The “Seishun 18” is a special train ticket offered by the Japan Railway Company, better known as “JR”. It allows unlimited rides on local and rapid trains throughout Japan – from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. The tickets can be purchased at the green-colored “Midori no Madoguchi” manned ticket offices located in major JR stations. They come as a bundle of five tickets for 11,850 yen, which breaks down to 2,370 yen per ticket. When used, the ticket is stamped by a porter at the ticket gate and the bearer is allowed unlimited rides on almost all JR trains for the entire day.
For those interested in purchasing the Seishun 18 ticket, the JR-West website has quite good information in English. From a consumer perspective, the Seishun 18 ticket has its share of both pros and cons. Having used the ticket myself, I’d like to offer my own personal take on the up- and downsides of the system.
Seishun 18 Ticket Pros:
Allows travel to almost all JR stations. Imagine you are at a JR station, looking at a railway map. You find the name of city that interests you. With the Seishun 18 ticket, you can simply hop onto the train, enjoy the beautiful landscape for a while, and you are there.
Reasonably priced. Train fares vary for each line, but from my own experience I would say that it’s safe to expect a two-hour trip on JR to generally cost around 2,000 to 2,500 yen. So taking a round trip of about two hours already saves you money – and you can still use the ticket for the rest of the day.
Can be shared with your friends. Presentation of some form of identification is not required when using Seishun 18, so anyone holding one of the tickets can use it. The five-ticket bundle can be shared with friends, affording the user the option of bringing along travel companions – and economically.
Can be used to ride trains all day. There is always somebody who is completely satisfied when simply riding, watching, or waiting for trains. Apart from its “regular” trains, JR lines also feature attractions for train buffs such as steam locomotives, high-rising viaducts crossing lakes, and complicated diverging points.
Seishun 18 Ticket Cons:
Cannot be used to ride on non-JR train lines. JR is the largest railroad company in Japan, but there are also a large number of privately-owned and operated train lines not associated with Japan Rail. These are called “local lines” and are each run by different companies. These include the subways in big cities, such as the Tokyo Metro, and lines run by other railway companies such as the Kansai-based Hankyu Railway and the Kanto-based Tokyu line. The Seishun 18 cannot be used on these lines, and purchase of a separate ticket is necessary to ride them.
Cannot be used to ride express trains or the Shinkansen. Even in combination with tickets purchased for super (or limited) express fare, the Seishun 18 ticket cannot be used to travel on the Shinkansen, limited express trains, express trains, or sleeper cars.
Can cause the traveler bottom pains over long-distance trips. If you are planning a trip from Tokyo to Osaka with the Seishun 18 ticket, I would personally advise against it. According to Jorudan, the trip takes a total of eight hours and 14 minutes of riding time. You can mostly sit down during travel, but it’s not an airplane you are riding, so the seats may be uncomfortable after sitting for long periods. Plus, you have to transfer seven times without mistaking platforms and train types.
These are the pros and cons, some of which may be more or less important depending on the user. Now for further reference, I’d like to share my own experiences with Seishun 18.
When I was 16, I bought and shared a bundle of Seishun 18 tickets with my friends to travel from Osaka to Tokyo. We were young and didn’t know what we were doing. At the end of the trip, we were totally exhausted from looking at railway maps, finding the correct platforms, waiting for train transfers, and checking whether or not each train was actually compatible with the tickets. Ultimately, even just sitting on the bench-style seats of the train car caused significant discomfort and the aforementioned “bottom pain”. We actually fought each other at an unknown, terrifyingly dark station because one of us had led the group to the wrong stop. Upon arrival at Tokyo Station, it was almost midnight and we didn’t know how to book a hotel, so we ended up sleeping on the platform.
This isn’t to say that using the Seishun 18 ticket will cause you and your friends discomfort and infighting; it’s just an anecdote of my own personal experience. But do make sure to use it wisely.
The name “Seishun 18” is in reference to the concept of the “springtime of one’s life”. In Japanese, “seishun” means “youth”, and "18" represents the age 18 – also commonly regarded in Japan as the final year of one’s childhood as well as the first real step on the way to adulthood. Almost ten years has passed since that Osaka~Tokyo trip, and I believe that now I would be able to make better use of the Seishun 18 ticket. Stopping at every station on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo would be awesome. Venturing out into more rural areas to enjoy the beautiful scenery, or even just randomly wandering the various lines and stations in urban areas seems enticing.
But come to think of it, the ticket’s name does mean “youth”, after all. Back then, I knew nothing about our nation’s capital, but I was certainly more adventurous. Now I’ve gotten older, and along with the experience I’ve picked up over the years I’ve also become more able to make safer and more comfortable plans, but I am not as ready to head out into the open world as I used to be. I’m not a foreigner in this country per se, but if I were, I’d love to just buy a bundle of Seishun 18 tickets and hop onto an unknown train. While the case may not be so for everyone, I feel that this is likely the most fun and exciting way of using the ticket, and the more liable the user would be to gain some unforgettable experiences. Because, after all, that’s the ticket.
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