Most people travelling to Japan know about the Japan Rail Pass. It is an incredible deal and perfect if it is your first time in Japan and you want to see a lot of the country on the Shinkansen in a very short time.

Unfortunately for me, as a resident in Japan I do not qualify. The pass is specifically for visitors and they always check your status based on the entry in your passport.

However, for residents (and visitors) there are often many special options. The one that is my favorite, and the subject of many of my posts is the Seishun 18 pass. It goes on sale three times of the year and is a bargain depending on your travel patterns. More about it here.

The pass is open for purchase right now for travel from 20 July to September 1.

The pass allows you unlimited travel on all JR lines throughout Japan for 5 days. At only 11,800 Yen (including tax), that is only 2,360 per day of unlimited travel on JR.

Some of the good points:

  1. You don’t have to use all the days consecutively. You can plan your usage around the days that you will get the most value out of it.
  2. You can share the days with others. This means on one day, you can travel with two or more people on the same ticket – meaning that each person uses one of the days. 
  3. You can really travel spontaneously and explore those out-of-the way places that only JR goes to

Some of the limitations:

  1. The ticket limits you to JR local trains. That means you cannot take any of the limited express or tickets that require a reserved seat. However, you still can use them on normal express services.
  2. The window of usage is pre-defined for limited times of the year and may not correspond to your time in Japan.
  3. Not valid on JR operated busses or any private lines.

Whether this is suitable for you or not, really depends on your travel style. If you love trains – I really do and think that JR is like a national treasure – you will enjoy the many hours you can spend  seeing the sites and views of local people.

If you want to cover a lot of distance and you are only in Japan for a short time, it probably is not for you. SInce you will be largely travelling on local trains, the journey time will be longer than if you took other means. 

I took a trip to purposely push the limits of how far I could go. I took a trip with the strategy of maximizing the distance I could go out of Tokyo. I was comfortably able to go far as Aomori using just the pass, and I saw a lot of very interesting places along the way that I would have never seen if travelling on the Shinkansen: 

When I took this trip, I had set out the following rules – start out early in the morning with no more than 6 or 7 hours travelling per day – if I started out at say 8am, I would get to my final target destination at around 2pm and that would leave me time for sightseeing. Also, to maximize spontenatiety, I only took the final destination as a goal, and depending on what I saw along the way, that could change. WIth the use of my mobile phone, I would typically book my hotel during the journey, when I had finally established where I would end up. In the smaller cities in Japan, this is rarely an issue to book last moment unless it is in a more established tourist destination. 

My experience travelling out of Tokyo with this pass is that going up north is your best bet. I have gone into Kansai with it, but with the relatively inconvenient  connections it was a lot less fun and effective than my northern sojourns. 

So, if you are up to some adventure off the beaten path, be sure to consider Seishin 18.