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How to transfer among Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Compare Japan Railway and private lines


Kobe Harborland © Kobe Convention & Visitors Association/© JNTO

Kobe Harborland © Kobe Convention & Visitors Association/© JNTO

I wrote about JR line in downtown Osaka on previous post. Now I would like to share the information about the transfer among Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Kyoto is “Must-See” spot in Japan. And some of you think about Osaka and Kobe too. Kyoto is only 30 minutes away from Osaka by Special Rapid train on JR line. Kobe is closer than Kyoto from Osaka. It is only 20 minutes from Osaka. But JR line and several private railway lines run side by side. Sometimes these railway systems confuse you. I will explain about this railway system later on this post. Anyway if you want to buy a single ticket or save your Japan Rail Pass while you stay in Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe, you have a choice.

I would like to explain about JR line and private railway companies on this post. You may find how to choose the railways among Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.


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Private Railways in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe


View Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe in a larger map

The above map shows you all railway lines among Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. I would like to explain about each private lines. Hankyu Railway and Hanshin Railway depart from Umeda in Osaka. As you probably know, Umeda station is same place as JR Osaka station. Please learn more about Osaka at the post, How to use Japan Rail Pass in downtown Osaka.

9300 series is mainly used for limited express on Kyoto line.

9300 series is mainly used for limited express on Kyoto line.

Hankyu Railway (阪急電鉄)

Hankyu Railway connect Osaka with Kyoto, Kobe and Takarazuka (宝塚). The trains depart from Umeda (梅田) in Osaka and take you to Kawaramachi (河原町), Karasuma (烏丸), Omiya (大宮) and Arashiyama (嵐山) in Kyoto, and Sannomiya (三宮) in Kobe. Even though you need to change the train at Katsura () where is the junction of to Kawaramachia and to Arashiyama, this line is most convenient way to get Arashiyama.

Route map of Hankyu Railway official website.

If you want to use this line from Kyoto to Kobe, you need to change the train because they don’t have any scheduled direct train from Kyoto to Kobe. You need to change the train at Juso (十三) or Umeda. Juso is the junction of Kobe line, Kyoto line, and Takarazuka line. This station is only two stations away from Umeda. But the direct trains from Umeda, Sannnomiya and Takarazuka to Arashiyama are operated in Spring cherry blossom and Autumn color leaves peak season.

Hankyu Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, express, local. But you don’t need to pay any surcharge to take any trains on Hankyu. Even Limited Express is same types of service as Special Rapid Service on Japan Railway. The time required and the fare on major sections are the following:

  • Umeda / Sannomiya — 27 minutes / 310 yen
  • Umeda / Kawaramachi — 43 minutes / 390 yen
  • Umeda / Arashiyama — 45 minutes / 390 yen
This 9000 series and most of Hanshin Railway's train equip a bench seat only.

This 9000 series and most of Hanshin Railway's train equip a bench seat only.

Hanshin Electric Railway (阪神電鉄)

Hanshin Electric Railway connect Osaka with Kobe. But Hanshin have two terminals at two biggest downtown core in Osaka, Umeda and Namba (難波), and take you to Sannomiya and Motomachi (元町) in Kobe. And also Hanshin Railway line is connected with Kobe Kosoku Railway line (神戸高速鉄道) and Sanyo Electric Railway line (山陽電鉄) at Motomachi in Kobe, and Kintetsu Railway line (近鉄) at Namba in Osaka. Some of the trains go through Akashi and Himeji via Kobe Kosoku Railway line and Sanyo Electric Railway line, and Nara via Kintetsu Railway Nara line. Major direct train services are the following:

  • Umeda – Sannomiya – Motomachi – Akashi – Himeji
  • Nara – Namba – Amagasaki – Sannomiya – Motomachi

The direct train service on the different lines is not very rare in Japan. But this kind of train network confuses the travellers. Anyway please see the following link about Hanshin Railway network.

Route map of Hanshin Electric Railway official website

Hanshin Electric Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, express, local. But you don’t need to pay any surcharge to take any trains on Hankyu. Even Limited Express is same types of service as Special Rapid Service on Japan Railway. The time required and the fare on major sections are the following:

  • Umeda / Sannomiya — 31 minutes / 310 yen
  • Namba / Sannomiya — 47 minutes / 400 yen
Keihan 8000 series have one double deck can in the formation. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Keihan 8000 series have one double deck can in the formation. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Keihan Railway (京阪電鉄)

This line starts from Yodoyabashi (淀屋橋) and Nakanoshima (中ノ島) in downtown Osaka to Gion-Shijo (祇園四条) and Sanjo (三条) in Kyoto via Kyobashi (京橋). If you want to go to Higashiyama area in Kyoto (Kiyomizudera temple, Yasaka Jinja shrine, Philosopher’s Walk), most of the spots are on the route of Keihan Railway.

Route map of Keihan Railway official website (PDF)

And also Keihan Railway’s limited express train is operated by double decker passenger’s car. You can take this express train and any other trains without any surcharge. This limited express train is same service as Special Rapid Service on Japan Railway as well. The time required and the fare on major sections are the following:

Keihan 8000 series have nice accommodation too. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Keihan 8000 series have nice accommodation too. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

  • Yodoyabashi / Gion-Shijo or Sanjo — 50 minutes / 400 yen
  • Kyobashi / Gion-Shijo or Sanjo — 43 minutes / 400 yen

Japan Railway

If you use Japan Rail Pass or JR West Rail Pass, of course, try to use Japan Railway line as much as you can. You may use these following trains.

Special Rapid Service

This rapid service gives you same type of service as other private company’s limited express service. Most of this train services are operated between Yasu and Himeji via Kyoto, Osaka and Sannomiya. Especially if you need a fast direct transfer to Kyoto from Kobe, this service is the fastest. The time required and the fare on major sections are the following:

  • Osaka / Sannomiya — 22 minutes / 390 yen
  • Osaka / Kyoto — 28 minutes / 540 yen
  • Sannomiya / Kyoto — 50 minutes / 1050 yen
  • Osaka / Arashiyama — 50-55 minutes / 950 yen

If you need more information about Special Rapid Service, please refer this post, Special Rapid Service.


View Downtown Kobe in a larger map

Shinkansen

You may think about taking Shinkansen. It connects Shin-Osaka with Kyoto in 13 minutes and Shin-Osaka with Shin-Kobe in 15 minutes. Yes, this is so fast. But Shin-Osaka is one station away from Osaka (Umeda). So you need to spend 5 minutes to get Shin-Osaka from Osaka by local train. And you spend another 10 to 15 minutes to change the train. So it may be slower than Special Rapid Service. Shin-Kobe is not located in downtown Kobe. It is one station away from Sannomiya by Kobe city subway. It takes two minutes from Sannomiya to Shin-Kobe and costs 200 yen. It is same story as Osaka-Kyoto transfer. You may spend 10 minutes to change the train at Shin-Kobe and another time for transfer from Osaka to Shin-Osaka. I cannot find any reason take Shinkansen from Osaka to Kobe.
If you need transfer from Kobe to Kyoto, Shinkansen may be considerable. The direct service between Kyoto and Shin-Kobe is not operated very often. But if you can find it, it takes 30 minutes to get Shin-Kobe from Kyoto. You spend 10 to 15 minutes to get a subway in Kobe. It is still 10 minutes faster than Special Rapid Service.


View Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe in a larger map

How to choose the lines and trains to Kyoto from Osaka

Departure station in Osaka

Where are you going to stay in Osaka? If you will stay in Umeda area, Hankyu and Japan Railway may be your choice. If you stay near Yodoyabashi, Tenmabashi or Kyobashi, Keihan is more accessible. If you stay in Namba or other location in Osaka, you need to take subway line or JR Osaka loop line anyway. Think about arrival station in Kyoto.


View Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe in a larger map

Arrival station in Kyoto

Which part of Kyoto do you want to go? Japan Railway is the fastest way to get Kyoto.

Japan Railway Osaka – Kyoto 28 minutes
Hankyu Umeda – Kawaramachi 43 minutes
Keihan Yodoyamabashi – Gion-Shijo 50 minutes

But Kyoto station is not tourist friendly location. You need to take a bus or subway to get most of popular spots, like Kinkakuji temple, Kiyomizudera temple, Yasaka Jinja shrine. Only Arashiyama and Nijo castle is accessible by Japan Railway. Please read the post, How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto. If you are not Japan Rail Pass user, do not take Japan Railway.
If you want to go to Higashiyama or Gion, such as Kiyomizudera temple, Yasaka Jinja shrine, Philosopher’s Walk, Hankyu Railway and Keihan Railway are more convenient than Japan Railway. If you want to go to Arashiayama, you can use Japan Railway. But Hankyu Railway is faster and cheaper.

If you are looking for information about all trains in Kyoto, please refer the post, Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?.

How to choose the lines and trains to Kobe from Osaka

Departure station in Osaka

You have two options, Umeda/JR Osaka or Namba. If you stay around Umeda area, you can choose from Japan Railway, Hankyu or Hanshin. Hankyu and Hanshin are cheaper than Japan Railway. But Japan Railway is the fastest.
If you will stay in Namba area, Hanshin is only and the best choice

Arrival station in Kobe

Which part of Kobe do you want to go? You can go anywhere in Kobe by Japan Railway and Hanshin Electric Railway. Most of trains of Hankyu Railway go to Sannomiya only. If you are looking for the transfer to other area in Kobe, think about JR or Hanshin.
But Kobe is smaller than Kyoto. So it is not much different among JR, Hanshin and Hankyu.

How to choose the lines and trains between Kobe and Kyoto

Only Japan Railway’s Special Rapid Service give you direct transfer. It is the fastest and maybe faster than even Shinkansen. But as I mentioned to you above, JR Kyoto station is not good location for the tourists. On the other hand, Hankyu Railway can take you to Kyoto from Kobe. They don’t have any scheduled train on this section. But Kawaramachi station is located near Gion and Higashiyama. Let’s compare JR and Hankyu.

Sannomiya / JR Kyoto — 50 minutes / 1050 yen
Sannomiya / Hankyu Kawaramachi — 65 minutes (change the trains at Juso) / 600 yen

Hankyu is slower, but cheaper. And also we need to think about the location in Kyoto. If you take JR, you need to take a bus or subway to get Gion. You may spend another 15-20 minutes get there from JR Kyoto station. So if you want to go to Gion Higashiyama area, Hankyu is better choice. If you go to Arashiyama in Kyoto, it is same story. Hankyu is better as well.

I show you how to choose discount ticket and pass in this post. If you need more info, please refer that.


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150 Comments to “How to transfer among Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Compare Japan Railway and private lines”

  1. Greg says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    We (4 of us) will be arriving through a Cruiseship at Kobe on April 21, 2014. We have a hotel reservation at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel in Uehonmachi 5430001 Osaka.

    1) What kind of transportation will we take. How much will it cost.

    2) What is the distance.

    Your prompt answer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Greg

  2. Nick says:

    Greetings Takeshi,

    It is my first time with my wife to tour Japan for few days due to leave constraint.
    Can you advise me the best way to get from the SWISSOTEL HOTEL in Osaka to Kansai Airport and is the Swissotel centrally located.
    How early should I leave the hotel in Osaka for a flight departing from Kansai at 1400 Hrs.

    Many thanks Takeshi

    Nick

  3. Andrea says:

    Dear Takeshi,

    thank you for this very useful and detailed guide.

    I’m planning to go to Japan in May for 2 weeks and I start to have some doubts if it’s worthy to get a rail pass.

    The plan is as it follows:

    Arrive at Haneda Airport > Tokyo ( with suica car/monorail )

    Stay in Tokyo 2 days and move to Kyoto ( rail pass)

    I will spend 6 days in Kyoto.
    during these 6 days I’d like to have 1 day trip to:
    Nara
    Kobe
    and maybe mt.Koya.
    after Kyoto, I’ll move back to Tokyo and surroundings for 6 days (using the Suica card)

    is it worthy to get a rail pass?

    Also what would be the best route to get to Kobe and mt.Koya from Kyoto with a rail pass?

    I still have a lot to read and planning to do for this trip and your input would definetely be a great help!

    Many Thanks!

    Andrea.

  4. Sean says:

    Dear Takeshi,

    this is my first time to Osaka Kyoto with my parent . We are all first timers to Japan.
    I will very much appreciate it if you can advise what kind of pass we should use in order to have some savings on transportation, also a more efficient line to use to save time.
    Please let me know if my planning route can be improved further .

    Day 1 reach Kansai airport at 10pm , stay at airport hotel.

    Day 2 Kyoto ( kiyomizu-dera, ninenzake, Yasaka jinks, Gio, shijo kawaramachi, Kyoto tower) overnight at Kyoto

    Day 3 Kyoto (Arashiyama, kinkoku ji, ginkoku ji, Kyoto imperial park)
    Overnight at Kyoto

    Day 4 Kyoto (Fushima Inary Taisha, sanjusangen do, nijo castle)overnight at Kyoto

    Day 5 Osaka ( osaka castle , shinsaibashi, osaka aquarium) overnight at Osaka

    Day 6 Nara ( Nara koen, kofuku Ji,Todai ji) overnight at osaka

    Day 7 Shirahama,wakayama overnight at Shirahama cho

    Day 8 Osaka (Dotonbori, Houzenji) overnight at Osaka

    Day 9 Osaka ( Rinku Premium outlet , Kansai intl airport ) leaving Osaka 10pm

    Thank you in advance .

    Cheers,
    Sean

  5. Maria Teresa says:

    Hi there;
    I am really confused about all this and will really need your expert advice.
    I am going to Tokyo and Kyoto next August.
    I will stay in Tokyo for 6 days and in Kyoto 4. I intend to travel by train from the airport in Tokyo (Narita) and from Tolyo to Kyoto. I will also use the train to go to Osaka airport on the last day of teh trip.
    I still do not know whether the train is the best option or if I have to buy the Japan Rail Pass (JRP).
    Is it better by train or bus?
    Is is wothwhile to buy the JRP or single “regular” tickets?
    Does the JRP includes subways and other metropolitan means of transportation or do I have to buy day tickets for those? (city buese, trams and subway)
    Is there something like a “Sightseing bus”? How much is it?
    Thank you for your expert advice

  6. Yaniz says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    What is the best option and quickest way to get from KIX airport to Osaka central then to Kyoto central for 3 people?

    Thank you!
    Yaniz

  7. Chong says:

    Dear Takeshi,

    It is my first time visiting Japan end of this month.
    Sorry to say that I am really confusing on the numerous lines (different type of trains) and pass (sight visit, one day etc), and the travelling date is getting nearer and nearer.

    Hence, really appreciate if you could advise me further on the transport matters. If possible, anymore tourist spot along the itinerary.
    My itinerary as follow:

    1-Feb-14 (Sat) Reach KIX at 22.05 –> Night at Airport?

    2-Feb-14 (Sun) Kyoto (Nijo Castle; Kyoto Imperial Palace; Kiyomizudera; Otowa Waterfall –> Night at Kyoto.

    3-Feb-14 (Mon) Kyoto (Arashiyama, Tenryuji, Kinkakuji Temple; Saga-Toriimoto preserved Street, Gion, Otagi Nenbutsuji –> Night at Kyoto.

    4-Feb-14 (Tue) Osaka (Osaka Castle, Minami (Namba), Dotonbori, Amerikamura –> Night at Osaka.

    5-Feb-14 (Wed) Kobe (Arima Onsen; Mount Rokko; Kobe Harbourland, Sakae Museum –> Night at Kobe.

    6-Feb-14 (Thurs) Kobe / Osaka (Nankinmachi (Kobe Chinatown) –> Night at Osaka

    7-Feb-14 (Fri) Nagoya (Toyota; Nagoya Castle; Sciece Museum; Osu Kannon Temple; Nagoya TV Tower; Nagoya Port Area) –> Night at Osaka

    8-Feb-14 (Sat) Nara / Osaka (Todaji Temple; Nara Deer Park; Kasuga Grand Shrine; Nara Nagomikan –> Back to KIX Airport leaving at 23.35

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Chong,

      I put my comment for your itinerary below:

      1-Feb-14 (Sat) Reach KIX at 22.05 –> Night at Airport?
      > That’s better. You can get Osaka but can’t get Kyoto on arrival day anyway.

      2-Feb-14 (Sun) Kyoto (Nijo Castle; Kyoto Imperial Palace; Kiyomizudera; Otowa Waterfall –> Night at Kyoto.
      >Use ICOCA and Haruka round trip ticket from KIX to Kyoto.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/icoca-and-haruka-ticket-very-flexible-and-good-deal-for-tourist-who-stay-in-kansai.html
      Save ICOCA e-money for transfer from Kyoto to Kobe and Kobe to Osaka.
      Use Kyoto sightseeing card or all day bus pass for Kyoto sightseeing.
      http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/access/transport.html

      3-Feb-14 (Mon) Kyoto (Arashiyama, Tenryuji, Kinkakuji Temple; Saga-Toriimoto preserved Street, Gion, Otagi Nenbutsuji –> Night at Kyoto.
      >Same as above

      4-Feb-14 (Tue) Osaka (Osaka Castle, Minami (Namba), Dotonbori, Amerikamura –> Night at Osaka.
      >Use ICOCA to get Osaka. If you want, you can use ICOCA for taking subway in Osaka.

      5-Feb-14 (Wed) Kobe (Arima Onsen; Mount Rokko; Kobe Harbourland, Sakae Museum –> Night at Kobe.
      >Use ICOCA or pay simply single fare. ICOCA is issued by JR but you can use to take most of train trips in Kansai area. You can use ICOCA for this day’s trip. You can deposit some more fund into ICOCA at most of JR stations.

      6-Feb-14 (Thurs) Kobe / Osaka (Nankinmachi (Kobe Chinatown) –> Night at Osaka
      >Use ICOCA

      7-Feb-14 (Fri) Nagoya (Toyota; Nagoya Castle; Sciece Museum; Osu Kannon Temple; Nagoya TV Tower; Nagoya Port Area) –> Night at Osaka
      >If you stay around Namba area, Kintetsu pass is the best and the cheapest choice.
      http://www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/useful/ticket/rpw1-3.html
      You can take limited express train to get Nagoya. This ticket can be purchased at Kansai Airport only in Japan. Don’t forget to purchase it before leaving airport.
      http://www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/useful/ticket/rpw1-1.html#2

      8-Feb-14 (Sat) Nara / Osaka (Todaji Temple; Nara Deer Park; Kasuga Grand Shrine; Nara Nagomikan –> Back to KIX Airport leaving at 23.35
      Kintetsu rail pass can be used for getting Nara and back to Namba. Once you get Namba, move to JR Namba station. You can get Limited Express Haruka at Tennoji to KIX.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JP Rail

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