The Seishun 18 ticket (S18) is a discount ticket, priced at 12050 yen, offered by Japan Railways (JR) for cheap travel across the whole of Japan. Bearers of the ticket are allowed unlimited travel for 5 days across the entire rail network operated by JR, with the caveat being that you cannot using express trains (no limited express, no Shinkansen)
Leg 1: Highway bus from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Takayama Nohi Bus Terminal (Beside Takayama station)
While searching for a cheap but easy way to Takayama from Tokyo, I ended up looking at a highway bus route that cuts through the mountain range across the central part of Japan. https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/highwaybus/shinjuku_en/
Using the S18 was out of the question as there is no train route that cuts through the same area, but rather I would have been taking a lengthy detour around the coast bordering the Sea of Japan that would take up to 12 hours by local train.
At 5 hours and 30 mins, the highway bus route was therefore a no brainer. It suited my plan to take an early morning bus from Shinjuku bus terminal to Nohi Bus Terminal, Takayama and then I could transfer at the same interchange to the bus going to Shirakawa go, the world heritage site famous for it’s Gassho houses (this bus takes another hour).
Leg 2: Takayama exploration
After exploring Shirakawa go, I turned my attention to Takayama city itself. This place is no slouch, despite it being usually just a place to transfer. The city has a section of preserved houses from the Edo era which allows the visitor to be immersed in an atmosphere from days gone by (if you discount the hordes of tourists there).
Also, if you take a 20 minute bus ride (using the Sarubobo bus), you can head to the Hida Folk Village where there are also some Gassho(合掌) houses here similar to those found in Shirakawa go. The landscaping here is spot on as well for a picturesque view.
My plans for using the S18 involves travelling between locations at night, after most attractions have closed after 6pm. This time round, i left Takayama after 5.30pm. After realising the trip to my next destination, Takaoka, Toyama prefecture, does not exceed 2410 yen, I chose not to activate the S18.
Leg 3: Toyama / Takaoka
My next destination was Takaoka, a small city in Toyama prefecture. My first impressions of it was that of a business oriented city with many hotels catering for business travelers. The reason why escapes me.
Nevertheless, there were some tourist attrations here, most noteworth of which is Zuiryuji, apparently the most symmetrical temple in Japan. Entry into the temple costs 500 yen, which most likely goes towards upkeep (in fact, there were renovation works ongoing during the time I was there).
Next stop was the big Buddha statue (Daibutsu). There are 3 famous Buddha Statues in Japan; one in Nara, one in Kamakura and the one in Takaoka. For added interest, visitors can enter the base of the Buddha and have a gander at some Buddhist paintings and other artwork. Entry is free.
Leg 4: Kanazawa
This part of my trip was surprising. Upon my arrival into Kanazawa city, I was astounded to see a bustling city completely in contrast with the sleepy atmosphere of Takaoko. Looking at the population statistics of Japanese cities, Kanazawa is not even in the top 10.
For travellers, Kenrokuen, one of the “big 3” gardens of Japan, is a stunning showcase of Japanese styled landscaping abilities. Most tourists are looking to take a postcard photo of the lantern overlooking the lake with a small traditional hut in the background. The garden offers a nice walk for about 2-3 hours, more if you enjoy photography here.
Leg 5: Fukui
The Fukui dinosaur museum is one of the few dinosaur related museums in Japan, but it is definitely one of the bigger ones. The entire museum is housed within an egg shaped building, why, I have no idea (someone please enlighten me). If you are a dinosaur buff, this is a must visit place. Do get the day pass (~2000 yen) from Echizen Railways for a discount on the entry ticket as well as for the 50min train trip there. The pass also includes the bus fare for the 10 min ride from the station to the museum.
Leg 6: Kyoto / Osaka
The final leg where we finally head home is the longest and hardest part of the journey. While the trip from Fukui to Osaka was long in itself, it was merely half the time that we expect to take. After a quick lunch, we had time to visit Kamagasaki / Airin area.
This area is known widely as the slum of Osaka and while no one in their right mind would think of it as a tourist attraction, the fact remains that this juxataposition against the backdrop of the glittering side of Osaka represents a unique experience for some tourists.
A 20 mins trip using the Osaka loopline brought us to Shin-Imamiya, the JR station nearest to the Kamagasaki/ Airin area. Searching on google map using these terms do not yield any results, hence do a google search instead for websites that can point in the right direction.
Homebound: Osaka to Tokyo
The return trip was long. Using the S18 ticket, the journey itself wasn’t hard but it was tedious having to change trains repeatedly. Nevertheless, being able to save about 12000 yen was great (~14,000 yen shinkansen ticket as comparison)