You may use it on any day of your choice during the valid period; they do not need to be five consecutive days, so that actually gives more flexibility than the Japan Rail Pass.
Also a huge advantage is that multiple travelers can share the ticket if everyone is traveling together. A family of five that wants to do a daytrip from Kyoto to the Himeji Castle could cut the transportation cost by half if using this ticket.
The 18 Kippu is larger than standard sized tickets so it will not fit in the automated gates. Always go through the aisle and show the ticket to the staff. At the beginning of the day, make sure to get the ticket stamped by the staff. Ticket checks do occur frequently during the 18 Kippu season and lack of the date stamp could lead to some questioning.
Which trains will work with the 18 Kippu?
It is OK for rides in local (各駅、普通), rapid (快速) or special rapid (特別快速、新快速）
It's NOT valid for limited express (特急) or Shinkansen
Some rapid trains in the Tokyo area have a double-decker car classified as a Green Car (first class). As long as you pay the supplement for the Green Car, the Seishun 18 ticket will cover the base fare.
However sitting in the Green Car of the Marine Liner (Okayama-Takamatsu) is not allowed despite this train also being a rapid. The difference seems to be whether the green car seats have a seat assignment or not.
Rules for tourist trains
The ticket would work if the train is classified as "Rapid" and the train set is not made up entirely of green car seats where a seat assignment is compulsory.
Some OK examples:
Resort Shirakami (JR East Gono Line)
Kairi (JR East Uetsu Line)
SL Banetsu Monogatari (JR East Banetsu West Line, exception is the Green Car reserved area that is attached to each train)
High Rail 1375 (JR East Koumi Line)
Boso Bicycle Base (JR East, to various locations in Chiba)
Not OK examples:
La Malle de Bois (JR West) It is a rapid train but all cars are designated as assignment compulsory Green Car.
Seto Ohashi Anpanman Torokko (JR Shikoku) The exact same reason as above.
Iyonada Monogatari (JR Shikoku) Originally categorized as a local train, it was later upgraded to a Limited Express status.
HOW MUCH CAN YOU SAVE?
If you are doing over 2,410 JPY worth of travel in a day on the local/rapid trains, you are getting a good deal though you are also spending a much longer time compared with the faster Shinkansen. For many tourists I suppose "time is money" so also consider the time you are losing by opting for the slower option.
・Tokyo-Atami is 1,980 JPY one-way, easily exceeding the threshold by doing the return on the same day. However the local/rapid train takes 1hr40min where the Shinkansen would only take 45 minutes
・Tokyo-Nikko can be done with a combination of JR rapid/local services taking over 3 hours on average. A different operator TOBU does the same route in under 2 hours and the trains are much nicer.
In the Osaka area, the use of this ticket is more practical as 新快速(Special Rapid) services runs at a decent speed with a high frequency.
Kyoto-Himeji is about 1hr35min with one-way fare of 2,310 JPY. The frequency is every 10 minutes. The same section on the Shinkansen takes 50 minutes but only 2-3 trains per hour stop at Himeji during the day.
In theory, you can do a Tokyo-Osaka trip or even a Tokyo-Hiroshima run with just the 18 Kippu. However a trip to Osaka would take around 10 hours with 6 or 7 transfers. An itinerary to Hiroshima would be a huge adventure, taking 16 hours and around 10 transfers! I have actually done it before but let me assure you that it wasn't enjoyable at all!!
In some rural areas such as Hokkaido, the use of the 18 Kippu is just not practical because virtually all intercity services are now under the category of Limited Express, thus the ticket would not be valid.
The same can be said with the Kanazawa-Toyama area where large sections were cut off from the JR network after the Hokuriku Shinkansen extended to this area. The 18 Kippu only works on the JR trains and not on any of the other privately-run companies.