Spring has sprung. Cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. The end of the financial year looms. Schools and universities are on holidays. Seishun ju hachi kippu season is here again. During the three university holiday breaks - March, August and January - Japan Rail, in their munificence, issue 'seishun ju hachi kippu", or youthful 18 tickets. The various JR companies across Japan hark back to the days before they were split into separate regional entities and jointly offer the tickets. A ticket costs 11,500 yen (130AUD), and is valid for unlimited travel on any JR line in Japan, for any five days within a set six week period. ( You can see on the photo the space for each day of usage to get stamped.) You can also buy (and sell) partly used seishun hachi tickets - i.e. with some of the spaces on the tickets used already - from discount ticket shops for less than the face value.
Seijun juu hachi kippu typically appeal to people with lots of time, little money and an appreciation of "slow travel" and adventure. Shinkansen are fast and efficient, as are planes, and to some extent night buses too. Seijun juu hachi kippu are anything but; a trip from Tokyo to Hiro's parents takes 17 hours 14 minutes and 9 changes of train! A night bus is 1 bus direct and 8 hours. Shinkansen is 6 1/2 hours with one change to local bus / train, and a plane is 90 mins. Despite their efficiencey they share a common disasadvantage: lack of scenery. Although Shinkansen go through the countryside, the lines are built through relatively densely populated plains areas. Mountains are there to be tunnelled through.... and there is nothing very scenic about a tunnel.
I have been toying with the idea of a train adventure by seishun juu hachi kippu for years. Despite the daunting amount of in train time, there is something quaintly nostalgic about clanking along through mountains and farmland in an old three carriage train. The local lines go through scantly populated areas in the mountains of central Japan, as well as up the Japan Sea coast. This year I am determined to do it!
This year I have the advantage of time - no classes until mid April, and also Lily is living in Niigata - a perfect excuse for breaking up the journey - it's always good fun to spend time with the Yamashitas. Also, making it easier, the Japanese train search engines now have a function to enable searches of only trains where the seijun 18 kippu can be used, a vast improvement on tedious searches of individual trains that may or may not have connections.
This is how the timetable is looking at the moment. A couple of long waits at stations, but it will give time to go out and have a wander around. I'm planning to come back through the mountains of central Yamagata.
The North bound trip will go something like this.
Ueno Takasaki 5:13 to 6:55 102 minutes 101.4km
(15 minutes) @ Takasaki
Takasaki Minakami 7:10 to 8:13 63 min 165.6km