Saturday, March 03, 2012

Seishun 18 Kippu Pt.2: Planning 青春18切符

This is the second of a series on using the Seishun 18 Kippu to explore Japan. You can see the first post here.

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A train at Bingo-Ochai Station (備後落合駅) in Rural Hiroshima Pref.
In planning my trips I use three rules.
  1. Make the best use of your money. For the Seishun 18 Kiipu, travel more than 2,300 yen in a single day. 
  2. Maximize the amount of territory covered. 
  3. Make sure include some breaks for some adventuring on foot and gathering provisions. (beer, snacks, bento
The Seishun 18 Kippu mentioned in Part 1 costs 11,500 yen, which is a great way to start planning your adventure. 11,500 divided by five is 2,300. To get your money's worth out of the ticket you have to travel at least 2,300 yens worth. It's really not too hard to do that if you ride a train for a few hours or if you are doing a single day return trip. I'm always checking my planned routes against the magic 2,300 number.

It is important to remember that you have five days to use also. I have found that using them all at once can be tiring. What’s worked for me is four days and then use the last one for a day trip. Or a three-day trip and a two-day trip a few days later. One of my long-term goals is to ride, at least, every JR line in Japan and as many of the private railways as possible. To complete this goal I try to maximize my journeys as to travel as much as possible on lines I haven’t been on before. This is all about my quirky goals and you are, most likely, not as manic-obsessive about this like me.

 Riding a train for five hours straight will fatigue you. A good break and walk around outside is worth it. It’s during these breaks that you will have time to get food, beer, and snacks. Grab a smoke if you are so inclined. Most important, this is a chance to get a better look at the landscape that you have been traveling through. And, although the majority of these trains will have bathrooms on board, I think we can all agree that we would rather use one that’s not rumbling while risking giving up your seat.

So in this post I’ll talk about planning your trip using those three rules.

Rule #1 Travel more than 2,300 yen in a single day. 

iPhone Norikae Apps
The easiest way to check prices for distances is using any of free the online train route websites (norikae annai 乗り換え案内). My favorites are Jorudan, Google Maps, and Hyperdia all of which have English interfaces. I prefer using the Japanese sites for many reasons mostly because some of the romanji station names are strange and that the Japanese sites have more options. For those stations that have difficult kanji, I recommend finding them on Google Maps clicking on the station icon and cutting and pasting the names into the sites. Searching the stations name on the Japanese Wikipedia is also helpful as a phonetic spelling in hiragana and sometimes in romanji typically follows the station’s name in Kanji. Remember when searching that you limit your search to JR trains only for the Seishun 18 Kippu.

For iPhone users the built in routing via the Maps app works well, but for more control the free version of the 乗換案内 (Norikaiannai) app from Jorudan is hands down the best. A good alternative, although it is ad sponsored, is 駅すぽあと (ekisupoato).

The cost of a journey is calculated regardless of when you travel as the costs are defined by distance. To make sure I hit that 2,300 yen a day target. I search a general route typically with Jorudan in their Seishun 18 Kippu search to see if the distance covered will cost a sufficient amount.

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ChizuKyuko's norihodai ticket with stamp rally sheet and eraser.
Another worry is that sometimes JR trains run on what is known as Class Three Railroads that lease access of their lines to JR for their express services. Two examples are the Chizu Kyuko line in Hyogo and Tottori prefectures and the Ise Railway in Mie both of which allow JR express trains run on their lines with the costs included in the ticket price, but the local trains are run by the railway companies themselves. The Seishun 18 Kippu will not cover any segment of your trip on these lines. There are some deals to be aware of. Chizu Kyuko offers a single day norihodai, all you can ride (乗り放題), pass for riders coming to their lines on the Seishun 18 Kippu for 1,000 yen offering a slight discount on a normal one way ticket for the length of their line. They even had a stamp rally and gave out an eraser, hand towel, and stickers for completing it. These Class Three Railroads are few in number however and it can be a safe bet that you’ll not end up on one unless you are actively trying to.

Rule #2 Maximize the amount of territory covered. 

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Railway Mapple
This requires a map. Google does a decent job although it can be hard to focus only on the train lines when zoomed out. The graphic JR route maps are useful but lack English in rural areas and don’t represent distance. The best map series to plan and take with you on your trip is the Railway Mapple. There are seven in total covering the regions of Japan. They are small and light enough to fit in your bag and also have enough detail to get your bearings in the larger cities. Every station has its name in hiragana and kanji written along with the distance between stations in kilometers. It is easy to get an idea of what kind of territory each line covers. Tunnels, interesting views, tight curves, and steep inclines are all listed using icons that are understandable even if you cannot read kanji. I typically take trips into rural areas but if you are traveling into a larger city I recommend Shobunsha's series of compact maps. Even though they are all in Japanese they are much more detailed than any English language map available and used together valuable to navigation. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

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Shobunsha compact maps
Rule #3 Make sure include some breaks for some adventuring on foot and gathering provisions. (beer, snacks, bento

It's important to take a break from being on the train. Ekiben, omiyage, jizake, and jibiru for eats and tips for exploring a the ekimae area while you're waiting for the next train will be covered in the next post.

4 comments:

soul of Japan said...

Useful and insightful. Thanks for sharing.

Ci said...

Quite interesting; I'm about to use the Seishun 18 Kippu to travel from Nishinomiya to Hiroshima and back (2 days) then spend the other three days to, around, and coming home from Tokyo. Thank you for the hints and tips!

David Kawabata said...

I hope to have more soon. Been too busy at work. Hope you had a good trip Ci.

David Kawabata said...

Also, Ci... I live in Nishinomiya too. If you come by the Wexford Tavern some time, I might be there! (wexfordtavern.jp)