If you are traveling to Osaka from Kyoto, the fastest, most efficient and cheapest way is by rail. There are bus services that can take you there, but they simply cannot compete in terms of time, comfort and cost. The real question is, which rail service should you use?
There are a number of options, and the one you choose will depend on your location in Kyoto and your ultimate destination in Osaka. Osaka is a huge city with many stations, so you will need to decide which station is most convenient for you. Let’s look at the main rail services between Kyoto and Osaka first, and then at some of Osaka’s key destinations and how best to reach them.
Rail Services between Kyoto and Osaka
Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station
Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station
The high speed shinkansen service (also called the bullet train) will get you from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station in 12 minutes for 1420 yen. This is the fastest and most comfortable route into Osaka, and might be worthwhile if you have a Japan Rail Pass to cover the cost. If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, you can take the Special Rapid Service on the JR Kyoto Line (see below) instead. This will get you to Shin-Osaka Station in 23 minutes for 560 yen. Also, if you want to travel on to Osaka Station, it is better to take the cheaper JR Kyoto Line. If you take the shinkansen to get to Osaka Station you will still have to transfer at Shin-Osaka Station. As a result the travel time to Osaka Station on the cheaper JR Kyoto Line is almost the same as that for the shinkansen.
The JR Kyoto Line for Osaka Station
Osaka Station is best served by the Special Rapid service on the JR Kyoto Line. The Special Rapid Train will get you to Osaka Station in 28 minutes for 560 yen. Trains depart from platforms 4 and 5 at Kyoto Station.
The Keihan Main Line for Yodoyabashi Station
Yodoyabashi Station is best served by the Limited Express service on the private Keihan Main Line. If you are traveling to Osaka from central Kyoto this might be a good option. For example, you can get to Yodoyabashi Station from Sanjo Station in central Kyoto in 55 minutes for 410 yen.
The Hankyu Line for Osaka-Umeda Station
If you are traveling from central Kyoto, you might consider taking a Limited Express train on the private Hankyu Line to Osaka-Umeda Station. You can board trains at Kyoto-Kawaramachi or Karasuma Stations. This will get you to Osaka-Umeda Station (right beside Osaka Station) in around 40 minutes and cost you only 400 yen.
To get the big picture of Osaka city and its many attractions you can download a free PDF map of the entire city from the Osaka Info website. Below are the locations you are most likely to visit with information about how to reach them from Kyoto.
Shin-Osaka Station is an important transportation hub in the Osaka metropolitan area. Here you can connect with the Subway Midosuji Line, which is the main line running north to south of the Osaka city subway network. It is also the terminus of two high-speed shinkansen lines, the Tokaido Shinkansen line from Tokyo, and the Sanyo Shinkansen line from Fukuoka in Kyushu. To reach Shin-Osaka Station from Kyoto Station you can use the high speed shinkansen or the Special rapid service on the Kyoto Line. You can download a bilingual map for Shin-Osaka Station at the JR West website.
Umeda and Osaka Station
The Umeda area is Osaka’s most popular shopping district. Here you can find the Hankyu, Daimaru, Hanshin and Isetan department stores. Other popular attractions and shopping areas in Umeda are the Umeda Sky Building, HEP Five, and Grand Front Osaka. You can find maps for the Umeda area at the Umeda Connect website and at the Osaka Info website.
Popular Hotels near Osaka Station
The Umeda area is served by two main stations which are very closely situated: Osaka Station and Osaka-Umeda Station. To reach Osaka Station from Kyoto Station use the Special Rapid service on the JR Kyoto Line. To reach Osaka-Umeda Station take the Hankyu Line from Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station or Karasuma Station in central Kyoto. You can download a bilingual map for Osaka Station at the JR West website. Hanshin Electric Railway also has a downloadable map for Osaka-Umeda Station.
Osaka Station & Osaka-Umeda Station together form a major transportation hub in Osaka city. At Osaka Station you can transfer to the Takarazuka Line for northern Kyoto prefecture and the Osaka Loop Line. At Osaka-Umeda Station you can transfer to the Hankyu, Hanshin and Subway Midosuji lines. Three other stations are also nearby: Higashi-Umeda Station, Nishi-Umeda Station and Kitashinchi Station. Effectively these five stations form one big station complex.
Yodoyabashi is the closest station to Osaka City Hall. Here you can transfer to the Subway Midosuji Line which connects to Osaka’s major commercial and entertainment districts of Umeda and Namba. To reach Yodoyabashi Station from Kyoto take the Keihan Main Line. You can download an English map of Yodoyabashi Station at the Keihan Railways website.
Shinsaibashi is a popular shopping area in Osaka. It is famous for the Shinsaibashi-Suji, a covered shopping arcade which has many tailors, brand shops and boutiques selling clothing and jewelry of all kinds. Nearby is Amerika-Mura (also called Ame-mura) a local center of youth culture with stores selling second-hand clothes, records and imported goods. Use the official Shinsaibashi and America-mura websites to find out more about this area. To get to Shinsaibashi Station, take the Subway Midosuji Line. You can transfer to the Midosuji Line at Shin-Osaka, Umeda and Yodoyabashi Stations.
Namba & Nipponbashi
The Namba area is a major shopping and entertainment district in the Minami (or “South”) area of Osaka. Famous sites here include the Glico running man image and the Kani Doraku crab image by the Dotonbori canal. Attractions include the leafy Namba Parks shopping mall, the Shin-Kabukiza Theater, and Hozen-ji Temple. Close by Hozen-ji Temple is Hozen-ji Yokocho, a celebrated stone flagged alleyway full of bars, cafes and eateries.
Nearby Nipponbashi is known for the Kuromon Ichiba, a lively marketplace, for “Den-Den Town” known for its electrical appliance stores, and for the National Bunraku Puppet Theater. You can download a map of the entire Minami area (including Namba, Nipponbashi and Shinsaibashi) from the Osaka Info website.
Namba is served by a number of rail lines and stations. However, if you are traveling from Kyoto, the easiest route is to take the Subway Midosuji Line to Namba Station. You can transfer to the Midosuji Line at Shin-Osaka, Umeda and Yodoyabashi Stations.
It is possible to travel from Kintetsu Kyoto Station to Osaka Namba Station. However, at 1450 yen for a journey that takes over 60 minutes this route is very expensive and not recommended. Traveling by the JR and Midosuji lines will get you to Namba Station in just 46 minutes for 800 yen, so this is obviously a better route.
The main attraction in the Tennoji area is Shitennoji Temple, which dates from 593 and is Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple. Tennoji Park, Tennoji Zoo and Osaka Municipal Museum of Fine Art are also nearby. You can download a free map of the Tennoji area from the Osaka Info website. To get to Tennoji Station, take the Subway Midosuji Line from Shin-Osaka, Umeda or Yodoyabashi Stations.
Though Osaka Castle was originally built in 1583, the main castle tower was destroyed by fire and the modern building is a 1931 reconstruction. Inside the castle a museum guides you through Osaka’s medieval past and there are superb views from the top of the castle. The park surrounding the castle is a popular recreation spot and especially so in the cherry blossom season.
There are two routes to Osaka Castle if you are coming from Kyoto. If you are coming by JR or Hankyu lines, transfer to the Osaka Loop Line at Osaka Station. This will take you to Osakajokoen Station in 9 minutes for a fare of 160 yen. If you are coming by the Keihan Main Line, transfer to the Subway Midosuji Line at Yodoyabashi. Take the Midosuji to Honmachi Station then change to the Chuo Line and get off at Tanimachi-yonchome Station. The fare is 180 yen for a 9 minute ride.
You can download a free map of the Osaka Castle area at the Osaka Info site.
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan (commonly called USJ) is an extremely popular movie theme park in Osaka featuring shows, rides, roller coasters, parades, and popular characters such as Snoopy or Elmo with whom you can take your picture.
To reach USJ from Kyoto take the JR Kyoto Line to Osaka Station. There transfer to the Osaka Loop Line and go to Nishikujo Station. At Nishikujo Station transfer to the Yumesaki Line. Get off at Universal City Station. The fare from Osaka Station is 180 yen for a 14 minute ride.
For those who wish to visit the next location on our list, there is also a “Captain Line” shuttle ferry that carries passengers between USJ and the Osaka Aquarium in just 10 minutes.
Osaka Aquarium and the Tempozan Ferris Wheel
Osaka Aquarium (also called the Kaiyukan) is located in Tempozan Harbor Village in the Minato Ward of Osaka, close by Osaka Bay. It is one of the world’s largest aquariums, and certainly the most impressive aquarium in Japan. Give yourself at least two hours to walk through the many marine habitats that house charismatic animals like manta rays, otters, penguins and a whale shark.
Close by Osaka Aquarium is the enormous Tempozan Ferris Wheel, which at 112.5 meters high and 100 meters across, is one of the world’s biggest ferris wheels. A ride on the wheel gives dramatic views over Osaka bay.
Tempozan Harbor Village is served by Osakako Station on the Chuo Line. Various one-day “Osaka Kaiyu” tickets are available which will cover at least part of your journey costs there, and also your entry to the aquarium. Which ticket you buy will depend on which rail line you use from Kyoto. Probably the Hankyu and Keihan versions of these tickets are the best value because they cover all your transportation costs. Here are your options:
JR + The Osaka City Osaka Kaiyu Ticket
Unfortunately there is no Osaka Kaiyu ticket that covers the cost of JR rides. Take the Shinkansen or JR Kyoto Line from Kyoto Station as normal. At Shin-Osaka Station or Osaka Station you can buy an Osaka City version of the Osaka Kaiyu ticket.
Osaka City Osaka Kaiyu Ticket – Adult: 2550 yen Child: 1300 yen
This ticket will cover the cost of your transport in Osaka and your entry to the aquarium. You can then use your ticket to travel the following route.
Take the Midosuji Subway Line to Honmachi Station. Transfer to the Chuo Line, and get off at Osakako Station.
The Hankyu Railway Osaka Kaiyu Ticket
Adult: 2960 yen Child: 1610 yen
This ticket covers the cost of all your transport by Hankyu Railways, transport within Osaka city, and your entry to the aquarium. You can buy this ticket at Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station in Kyoto and then travel the following route.
Take the Hankyu Line from Kyoto-Kawaramachi to Osaka-Umeda Station. Transfer to the Midosuji Subway Line and take it to Honmachi Station. Transfer to the Chuo Line, and get off at Osakako Station.
The Keihan Railway Osaka Kaiyu Ticket
Adult: 3100 yen Child: 1600 yen
This ticket covers the cost of all your transport by Keihan Railways, transport within Osaka city, and your entry to the aquarium. You can buy this ticket at Demachiyanagi, Sanjo and Gion-Shijo Stations in Kyoto and then travel the following route.
Take the Keihan Main Line from Kyoto to Yodoyabashi Station. Transfer to the Midosuji Subway Line and take it to Honmachi Station. Transfer to the Chuo Line, and get off at Osakako Station.
For more detailed information about the Osaka Kaiyu ticket and Osaka Aquarium opening hours please visit the official Osaka Aquarium website.
Planning Your Journey
For the shinkansen or JR Lines use the JR West Timetable and Fare Finder to plan your journey. For private rail lines like the Keihan Line, Hankyu Line or Midosuji Line use an English language online route finder like Jorudan or Hyperdia.
The Japan Rail Pass can be used for any JR Line and for most shinkansen services with the exception of the Nozomi. However, the Japan Rail Pass does not cover private rail lines such as the Hankyu Line and Keihan Line.
For the Hankyu Line a Hankyu Tourist Pass is available for 1 or 2-day travel.
Keihan Railways also offer a one or two-day pass for Kyoto and Osaka.
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 the Hankyu Railway but many of the private railways, buses and subway systems 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.
Article and photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.