Rail travel is one of the most convenient ways to explore Japan, but the costs for long-distance travel can be steep. We have recently posted about two popular discounted rail passes: the popular JR Pass and the less well-known Seishun 18 kippu.
This post is designed for those who have read that information but are still not sure which one might be right for them. Let's compare the two passes side-by-side and look at some of the key questions you should consider in the decision-making process.
1. The very first question you should be asking yourself is What’s your residency status? If you do not meet the requirements of the JR Pass, this will automatically eliminate that option.
|JR Pass||Seishun 18 Kippu|
|Eligibility||For short-term foreign visitors with “temporary visitor” entry status or Japanese nationals residing abroad who meet certain criteria only.||Anyone.|
2. When are you traveling?
|JR Pass||Seishun 18 Kippu|
|Availability||All year.||Only available for sale and use during certain periods of the year.|
3. For how many days do you want to use the pass/ticket and how far apart?
|JR Pass||Seishun 18 Kippu|
|Validity||7, 14 or 21 consecutive days starting on a date of your choosing. Cannot be shared.||5 non-consecutive days of your choosing during set periods. Can be shared by up to 5 people.|
4. Where will you be traveling?
Both tickets are designed for sightseeing over greater distances. Using the pass for urban travel alone will most likely not bring any cost benefit (in fact, it will probably cost you more than buying tickets individually) and will be more of a hindrance than help given that you will likely want to take non-JR and subway lines not covered by the pass/ticket for some of your sightseeing.
5. What services do you want to take? Do you want to take the bullet train?
The Seishun 18 kippu is valid on local and rapid services only, whereas the JR Pass can be used on most bullet trains including reserved seating for no additional charge.
6. How much time do you have to get to your destination?
If time is of the essence and you want to travel between cities quickly (provided you can get it done within the validity of your ticket), the JR Pass can be a cost-effective means of doing so.
If you don’t mind taking things at a slower pace and sacrificing travel time for great savings and the ability to pick and choose the five days you want to travel within the set usage periods, then the Seishun 18 kippu is a great alternative.
7. Are you traveling with children?
Children aged 6-11 who meet the criteria of the JR Pass are eligible for a children’s pass at a 50% discount. There is no children’s discount for the Seishun 18 kippu. This does not necessarily mean that the Seishun 18 kippu will work out to be more expensive as it is cheaper to begin with. However, if traveling long distances with young children then the time and effort saved by being able to use direct services on the shinkansen (bullet train) with the JR Pass should be taken into consideration.
8. How much will the pass save me?
Once you have considered the questions surrounding eligibility, availability and validity above, the next biggest question and ultimately the one that will determine if a particular pass will work for you, is how much a pass will cost you vs. actual costs.
Wanting to take the bullet train or traveling with children does not necessarily mean that anything other than the JR Pass should be dis-counted. It ultimately all depends on your itinerary. If you’d like to take a bullet train for the experience, you could pay for this service separately for one leg and possibly still come in under the cost of the JR Pass.
When it comes to the price of the JR Pass and Seishun 18 kippu, it’s difficult to compare considering they are valid for differing lengths and on different services that have varying retail values. Time is also money and should be factored into the “value” of the ticket.
On a daily basis, the 7-day ordinary adult JR Pass works out to be about ¥4043, while the Seishun 18 kippu ¥2300 per day.
The only way to really know if a particular ticket is right for you, is to calculate how much your travel would cost regularly vs. the cost of the pass, and additionally if the length of time required to travel to desired destinations fits your schedule.
A pass that presents some savings may not be worth it if it means shortening your length of stay in destinations for the sake of maximizing use of the pass. Likewise if the savings you get will be canceled out by trips you will be taking on non-eligible services. In which case, you’d be better off not getting a pass at all and having the flexibility of traveling when you please.
How can you work out how much your travel will cost? Head over to our post on how to use the online search site Hyperdia to search Japanese train schedules, view prices and length of travel time. By default, Hyperdia will give you all options including by air and bullet train. To limit your search, simply use the “search details” option to specify which services you would like to take/are eligible to take on a certain pass. For the Seishun 18 kippu, this would be Ordinary Train and Japan Railway (JR). Those considering the JR Pass can choose the bullet train (shinkansen) and other eligible services, but can conveniently exclude the ineligible Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen services.
Let’s take a look at a popular tourist route in the Kanto region as an example.
Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka – Hiroshima (including Miyajima) – Tokyo
If you plan to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, and back to Tokyo, and use the shinkansen (bullet train) where possible, your costs would look something like this.
Tokyo – Kyoto by shinkansen = ¥13,220 (reserved seat), ¥12,710 (unreserved) 165 mins
Kyoto – Osaka by rapid train (distance is so short that it's not worth hopping on the shinkansen and then needing to go one stop further to transfer at Shin-Osaka station and go back) = ¥540 (reservations don't apply to this service) 28 mins
Osaka – Hiroshima (rapid service to Shin-Osaka and then shinkansen) = ¥9950 (reserved shinkansen seat), ¥9440 (unreserved) 105 mins
Hiroshima – Miyajimaguchi = ¥400 (reservations don't apply to this service) 27 mins
Miyajimaguchi – Miyajima Island (ferry) = ¥240 (return) (reservations don't apply to this service) 10 mins one-way
Miyajimaguchi – Hiroshima = ¥400 (reservations don't apply to this service) 27 mins
Hiroshima – Tokyo = ¥18,050 (reserved seat), ¥17,540 (unreserved) 287 mins
Total: ¥42,800 (using reserved seats when available). Travel time: 659 mins or about 11 hours.
With a 7-day ordinary adult JR Pass, this same trip would cost ¥28,300, saving you ¥14,100. You could also make additional savings by using the pass for other sightseeing on eligible services in cities visited, and to/from Narita Airport on the Narita Express. However, this trip would be a lot to cover in a week. An example itinerary might look like this.
Day 1: Tokyo Day 2: Travel early to Kyoto and spend day there
Day 3: Kyoto, then travel to Osaka in the evening
Day 4: Spend the day in Osaka, then travel to Hiroshima in the evening
Day 5: Hiroshima
Day 6: Miyajima and back to Hiroshima, then either travel back to Tokyo that night or on Day 7. Day 7: Tokyo
Of course, if you have more time in Japan, you could remove the days spent on either side in Tokyo (or the city you are flying into) and start the pass only when you want to travel to other cities. This would allow you more breathing room for sightseeing. Of course, any time you travel outside of the pass eligibility dates would be an added cost. You should check your proposed itinerary via Hyperdia to get an idea about what those additional costs would be.
A 14-day ordinary adult JR Pass is ¥2300 more expensive than the actual costs of the example itinerary above at ¥45,100 but can be used for sightseeing on eligible services in the cities you visit. Therefore you can still save money.
A 21-day ordinary adult JR Pass for the same itinerary will cost you more than actual costs at ¥57,700. However, it would depend on how much urban travel you plan to do on eligible services when you do stopover in cities, and given that you have more time, whether you want to add in other trips, making it more cost-effective.
Let's look at the exact same itinerary using the Seishun 18 kippu.
Tokyo – Kyoto = ¥7,980 (unreserved), transfer 5-7 times, 870 mins
Kyoto – Osaka by rapid train = ¥540, 28 mins
Osaka – Hiroshima = ¥5,460 (unreserved), transfer 2-3 times 730-830 mins
Hiroshima – Miyajimaguchi = ¥400, 27 mins
Miyajimaguchi – Miyajima Island (ferry) = ¥240 (return), 10 mins one-way
Miyajimaguchi – Hiroshima = ¥400, 27 mins
Hiroshima – Tokyo = ¥11,340 (unreserved), transfer 8-9 times, 1230-1420 mins
Total: ¥26,360. Travel time: 2932-3442 mins or about 49-57 hours.
With the Seishun 18 kippu, this itinerary would cost ¥11,500, saving you ¥14,860. While the shorter trips are exactly the same as the JR Pass itinerary as there are only local services available, the obvious difference comes with the travel time on the longer-distance trips. The same journey that took 11 hours on the JR Pass, would take you 50 odd if using the Seishun 18 kippu.
While that doesn't sound great for the Seishun 18 kippu, given that you have more time as you don't have to use the 5 days consecutively, it actually isn't so bad if you don't mind sacrificing a day (or at least a good part of it) to travel time in between destinations. It is a great option for the budget traveler or those not eligible for the JR Pass.
Traveling between Hiroshima and Tokyo in a day on the Seishun 18 kippu would not be recommended, but it is possible to do it in the 24-hour period if you really wanted to. I have kept the itinerary the same for comparative purposes but you could also work the itinerary differently so that you wouldn't be covering such a long distance in one day. For example, it would probably make more sense on this pass to go from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, then travel to Hiroshima/Miyajima, then back to Kyoto or Osaka (whichever you didn't visit on the way to Hiroshima) and finally back to Tokyo. That would use up four days of the pass. You could then use the last usage for another day or side trip.
Both passes have their pros and cons. Which one has more benefits for you or whether a pass would be useful for your travel at all, will all depend on the nature of your trip. Hopefully the considerations above will help you make the right decision for you. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask by posting a comment below.
Good luck and enjoy your time in Japan!
Have you used the JR Pass or Seishun 18 kippu? Where did you go and what was your experience like?