While planes and highway buses only service major cities in Japan, trains keep the country connected, even in the most inaka locations. Traveling by train can oftentimes be the most convenient and flexible, particularly if you have decided to go somewhere last minute.
Trains are generally more expensive for trips out of Shikoku. Tokkyuu (express) tickets can be purchased from vending machines or at the ticket window of any large train station. Note that you will need two tickets, a joushaken (乗車券) and a tokkyuuken (特急券) to board express trains. One covers the basic fare, and the other covers the extra charge for riding an “express” train. There are also two types of tickets, reserved (指定席) and non-reserved (自由席) seats. Each car is labeled with the appropriate kanji, so be sure to check when you get on the train.
There is no shinkansen in Shikoku, but you can connect to it in Okayama. The Limited Express goes all the way from Uwajima through Matsuyama and Imabari, and on to Okayama. You can purchase shinkansen tickets at JR stations where limited express trains stop.
The best place to go for train schedules is Hyperdia.com. The advanced search options let you choose your prefered method of transportation, transfer points, and arrival times. The site is both in English and Japanese.
Estimated Travel Times and Prices
Just to give you an idea of how much it might cost to travel across Japan via trains, we’ve put together some estimated intineraries from Matsuyama to some of Japan’s major cities. Keep in mind that these may not be wholly accurate so it’s best to check them yourself on Hyperdia. These also assume you are taking express and shinkansen Nozomi trains without any special discounts.
- To Kochi City – 9,230 yen unreserved, 260 mins (1 transfer)
- To Takamatsu – 5,670 yen unreserved, 149 mins
- To Okayama – 6,310 yen unreserved, 165 mins
- To Shin-Osaka – 10,410 yen unreserved, 232 mins (1 transfer)
- To Tokyo – 19,260 yen unreserved, 387 mins (1 transfer)
Seishun 18 Ticket (青春１８きっぷ)
One of Japan’s best kept secrets is the Seishun 18 Ticket. While it literally translates into “Youth 18” these tickets can be purchased by anyone regardless of age or occupation. The Seishun 18 ticket isn’t the most time-efficient, but if you have time to spare it is the cheapest way to travel.
The Seishun 18 ticket costs only 11,850 yen and allows you unlimited travel on local (普通), rapid (快速), or super-rapid (新快速) trains for up to 5 days (it is not valid on express or shinkansen trains). The ticket is actually five one-day passes condensed onto a single piece of ticket stock. When using the ticket for the first time, the passenger presents it at the manned ticket gate, and the employee on hand stamps the ticket, making it valid on every non-express JR train until midnight. After midnight, the ticket becomes invalid unless it is stamped again. The ticket has spaces for five stamps, after which it is invalid.
The ticket can be used for 5 days by one person or split between several people. For example, if two people use the ticket for a day, it will take up two stamps. The days do not have to be consecutive, but must fall within a special time frame.
The Seishun 18 ticket is only available 3 times a year during Japan’s school holidays.
- Spring break (March 1st – April 10th) on sale Feb 20th – March 31st
- Summer break (July 20th – Sept 10th) on sale July 1st – Aug 31st
- Winter break (Dec 10th – Jan 10th) on sale Dec 1st – Dec 31st
For more information on planning your trip via Seishun 18, see Japan Guide.