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Seishun 18 Kippu: My 13-hour long journey from Tokyo to Takamatsu

Seishun 18 Kippu: My 13-hour long journey from Tokyo to Takamatsu

Picture this, it’s the peak of summer and you want to travel with your friends on a budget. You have the perfect itinerary planned for Shikoku (四国), but the question is how to get there. It’s the Ōbon (大盆) period, so flights are expensive, the distance is too long for an overnight bus, and the shinkansen (新幹線) is over your budget. But wait, the Seishun 18 Kippu (青春18きっぷ) exists, Yahoo Transit tells you that you can get from Tokyo (東京) to Takamatsu City (高松市 Takamatsu-shi) by the end of your day if you leave by 9am, and if you divide the cost of the pass by 5 people, you pay just ¥2,410 to get from Tokyo to Takamatsu. So hey, why not? 

 

For the uninitiated, the Seishun 18 Kippu or Seishun 18 Ticket is a nationwide rail pass that allows you to take any local or rapid train (non-reserved) in the JR network for 5 non-consecutive days at ¥12,050. A neat trick is that it is non-personal, you can also use it for multiple people on the same day, as long as you start and end on the same route together. The word seishun (青春) in Seishun 18 Kippu also loosely translates as "the springtime of life" or "youth", and that's exactly what this pass is all about.

 

My journey to the west begins… (Map credit: Jeremy Jee / Navitime)

 

Passing through 10 prefectures, almost 700km, 9 different train lines, and almost 13 hours in total, I lived to tell my seishun tale. Here’s a guide on how to buy the Seishun 18 Ticket and use it to get from Shinagawa Station (品川駅 Shinagawa-eki) in Tokyo to Takamatsu Station (高松駅 Takamatsu-eki) in Kagawa Prefecture (香川県 Kagawa-ken).

 

Purchasing the Seishun 18 Kippu

You should be able to buy these tickets at almost any major JR stations with an automated machine, or a Midori-no-Madoguchi (みどりの窓口). (Image credit: Chan Qiu Qing)

 

For starters, Seishun 18 isn’t available year-round. Instead, it is only offered three times a year during spring (March to early April), summer (late July to early September), and winter (mid-December to early January). Getting the ticket is as simple as heading down to a major JR station, finding one of the automated ticket dispensers, selecting Discount Ticket, selecting the Seishun 18 Kippu, and then paying via cash. The machine will print out your ticket, and you’re good to go!

 

Plan your local train journey ahead of time

The Yahoo Transit interface might seem daunting in Japanese, but it is really quite straightforward. (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

Since you can only ride on non-reserved local and rapid trains with the Seishun 18, Google Maps won’t be of much help to you. Instead, you should use a Japanese train navigation app like Yahoo Transit or Navitime where you can select the mode of transit. Key in your start and end stations, and turn off all other modes of transit like the shinkansen or Limited Express (特急 Tokkyū) trains. 

 

Only the reliability and punctuality of Japanese trains would allow you to make 8 seamless (but also nerve-wracking) transfers on a journey like this. (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

Tada! You now have your 8-transfer-long route from Shinagawa to Takamatsu. The app provides useful information such as whether the train starts at that station, which platform is the departing platform, and also lets you gauge how much time you have to transfer. Some transfers can be really tight though—the leg between Tokyo and Osaka is really popular, so at certain stops you can see many other passengers carrying their luggages as the train pulls into the station, and then running up the stairs and dashing across to the other platform. Thankfully there was only one transfer with a change of platform, but I found myself dashing to the convenience store multiple times to grab some snacks too. 

 

Getting started with the Seishun 18 Kippu

(Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

To activate the ticket, you need to use a manual ticket gantry, which are those manned counters at the side of the automatic ticket gates. If you’re using it for a single person, they will stamp one of the five empty slots, but if you’re using it for multiple people, then they will stamp the equivalent number of slots. Note that, once again, for multiple users, all of you have to enter and exit at the same station.

 

First leg:  Tokyo ➔ Maibara (Tōkaidō Main Line)

Nothing but straight tracks in front of me, forests to my right, and the Pacific Ocean on my left. Also I love watching train drivers work as they point at things, press buttons, and check the timetable to make sure they’re on schedule. (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

The route can mainly be split into two halves: the first leg from Tokyo to Maibara Station (米原駅 Maibara-eki), and the second leg from Maibara to Takamatsu Station. On the first leg, there are actually five transfers, starting at Shinagawa and transferring at Atami Station (熱海駅 Atami-eki), Shizuoka Station (静岡駅 Shizuoka-eki), Hamamatsu Station (浜松駅 Hamamatsu-eki), Toyohashi Station (豊橋 Toyohashi-eki), and Ōgaki Station (大垣駅 Ōgaki-eki), before arriving at Maibara Station in Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県 Shiga-ken). Funnily enough, despite transferring this many times, you are still riding on a single line—the Tōkaidō Main Line (東海道本線 Tōkaidō-honsen)—for the entire journey on a relay system starting off at 8:49am from Shinagawa Station. On this leg, you will start from the capital city of Tokyo, while passing through the prefectures of Kanagawa (神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken), Shizuoka (静岡県 Shizuoka-ken), Aichi (愛知県 Aichi-ken), Gifu (岐阜県 Gifu-ken), and ending at Shiga.

 

For most of the route, the transfers are simple enough, usually just crossing to the opposite platform. There are certain trains that will decouple and travel to different destinations, but you typically alight at the decoupling station, so there’s not much to worry about boarding the wrong carriage. Unfortunately there isn’t time for lunch on this leg, so I recommend either getting an onigiri (おにぎり) or ekiben (駅弁) at Shinagawa, or taking one train earlier out of Shinagawa so that you have a longer transfer at one of the stations to grab a bite at one of the standing soba shops (立ち食いそば tachigui soba) on the platform. Thankfully, most of the trains on this leg also have a toilet on-board, so you don’t need to worry about answering nature’s call between short transfers. 

 

Second leg: Maibara ➔ Takamatsu

It was somehow quite amusing to be passing through West Japan’s major stations in Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, without getting off at a single one of them. Though the temptation to hop-off at Osaka for some takoyaki was very real… (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

Once you reach Maibara Station, you’re well past the halfway mark of this journey. From Maibara, there are only two transfers until you reach Takamatsu. You actually ride the train from Maibara, through West Japan’s major stations in Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, without transferring until you stop at Himeji Station (姫路駅 Himeji-eki), giving you a period to rest and relax over two and a half hours without worrying about missing your next train. Try to make sure you have a seat on this leg, as you will pass through these busy cities during the rush hour. 

 

Not all bridges are built the same. There’s an amazing panoramic beauty to the bridge stretching into the distance, as the sun gently sets in the background. (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

This stretch is also more scenic, as you pass by the coast, where you can see the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge (明石海峡大橋 Akashi Kaikyō Ōhashi), which was the world’s longest suspension bridge until March 2022. When you transfer at Himeji Station, you can also get a peek of Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, from the station platform. Lastly, when you make the final transfer at Okayama (岡山駅 Okayama-eki), you will be boarding the Marine Liner which crosses over from the main island of Honshu (本州) to Shikoku. While the sun would have set by then, on a clear night, you can see a beautiful reflection of the moon on the sea’s surface. 

 

Arrival: 13 hours later in Takamatsu

Yes, Kagawa is famous for udon but everything was either sold out or closed after checking in, so ramen it is! (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

At long last, you will finally arrive in Takamatsu at 9:39pm after what might have seemed like a lifetime of train rides. I recommend getting a nice piping hot bowl of udon (うどん) or rāmen (ラーメン) once you arrive as a good pick-me-up. I also recommend checking out Menya Issa (麺屋一咲), a late-night ramen shop that only opens at 8pm, and serves a really hearty bowl of chicken broth ramen infused with black garlic. A bowl that really hits the spot after a long day of snacking on the train.

 

Menya Issa (麺屋一咲)
Address: 6-18 Furubabacho, Takamatsu, Kagawa 760-0045
Nearest station: Kawaramachi Station (瓦町駅)
Access: 7-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 8pm–5am
Tel: +81 87-880-9777

 

Discovering a journey on the slow track

You never know what you’ll find on your journey! (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)

 

Trying out the Seishun 18 Pass is definitely an experience worth going through at least once in your lifetime—just embody the seishun spirit, YOLO, and go out to explore. There’s a very different feel and pace to a train journey when riding on only local trains as opposed to bullet trains and limited express trains. As the local train chugs through at a comfortable pace, staring out the single track straight ahead, there’s a certain idyllic lifestyle to it. 

 

Instead of the one-long journey like the one I did to save money, I actually would probably recommend taking the Seishun 18 Pass to travel out into the inaka (田舎 rural) parts of Japan, and just explore random stations along the way. If you have watched Japanese travel programmes, you might know what I’m talking about, celebrities who take the local train, and get off at stops with a ridership of 5-10 people a day, and then looking for nice food or a local attraction. It’s a really different way to enjoy Japan, and I always recommend that people get out of the major cities and explore the more laidback side of Japan.

 

Header image credit: Jeremy Jee & Teng Shi Ru

 

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