Kyoto’s public transportation is easy enough to use – as long as you’re not embarrassed to ask some stupid questions. Luckily, shame has never been my strong suit.
The confusing part is that the map is made up of three separate train systems. Kyoto has two subway lines – the Tozai and Karasuma lines – represented by the brown and turquoise lines in the map below. There are 16 private railway lines that connect at a couple of junction points. Finally there are two JR lines, one local and one long distance (which I used to get to and from the airport).
When I arrived at the Osaka airport, I purchased the ICOCA and Haruka package deal for 4,000 yen (around 40 U.S. dollars at the time). The package includes two rides on the express JR Tokaido Shinkasen train which took me from the airport to Kyoto Station and back to the airport on my way home (the blue and white line below). It also includes the ICOCA card loaded with 1,500 yen which works like the Metro card in New York City. It is a rechargeable card to be used on the local public train system so you don’t have to buy a ticket every time (it does not work on buses though). Important note: The package must be purchased with cash – no credit cards accepted.
Click here for a larger version of Kyoto’s local train system.
The Shinkasen train from Osaka airport to Kyoto Station takes about 77 minutes. It is a comfortable ride, much like long-distance train travel in the United States.
The local trains were well-signed and delightfully colorful.
Using a combination of subway, bus, and walking, I got everywhere I wanted to go in Kyoto. I only used a taxi once – to get to my hotel late at night when I first arrived in Kyoto. In contrast to China’s mega-cities, Kyoto is very accessible, and that is part of its charm.