Traveling in Japan, or more accurately moving from point-to-point, is usually one of the major expenses during any kind of trip, especially if you don’t have a “JR Rail Pass” (internationally issued ‘all-you-can-ride pass for foreigner travelers visiting Japan). This is the sad reality foreigners who live in Japan face: there are few options to reduce traveling expenses and make a budget trip.
Buses are a good option, but popular routes can be sold out very quickly and going to multiple destinations can become quite expensive.
In this case, what options do we have? Well, in my experience there is a cheap and reliable way to “budget” trips and enjoy the pleasures of discovering Japan (through a train window). That is the seasonal “Seishun Ju Hachi Kippu (青春18きっぷ)” issued by JR (Japan Railroads).
According to the official JR East website, the Seishun Ju Hachi Kippu (or Seishun 18) is an “all-you-can-ride” seasonal train ticket that allows its user to ride unlimited times on local and rapid JR trains (excluding reserved seats or “Green Cars”) throughout Japan from the northernmost prefecture Hokkaido to the southernmost region Kyushu.
It is important to note that the Seishun Ju Hachi Kippu does NOT include bullet train (Shinkansen) or limited express train rides. Riding such trains will end up with you having to pay the whole train fee even if you take it by mistake; be careful.
As mentioned above, the Seishun Ju Hachi Kippu is a seasonal ticket with specific selling and validity dates. These dates usually match the Japanese major holiday seasons.
You can purchase the ticket in every JR counter of every station across Japan for 11,850 Yen.
As regarding how to use the Ju Hachi Kippu, the train ticket is valid for FIVE days of usage which allows its holder enjoy an “all-day long” train access to regular JR trains. Each usage means “one day” of riding independently from one another. This feature allows for flexibility in scheduling your trip, as well as enjoying long trips without being worried about the expiration date.
Another feature is that the train ticket can be used by multiple people traveling in a group (up to five). This significantly reduces the economic burden. However, one thing to note is that each person will use up one of the ticket usages. If a group of 5 people uses the ticket on the same day, all five rides will be used up by the end of that day.
One of the downsides, and arguably one of the most important things, is that traveling by this mean is slow. As I previously mentioned, you are basically only entitled to travel by “regular trains” and if you need to cover great distances, you are likely to take a large amount of time to reach your final destination.
Another downside is that you are likely to have a lot of transfers; which means that you need to prepare in advance your traveling route and make sure to make it in time for each transfer train. To be honest, several times I found myself in a situation of having to react and rearrange my train schedule on spot; delaying the arrival time to my final destinations considerably. If you don’t have access to Internet to look up new routes, the JR station staff are always kind enough to fix you a new traveling schedule.
I have used this method of traveling in Japan for several years whenever the train ticket is available of purchase; and I need to say that despite the downsides I fully recommend it. Some of my best trips in Japan have been possible thanks to this cheap traveling option. As well, traveling by local routes allowed me to essentially enjoy the countryside of Japan and visit small towns on the way.
Consider this traveling option for the upcoming winter holidays, and if you decide to go for it and enjoy the experience, don’t forget to recommend it to your friends as well!
Travelling in Japan on a Budget: Stay and Transportation Tips