Kansai train networks guide. How to move between Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara and Wakayama. Make sure JR lines and non JR lines

Kobe Harborland © Kobe Convention & Visitors Association/© JNTO
Kobe Harborland © Kobe Convention & Visitors Association/© JNTO

As you probably have already known, the train system in Japan is very complicated. Especially in the major cities, there are lots of railways. You might not understand the difference between Japan Railways (JR), subways and private railways.

In Kansai area, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Himeji and Wakayama, many trains runs among these cities. You may be overwhelmed. But it is very important to understand the train system. This is a key to make a trip much more smoothly and save your trip time.

I would like to explain about JR lines and the private railway companies in Kansai area in this post. You may find which train line is the best for your trip.

Overview of train system in Kansai area

Please find the map below. It looks very complicated. I will explain you one by one.

Click to enlarge
Kansai train system map. Click to view large

I tried to make this map as simple as possible. But it still shows you many train lines. This map actually does not show all stations and all train lines. It shows you only major stations, major lines, transfer points and the station where is near popular sightseeing spot.

You have to pick one of those lines. It is complicated but I would like to explain you these train lines one by one.

JR trains

JR used to be Japanese National Railway. It has lines throughout Japan. In Kansai area, JR network has the biggest train network. I would like to show you only JR lines in Kansai area at the map below:

Click to enlarge.
JR conventional line shown in bold blue line and Shinkansen line shown in navy and white dotted line (click to view large)

You can catch JR train right after you arrive in Kansai airport. You can go almost anywhere in Kansai area, like Osaka (both Umeda and Namba), Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Wakayama and Himeji.

If you use JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass or other JR deal, try to use JR train as much as you can. JR has two kinds of railways, Shinkansen and conventional lines.

Conventional line’s trains in Kansai area

Special Rapid Service operated by JR West 223 series.
Special Rapid Service dominates Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe-Himeji transfer.

There are many train services on the conventional line network.

  • Limited Express, such as Haruka (Kansai airport – Shin Osaka – Kyoto)
  • Rapid
  • Local

Most of you take a rapid train service. This is a sort of commute train but it stops at major stations only. This train service offers you a high speed transfer among cities.

Especially if you want to move among Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Himeji, Special Rapid Service is the fastest and most convenient train service on the conventional line. The trip time for major segments are the following:

  • Osaka / Sannomiya (Kobe) — 22 minutes
  • Osaka / Kyoto — 28 minutes
  • Sannomiya / Kyoto — 50 minutes
  • Osaka / Himeji– 1 hour 10 minutes

Please see the link below to find more information about Special Rapid Service train:

JR Special Rapid Service train between Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and HImeji

There are many more rapid train services in Kansai area, such as Nara, Kansai airport and Wakayama. Please see the link below to get more information about rapid train services in Kansai area:

Kansai area JR rapid train network

The Shinkansen (a.k.a. Bullet Train)

Shinkansen is the high speed train service in Japan. Shinkansen stops at Maibara, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Nishiakashi and Himeji in Kansai area.
Shinkansen stops at Maibara, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Nishiakashi and Himeji in Kansai area.

Shinkansen is a high speed train service as you probably know. It is much faster than any trains on conventional lines. Shinkansen usually used for long distance transfer, such as Tokyo to Osaka.

What is Shinkansen?

But it can be used for short distance, like Shin-Osaka to Kyoto. It connects Shin-Osaka and Kyoto in 13 minutes, and Shin-Osaka to Shin-Kobe in 15 minutes. This is so fast. But if you leave from Umeda or other stations in Osaka, you may have to add some extra time to transfer at Shin-Osaka. Because Shin-Osaka is one station away from Osaka (Umeda). Let’s compare trip time for Osaka (Umeda) to Kyoto between Shinkansen and Special Rapid Service.

By Special Rapid Service
Osaka – 28 minutes – Kyoto
By Shinkansen
Osaka – 4 minutes – Shin Osaka (5 to 10 minutes for transfer) – 13 minutes – Kyoto

It may take 25 minutes even if you take high speed train, Shinkansen.
Shinkansen is not much faster than Special Rapid Service.

How about trip to Kobe by Shinkansen? In my opinion, it is not a good idea if you think about using Shinkansen from Osaka. It is same situation as trip to Kyoto. You have to move to Shin-Osaka to catch Shinkansen. And also Shin-Kobe station is one station away from Sannomiya by subway.

By Special Rapid Service
Osaka – 22 minutes – Sannomiya
By Shinkansen
Osaka – 4 minutes – Shin Osaka (5 to 10 minutes for transfer) – 15 minutes – Shin Kobe (5 to 10 minutes transfer) – 2 minutes – Sannomiya


View Downtown Kobe in a larger map

In this case, Shinkansen is slower than Special Rapid Service.

If you use JR pass, you can take Shinkansen for this short transfer because it is fully covered by JR pass. It is not worth taking Shinkansen for these short transfers by single fare.

Private Railways in Kansai area

There are many private company’s railways (=NON JR) in Kansai area. Actually these train companies offers more convenient train service than JR trains on many segments. I would like to show you all major company’s lines in Kansai area.

This map shows you only NON JR railways (private railway and subway). Click to enlarge.
This map shows you only NON JR railways (private railway and subway). Click to enlarge.

Kansai Thru Pass is very popular deal to travel in Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan and Wakayama. This pass covers these Non JR train services. If you make lots of trips by these private train services, you may use Kansai Thru Pass. Please see the link below to find more information about Kansai Thru Pass:

Kansai Thru Pass user guide

Hankyu Railway

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

Hankyu Railway runs Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Takarazuka.

In Osaka, Umeda is the terminal station. Umeda is same location as JR Osaka station. All trains depart from Umeda to all destinations. In Kyoto, you can reach Kawaramachi (near Gion) and Arashiyama. This train service takes you to Sannomiya in Kobe.

This map shows you Hankyu Railway and Osaka Subway Sakaisuji line. Click to enlarge.
Hankyu Railway and Osaka Subway Sakaisuji line shown in bold brown line (Click to view large)

There is no direct scheduled trains between Kyoto and Kobe. You have to change the trains at either Juso or Umeda. Juso is the junction of Kobe line, Kyoto line, and Takarazuka line. This station is only two stations away from Umeda. In the peak period, like spring cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons, the direct train service to Arashiyama from Umeda and/or sometimes from Kobe-Sannomiya are available. But you have to change the trains at Katsura usually when you go to Arashiyama by Hankyu Railway.

Hankyu Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, express, local. But an express supplement is not required for taking any trains, even limited express. It is same category as JR’s Special Rapid Service.

The trip times for major segments are the following:

  • Umeda / Sannomiya — 27 minutes
  • Umeda / Kawaramachi — 43 minutes
  • Umeda / Arashiyama — 45 minutes

I show you Osaka Subway Sakaisuji line in the map above. Because this subway train go through Hankyu Railway line. You may get Kyoto by direct service from many places in downtown Osaka.

Keihan Railway

Keihan Railway limited express has a by-level car in the train set.

Keihan Railway is another way to get Kyoto from Osaka.

At Osaka, Yodoyabashi and Nakanoshima are the terminal stations. But the primary station is Yodoyabashi. Most of express trains depart from Yodoyabashi. And this station is connected with Umeda and Namba by Osaka Subway Midousuji line.You can also take this railway at Kyobashi. You can transfer from JR Osaka Kanjo line at Kyobashi. In Kyoto, Gion-Shijo, Sanjo and Demachiyanagi are the terminal stations. Keihan Railway is most accessible way to visit Higashiyama area directly.

Keihan Railway also runs to Uji. You can transfer the trains at Chushojima.

The map shows only Keihan Railway. Click to enlarge.
Keihan Railway shown in bold green line (Click to view large)
Keihan 8000 series have nice accommodation too. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Keihan 8000 series have nice accommodation at no extra charge. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Keihan Railway operates many category of trains, such as limited express, express, semi-express, local. Limited express train has one by-level car in each train set. It also has “Premium car” in each train set. It has much bigger and more comfortable seat.

Seat layout is 2+1. It is 2+2 in other regular car.

Additional fare is 400 or 500 yen required to take a seat in Premium car. The fare is varied by the distance.

You can take all trains without any surcharge other than Premium car seat. This limited express train is same type of service as JR’s Special Rapid Service as well.

The trip time on major sections are the following:

  • Yodoyabashi / Gion-Shijo or Sanjo — 50 minutes
  • Kyobashi / Gion-Shijo or Sanjo — 45 minutes

Hanshin Railway

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 Railway connect Osaka and Kobe.

Hanshin has two terminals at two biggest downtown cores in Osaka, Umeda and Namba. At Kobe side, Kobe-Sannomiya and Motomachi are the primary stations.

Hanshin Railway and Sanyo Railway are shown in the map. Click to enlarge.
Hanshin Railway and Sanyo Railway shown in bold red line (Click to view large)

Hanshin Railway lines are very short but this railway connects with other railways at both end. In Kobe, Hanshin is connected with Sanyo Railway. Many express trains go through Himeji via Sanyo Railway. At the other side, Hanshin is connected with Kintetsu Railway at Osaka-Namba station. Many of trains go through Nara from Motomachi or Kobe-Sannomiya via Kintetsu Railway. This is only way to get Nara from Kobe directly. Major direct train services and trip time are the following:

  • Umeda / Sannomiya — 30 minutes
  • Osaka-Namba / Sannomiya — 45-50 minutes
  • Umeda – (Hanshin) – Motomachi – (Sanyo) – Himeji — 95 to 100 minutes
  • Nara – (Kintetsu) – Osaka-Namba – (Hanshin) – Motomachi — 80 minutes

Hanshin Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, express, local. But no extra charge is required to take any trains.

Nankai Railway

Nankai Railway Limited Express Koya
Nankai Railway Limited Express Koya


Nankai Railway is one of major ways to get Osaka from Kansai airport. It also takes you to Wakayama and Gokurakubashi that is the gateway to Koyasan (Mt. Koya).

Koyasan (Mt. Koya) access guide

Nankai Railway has a huge terminal station in Namba, Osaka. Most of trains depart and arrive at this station.

Nankai Railway shown in navy bold line (Click to view large)
Nankai Railway shown in bold navy line. (Click to view large)

Nankai Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, express, local. Express train surcharge is required to take limited express trains. The name of limited express train and the trip time for major segments are the following:

  • Limited Express “Southern” (Osaka-Namba / Wakayamashi) — 1 hour
  • Limited Express “Rapi:t” (Osaka-Namba / Kansai Airport) — 45 to 55 minutes
  • Limited Express “Koya” (Osaka-Namba / Gokurakubashi) — 80 minutes
  • Limited Express “Rinkan” (Osaka-Namba / Hashimoto) — 45 minutes

There are express trains and local trains if you want to avoid paying extra. Actually trip time is not so much different. It depends on the distance. In most of cases, you will spend 10 to 15 minutes extra. But interior is very different. Your seat is reserved if you take limited express and very comfortable. If you take express without surcharge, it is a commute train. You may not be able to get a seat.

*Only limited express “Southern” has two types of seats, limited express seat and commuter car seat. Commute car seat is same as other commute train. This is non reserved seat and express surcharge is not required to take this.

Kintetsu Railway

Kintetsu Railway has the biggest limited express train network in all private railway companies.

Kintetsu Railway operates a train service in the biggest private railway network in Japan. It connects Osaka, Nara, Yoshino, Kyoto, Nagoya and Ise.

In this post, I would like to tell you about Kintetsu Railway network in Kansai area only. If you want the information about trip to Ise / Shima area, please refer the post below:

Ise access guide

Kintetsu Railway only is shown in the map above. Click to enlarge.
Kintetsu Railway shown in bold orange line (Click to view large)

In Osaka, Kintetsu Railway has two terminal stations, such as Osaka-Namba and Osaka-Abenobashi. As I mentioned at the chapter of Hanshin Railway, Kintetsu Railway is connected with Hanshin Railway at Osaka-Namba. You can take direct train service between Kobe and Nara by Hanshin and Kintetsu. You may take Kintetsu Railway train at Tsuruhashi. You can change to JR Osaka Kanjo line at this station.

Kintetsu is also major way to get Nara from Kyoto. Kintetsu Kyoto station is same location as JR Kyoto station. You can transfer from JR and Kyoto subway at Kyoto station very easily. But Kintetsu Railway is connected to Kyoto subway at Takeda station. Some trains go through Kyoto subway Karasuma line.

You can use Kintetsu Railway for Osaka-Kyoto transfer. But it is a detour and there is no direct train services provided between Osaka and Kyoto by Kintetsu Railway. You have to change the trains at Yamato-Saidaiji. If you really want to use Kintetsu Railway, you can take this route. Otherwise it is wasting time and money.

Kintetsu Railway is only way to get Yoshino which is very popular to see cherry blossom. There is a direct train service from Osaka-Abenobashi. If you access to Yoshino from Kyoto, Nara, you have to transfer the trains at least once at Kashihara-Jingumae station.

Kintetsu Railway operates several kinds of trains, like limited express, rapid express, express, local. Express train surcharge is required to take limited express trains. Kintetsu Railway has a big limited express train network. But if you take Kintetsu Railway to get Nara from Osaka or Kyoto, you may not use limited express train because it is such a short ride. If you visit Yoshino, limited express may be your choice. The trip time for major segments are the following:

  • Osaka-Namba / Kintetsu Nara — 40 minutes
  • Kyoto / Kintetsu Nara — 45 minutes
  • Osaka-Abenobashi / Yoshino — 85 minutes (75 minutes by limited express)

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

You can find the train network map at the post, Guide to take trains in Osaka. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?

Arrival station in Kyoto

Which part of Kyoto do you want to go? JR Special Rapid Service train is the fastest way to get Kyoto.

JR Special Rapid / Osaka – Kyoto 28 minutes
Hankyu Railway Limited Express / Umeda – Kawaramachi 45 minutes
Keihan Railway Limited Express / Yodoyabashi – Gion-Shijo 50 minutes

But most tourist spots in Kyoto are away from JR Kyoto station. You have to take a bus or subway to get there, such as Kinkakuji temple, Kiyomizudera temple, Yasaka Jinja shrine. Only Arashiyama and Nijo castle is accessible by JR trains.

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 are looking for information about all trains in Kyoto, please refer the post below:

Kyoto train guide

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 JR but JR is faster.

If you will stay in Namba area, Hanshin Railway is the best choice.

You can find the train network map of Osaka in the post below:

Osaka train guide

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.

You can find the train network map of Kobe in the post below:

Kobe train guide

How to choose a train service between Kobe and Kyoto

Only JR Special Rapid Service offers you a direct train service. It is the fastest and maybe faster than even Shinkansen. But as I mentioned to you above, JR Kyoto station is away from most tourist spots. On the other hand, Hankyu Railway can take you to Kyoto from Kobe. Hankyu do not offer any scheduled train on this section. But Kawaramachi station is located near Gion and Higashiyama. JR and Hankyu’s trip time are the following.

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

Hankyu is slower. And you have to think about the location in Kyoto. If you stay around JR Kyoto station, JR is the best way. But if you stay in other area, such as Gion, you may spend another 15-20 minutes get JR Kyoto station. Hankyu may be better choice. If you go to Arashiyama in Kyoto, it is same story. Hankyu is better as well.

Assessment

There are many train services and it makes you confused. Please make sure the station where you want to depart from and arrive in before you go. And then, you can find which train you should take.

708 thoughts on “Kansai train networks guide. How to move between Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara and Wakayama. Make sure JR lines and non JR lines”

  1. Dear Takeshi san,
    I am very confused about travel from Kyoto to Osaka. Our hotel in Kyoto is the Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel: 509 Kamiosaka-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 604-0961 where we will travel with luggage to Osaka near Umeda Station or maybe Nankai Namba Station. What do you think is the easiest way to travel from Kyoto to Osaka considering those locations? Thank you for your help and guidance.

    1. Hi Sae san,

      There is no direct ways. You have to change trains once to either locations, Namba or Umeda. The route is the following:

      Sanjo (Keihan railway) Yodoyabashi (Osaka Metro Midosuji line) Umeda or Namba

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you for your reply Takeshi san! I am very grateful for your help!

        Option 1: Sanjo Station (Keihan line) > Yodoyabashi Station (local Midosuji Line) > Namba Station.
        Option 2: Taxi from the hotel to Kyoto Station (JR Special Rapid) > Umeda Station (local Midosuji Line) > Namba Station.

        Which option would Takeshi san suggest, with hand luggage from Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel?

        1. Hi Sae san,

          If you are okay with walking to Sanjo station, option 1 is better because changing trains at Yodoyabashi is easier than doing at Umeda. If you don’t walk, you can take option 2. You can decide after you will get there.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Thank you Takeshi san! I am so thankful for your responses! So helpful!

            One other question. Using Osaka as home base we are going to take day trips to Kobe and Nara and depart at Kansai Airport. Maybe itinerary below.

            Day 1: Osaka (Cross Hotel) > Kobe > Osaka (Cross Hotel)
            Day 2: Osaka (Cross Hotel) > Nara > Osaka (Cross Hotel)
            Day 3: Osaka (Cross Hotel) > Kansai Airport (KIX)

            What do you suggest for best type of thru pass or rail pass?

            1. Hi Sae,

              If you just visit Kobe and Nara, you may use a regular fare ticket for Nara (570 yen one way) and to Kansai (930 yen one way). And Hanshin Tourist Pass is your choice for Kobe.
              https://www.kansai360.net/m/en/ticket02.html

              If you intend to visit a few places in Osaka after the trip to Nara and Kobe, Kansai thru pass may be your choice:
              https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

              Cheers,

              Takeshi / JPRail.com

          2. Takeshi san,
            Can I use Suica Card from Sanjo Station to Yodoyabashi Station on Keihan Main Line (Limited Express) or do I need to buy separate limited express ticket?

            1. Hi Sae san,

              You can use Suica to take this train. But Keihan Railway limited express train has “Premium car”. If you book a seat on this car, you have to pay the seat fee separately. But most cars are non reserved and you can take it by Suica only.

              Cheers,

              Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi, Takeshi san,
    Please advise which train I should take to get to Kansai Airport as I will be staying either namba or shinsaibashi area. I must reach Kansai Airport before 5:40 am. TQ

    1. Hi Chee san,

      Please see the link below:
      https://www.howto-osaka.com/en/traffic/train/timetable.html

      Unfortunately there is no trains arriving before 5:40 am. The earliest one arrive there at 5:58 (5:55 on weekend). If you really need to be there before 5:40, you have to take a taxi to get Umeda and take a bus. Please see the link below:
      http://www.kate.co.jp/en/timetable/detail/UM

      Taxi fare is probably around 2,000 yen.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hello, Takeshi-san.

    Thank you for your help last time for my trip to Japan. I must admit the train network was kinda overwhelmed me when I first arrived, but once I got the hang of it, it’s not that complicated. Now, I already have another trip planned for July and I would like to ask for your advice again. This time my trip will be around Kansai area and Tokyo area only. Below is the itinerary:

    Day 1&2 Departure- Arrival at KIX- stay at hotel near Namba area (I stayed at this hotel last time, and it’s near 3 Namba stations i.e. JR Namba, Osaka-Namba, Namba station)

    Day 3: Day trip to Kinosaki Onsen

    Day 4: Trip to Nunobiki Falls, Mt. Rokko (Rokkosan Pasteur, Shidare Observatory), Arima onsen via Rokko-Arima ropeway, back to Motomachi/Sannomiya area then take night bus to Tokyo

    Day 5&6: Tokyo

    Day 7: Kamakura- Hiratsuka- go back to Shinjuku to take night bus to Osaka

    Day 8: Minoh Falls then half day trip to Kyoto (Uji, Daigoji Temple, Fushimi Sake district, Kawaramachi), back to hotel in Namba

    Day 9: Hirakata Park – Tenjinbashisuji – KIX by bus

    I decided to use bus to travel between Osaka-Tokyo vice versa cause I wanna save up on acommodation and from not having to buy JR Pass. And the reason why I arrange the trip like this is because I have some event to attend on day 6 in Tokyo and day 9 in Osaka.

    Passes I plan to buy:
    Day 2-4: Kansai Wide Area Pass + Rokkosan Tourist Pass for Mt. Rokko sightseeing
    Day 5-6: Tokyo Subway 48hr Pass
    Day 7: Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass
    Day 8: Hankyu Rail Pass & Kyoto Subway/Bus Pass
    Day 9: probably Osaka 1 day pass or Suica
    If some stations or areas not covered, I’m prepared to use Suica

    My question is does my choices of pass already correct? Or do you have any suggestion for cheaper transportation expenses? Also, for itinerary, is it better to go to Kobe first or Kyoto for day 4 while my Kansai Wide area pass still active?

    Looking forward to your reply. Cheers!

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