Buses are a good choice for getting to those areas of Kyoto that are not easily accessible by train or subway. There are also some discount bus passes that can make bus transportation costs very economical.
Boarding and Payment
- In Kyoto, buses are boarded from the rear and exited from the front.
- Payment is also made at the front, into a machine by the driver’s seat.
- You should pay with the exact fare. If you don’t have the exact fare, there is a change machine beneath the payment slot that can break down coins and 1000 yen notes.
- Within the city there is a flat fare zone, where adults only have to pay 230 yen and children under 12 years old pay 120 yen.
- Outside of the flat fare zone, you will have to pay extra. Take a numbered ticket when you enter the bus and the screen at the front of the bus will show your number and fare.
- Rechargeable IC cards such as SUICA, ICOCA and PITAPA can be used on all Kyoto City and Kyoto Buses. Outside the flat fare zone you should touch your card to an IC card reader when you enter the bus and again on your way out.
- Kyoto City has a detailed explanation of how to use buses in Kyoto with diagrams and pictures on their transport webpage.
There are various bus companies operating in Kyoto but the two main ones are Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus. In general Kyoto City Bus operates within the central city area, and Kyoto Bus serves the more outlying areas.
Kyoto City buses are uniformly green and easily recognized.
Kyoto buses are cream colored with red trimming. Kyoto Bus services departing from Kyoto Station serve areas such as Arashiyama and Sagano, Ohara and Mount Hiei. Many of these buses go outside the city’s flat fare zone.
There is also a Raku Bus sightseeing service that charges the same flat fare of 230 yen. These brightly colored buses are meant specifically for tourists, so they only stop at sightseeing locations. Announcements are made in English and other languages as well as in Japanese. There are three Raku Bus services:
Raku Bus 100
Raku Bus 100 departs from Kyoto Station every 10 minutes between 7:40 and 17:00. It follows the following route:
Kyoto Station – National Museum & Sanjusangendo Temple – Kiyomizudera Temple – Gion – Heian-jingu Shrine – Ginkakuji Temple
Raku Bus 101
Raku Bus 101 departs from Kyoto Station every 15 minutes between 8:00 and 16.30. It follows the following route:
Kyoto Station – Nijo-jo Castle – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – Kinkakuji Temple – Daitokuji Temple – Kitaoji Bus Terminal
Raku Bus 102
Raku Bus 102 departs from the Ginkakuji-michi Bus Stop every 30 minutes between 8:04 and 16:34. It follows the following route:
Ginkakuji Temple – Kyoto Imperial Palace – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – Kinkakuji Temple – Daitokuji Temple – Kitaoji Bus Terminal
There are a number of discount passes available that can dramatically reduce your transportation costs. You can get bus passes at the Kyoto Bus Information Center outside the north exit of Kyoto Station.
The Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass is 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. This gives you one day’s unlimited travel on Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus routes within the flat fare zone.
The Kyoto Sightseeing Pass – This covers all Kyoto City buses, all Kyoto Municipal Subway trains and most buses run by the Kyoto Bus company. There is a one day pass for 1200 yen or 600 yen for children and a two day pass for 2000 yen or 1000 yen for children.
The Traffica Kyoto Card is a prepaid card you can buy for 1000 yen for children and 3000 yen for adults. It gives a 10% discount when riding Kyoto City Buses and the Kyoto Municipal Subway. This is available from Kyoto City Bus and Subway vending machines and ticket offices.
Visitors from overseas can also get a Kansai Thru Pass (also called the Surutto Kansai Pass) for two or three days. This covers not only Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus services but also the Kyoto Municipal Subway Line, and many of the private railway and bus companies in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara and Shiga. This pass cannot be used on JR Railways however. Visit the Kansai Thru Pass website to find out more.
If you are only in Kyoto for one day, you can use a bus pass to do a whirlwind circuit of the major sites in northern Kyoto such as Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), and Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) before heading south to take in the scenic Higashiyama district and Kiyomizudera Temple. To travel between Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji use Kyoto City Bus 204. To travel between Ginkakuji and Kiyomizudera use Kyoto City Bus 100. Use the Kyoto City Bus Travel Map to plan your routes.
North West Kyoto
Take Kyoto City Bus 205 from Kyoto Station and get off at the Kinkakuji-mae bus stop. From here Kinkakuji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, and the Myoshinji Temple complex are all within striking distance.
North East Kyoto
Take Kyoto City Bus 5 or 17 from Kyoto Station for Ginkakuji-michi bus stop. From here you can visit Ginkakuji Temple, followed by a stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk to Honenin Temple. If you like walking you can continue south from here for another 20 minutes to Eikando Temple and Nanzenji Temple. Be sure to take Kyoto City Bus 5 from Kyoto Station, and not Kyoto City Bus 南5 as the character 南 means “south” and so it goes in completely the opposite direction!
Ohara is a scenic rural village to the north of Kyoto which is only accessible by car or bus. Despite its isolation, it has many temples of historical importance and the temple of Sanzenin is particularly famous for the beauty of its gardens. Take Kyoto Bus 17 or 18 from Kyoto Station. The trip will take about 1 hour.
For other sightseeing locations download PDFs of the official Kyoto City Bus Travel Map and the Guide which has sightseeing tips, information on how to board and pay your fare, and all the numbered bus routes for the key locations. The flat fare zone is marked on the map with a red line.
Buses are a relatively cheap way to get around, but they can be time consuming, especially if traffic is heavy. If you are in a group of two or more people, you might find it worth your while sharing the cost of a taxi. Alternatively, if you are in good health, you might want to consider renting a bicycle instead.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.