The Obon summer holidays are coming up. It's only a few days - the new 'Mountain Day' national holiday makes it a bit longer. As lovely as this air-conditioned office is, the chance to take some time out and enjoy the summer is definitely welcome.
I'll be travelling, like a lot of people. But it's a peak time to go anywhere. Flights and shinkansen seats aren't cheap. Taking an overnight bus (again) doesn't appeal. So this time, I'm trying something different: a Seishun 18 train ticket.
The Seishun 18 ticket
You can get a Seishun 18 ('youth 18' - there's no age limit) pass from any JR train station that has a 'Midori no Madoguchi' ticket window. Not all of them do, so pick a major station to be on the safe side.
It's valid for travel on up to 5 non-consecutive days within the given time period, within the open zone specified by JR. You can use it on consecutive days if you want! It's okay to split the days between different people, or for up to 5 people to travel on it together.
Be careful: a 'day' of use is midnight to 23:59. If you're on a late night train and it gets past midnight, it's classed as using the following day's ticket as well.
The catches, or the unique selling points, of the Seishun 18 are:
You can only take JR trains or the JR West Miyajima ferry.
Those can only be local, rapid, or special rapid trains.
You can't reserve a seat.
No bullet train, no limited express, no overnight sleeper trains, no 'green' reserved cars with more space. No buses! That makes it very different to the Japan Rail Pass.
Turning a train ride into an all-day adventure
I'm planning to use the Seishun 18 to get from Osaka to Tokyo... and back.
Yes, that sounds crazy. It takes several hours on the shinkansen, and that's one of the quickest options. So limiting myself to much slower local and rapid trains is pretty crazy.
It'll take just under 10 hours with a Seishun 18, including changing trains (8 times!). Call it 9 and a half hours. If I set off from Osaka after breakfast, I'll be in Tokyo in time for dinner.
To most people, this sounds like I'm choosing to lose nearly 2 days of my holiday in transit.
Think of it this way: I get to spend most of the day in an air-conditioned carriage, hopefully sitting down. I'll actually see the scenery on the way, instead of whizzing past it on the bullet train. And I can briefly experience being in a bunch of different towns and cities, by way of their train stations.
It makes more sense to use a Seishun 18 for longer trips, considering the price. Compared to the usual cost for taking all those trains, by the time I'm halfway back to Osaka it'll have paid for itself. With 3 days left on the ticket still to use at that point, that's seriously good value.
As long as I don't drain my phone battery in the first 2 hours, it should be fine.
Lunch and loo breaks, right on schedule
Unlike many trains in the UK, long-distance trains in Japan (that aren't bullet trains) tend not to have toilets on them. As part of the plan, I've had to identify changeovers that give me enough time to run to the loo.
Lunch is another consideration for an all-day train trip. It needs to be something I can eat on the move. I need to travel as light as possible, so it's got to fit in my backpack and not leak everywhere.
It's been a while since I've had to plan a trip with such precision. It's sort of exciting.
There's something about perfectly timing a change of trains that's really satisfying. That slide into the carriage moments before the doors close, not frazzled but smooth and relaxed. (I hate running.) I'll be working my route out down to the minute.