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.
- 1 Overview of train system in Kansai area
- 2 JR trains
- 3 Private Railways in Kansai area
- 4 How to choose the lines and trains to Kyoto from Osaka
- 5 How to choose the lines and trains to Kobe from Osaka
- 6 How to choose a train service between Kobe and Kyoto
- 7 Assessment
Overview of train system in Kansai area
Please find the map below. It looks very complicated. I will explain you one by one.
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 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:
Conventional line’s trains in Kansai area
There are many train services on the conventional line network.
- Limited Express, such as Haruka (Kansai airport – Shin Osaka – Kyoto)
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:
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:
The Shinkansen (a.k.a. Bullet Train)
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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).
Nankai Railway has a huge terminal station in Namba, Osaka. Most of trains depart and arrive at this station.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.