Monday, July 8, 2013

Japan: Getting around and about Osaka

When visiting Osaka, forget taxis or even renting a car.  Just do as the locals do and ride the subways.

Using the subways was the most efficient means of moving about and even to the outskirts of Osaka. They are punctual down to the minute, frequent and perfectly timed for smooth transitions between stations and subway lines.
During my maiden trip to Osaka in June 2013, I was there for only four days and had every intention of visiting all the main attractions within the city and also Nara and Kyoto. With intensive research, I found out that Osaka offered several travel passes for foreign travelers that allowed us to ride the subways and public transportation as many times as we wanted within a stipulated period and also free or discounted entrances to various attractions.

My four days itinerary was as following:
Day 1 - Arrival in Osaka, shopping at Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi-Suji.
Day 2 - Nara and Kyoto.
Day 3 - Osaka Exploration: Osaka Castle, Musuem of History, Kuromon market, Neko no Jikan cafe and Umeda Sky Building.
Day 4 - The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum at Ikeda, return to Kuala Lumpur.
Osaka unlimited pass (blue) & Kansai Thru Pass (yellow)
In order to help us get around to these planned areas, I opted for the 2 days-Kansai Thru Pass and the 2 days-Osaka Unlimited Pass. For Day 1 and 2, we fully utilized the Kansai Thru Pass while the Osaka Unlimited Pass was used to get us to and into the city's main attractions for Day 3 and 4. Both passes are available at the Travel Desk at the information counter of the Kansai International Airport and are only activated once they are swiped at a subway entrance gate.
Train map.

From the departure floor, head to the second floor to get to the connecting train station. There are three train lines that travel to the Nankai station: JR Limited Express Haruka, JR Kansai Airport Rapid and the Nankai Electric Railway. The JR Haruka and Kansai lines are convenient if you are traveling beyond the Namba area to Tennoji, Shin-Osaka or Kyoto.

Airport station.
Kansai Thru Pass
Using the Kansai Thru Pass, we rode the Nankai Airport Express to the Nankai station where our hotel, Swissotel Nankai Osaka was strategically located. The Nankai Airport Express departs the airport station every 30 minutes and takes about 45minutes to Namba due to the frequent stops it makes along the way. It can get crowded at peak hours because working people and students also use it to commute. Without the pass, ticket price is 890 yen.

Airport express.
Alternatively, you could also opt for the faster but more pricey Nankai Rap:t. Even with the Kansai Thru Pass, you will need to add on 500 yen to ride this train. The Nankai Rap:t has the Rap:t Alpha (35 minutes, 1390 yen) and the Rap:t Beta (38 minutes, 1390yen) which makes 2 stops and four stops respectively. Fixed seating are given upon ticket purchase. I rode the Rap:t Beta back to the airport on Day 4 and it was very smooth and comfortable despite the loud group of giggling Chinese teenagers.

Nankai Rap:t.

*I recommend checking with the station attendant first before buying a ticket or boarding a train as they could suggest a train that was leaving earlier and could save you time and money.
Day 2: Osaka - Nara - Kyoto - Osaka
The Kansai Thru Pass was immensely useful in getting us to Nara and Kyoto as well. All we had to do was board the Kintetsu Nara Line from the Namba station and it was a quick 40 minutes ride to the Kintetsu Nara station.

Osaka to Nara or Kyoto.

Nara icons - deers.
You can also ride the Kintetsu Kyoto Line to Kyoto for a 1 hour plus ride. Just remember not to board the Kintetsu Limited Express train as that would cost you extra (about over 1000yen) although you will get a comfortable designated seat with minimal stops in between.The Kintetsu line stops at the Kyoto Station which is right in front of the Kyoto tower and doubles as a bus staton as well.

Kyoto Tower.

When in Kyoto, taking the buses are the best way travel, unless you would like to join a cycling tour. The Kansai Thru Pass lets your ride the Kyoto Municipal buses as many times as you want. If uncertain, just look out for the Kansai icon, a green fairy at the ticket gate or at the bus door.


The passes removed the need to rummage through our purses to pay for subway and saved us a lot of moolah especially when we got lost and got off at the wrong station or took the wrong bus...which we did a lot in Kyoto and on the way back to Osaka. 

To get back to Osaka, we used the same route in reverse and got off at the Yamato-Saidaiji to take the Kintetsu Nara train back to Namba.
Kintetsu Nara stops.
The only hiccup we had was getting off at an isolated station (Ikoma station) between Nara and Osaka because we thought we were on the wrong train. It turned out that it was the right train although it was the local commute train which made frequent stops in between. Fortunately, a kind Japanese girl told us to take the next commute train and ride it to all the way to Namba.

Price: 2days:Adult 3,800yen Child 1,900yen
          3days Adult 5,000yen Child 2,500yen
Benefits: Unlimited train and bus rides in Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hyogo, Wakayama and Shiga.
               Special rates and discounts at certain tourists attractions.
You'll get: Pass, Guide book, coupons. 
Note: Can be used unconsecutively (eg: Day 1 & Day 4)

Osaka Unlimited Pass
The Osaka Unlimited Pass allowed us unlimited rides on the trains, buses and new trams within Osaka for two full days and gave us free entry into several main attractions. On Day 3, we visited the Osaka Castle, Musuem of History, Tombori River Cruise and the Umeda Sky Building at night, all without paying a single yen.

To get to these places are really simple especially if you are commuting from Namba.
Osaka Castle.

Museum of History.

For Osaka Castle (600yen) and the Museum of History (600yen), you have two options. Option A would be to take the Midosuji subway line to the Hommachi stop, one stop away and transit over to the Chuo line to Tanimachi 4-chome station. At the station, take exit 1B or 9 to to find your way to the museum and the Osaka castle. Option B would have you taking the Sennichimae line from Namba to Tanimachi 9-chome before you make a train change to the Tanimachi line which will also take you to the Tanimachi 4-chome station.

Tombori River Cruise.
Tombori River Cruise is located on the Dotonbori river at the Tazaemonbashi Pier and is a 5 minutes walk from the Namba and Nipponbashi stations. Without the pass, this will cost you 700yen.
Umeda Sky building.
To end Day 3, we rode the Midosuji line all the way to Umeda and walked about 15 minutes from the main Umeda station to the Umeda Sky Building to experience the Floating Garden Observatory. Entrance fees are 700yen per person but with the Osaka Unlimited Pass, it was free of charge for me.

Ramen Museum.

The next day, we took the same line back to Umeda station and boarded the Hankyu train line to Ikeda in order to visit the less-known Momofuko Ramen Museum. From the Umeda main station, you will still need to maneuver your way through the station to the Hankyu Umeda station and pay only 260yen for a single passage to Ikeda as the pass does not cover the Hankyu line.
Ikeda stop.

Ticketing machines are in Japanese only but fret not as all you need to do is insert the amount in and select 260yen on the screen as they charge you according to distance traveled as opposed to specific stops. Charge is possible. From there is a roughly a 30 minutes ride to Ikeda. Hankyu is also the line you would take if you are coming to or from the Osaka International airport.

Price: 1day:2,000yen(Adult only)
          2days:2,700yen(Adult only)
Benefits: Unlimited train and bus rides in Osaka.
               Free admission at 28 facilities and discount rates at listed stores and restaurants.
You'll get: Pass, Guide book, coupons. 
Note: Must be used consecutively (eg: Day 1 & Day 2 only)

Apart from bicycles, public transportation especially the trains and subways are definitely the cheapest, fastest and more convenient way of moving about Osaka due to the simple efficiency and punctuality of its trains. Bare in mind though that talking on handphones are frowned up as it is viewed as rude. Besides these two passes, Osaka has also other travel passes to suit your schedules worth checking out:
- Yokoso! Osaka ticket
- Osaka Visitors ticket
- Kaiyu ticket

Read about: 
Transportation around Osaka tips - Getting around and about Osaka 
Osaka 2013 Day 1: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori
Osaka 2013 Day 2: Nara & Kyoto
Osaka 2013 Day 3: A Day in the City
Osaka 2013 Day 4: The Last Day and also, Momofuku Ramen Museum
Osaka Flight & Accommodation: Osaka Flight & Hotel package


Abl said...

I just found out about your blog as I am travelling to Osaka next week for a 4 days 3 nights trip. Your blog has been most helpful but I do have one question. I will not be travelling outside of Osaka and will mostly be going to inner city locations similar to your itiniary above, would it be wiser to purchase Osaka 2 day unlimited pass instead of Kansai Thru Pass? After a bit of online research what I gather is the Kansai Thru Pass is only worth it if we are travelling between towns, but for within Osaka travels Osaka 2 Day Unlimited pass is much more useful. if possible I would like to use the pass to travel from the airport to the hotel which is at Namba station, does the Osaka 2 day unlimited pass allows this?
Appreciate if you can assist with some suggestions! Thanks!

Tania said...

Hi, Abl
The Osaka Unlimited Pass (now called the Osaka Amazing Pass for 2014) is definitely your best bet for traveling within Osaka. But based on my research, it does not include traveling between airport and Osaka. But you opt to take the Nankai Rap;t trains to Namba at only 1100yen (there has been a price reduce) and it's fast and comfortable too.

Abl said...

Thank you for your help and keep up your blog!

Tania said...

Glad I could help. Have a great trip!

Step said...

Hi, I'm planning to visit Japan next year. I've read different blogs and most are talking about JR passes. It's too expensive and luckily, I've seen yours. Is this Osaka Unlimited pass better than JR Pass? Is there a chance that I'll just buy a one-way ticket for every destination that I will visit? Or just purchace a card and top-up just like ez-link in SG?

Tania said...

Hi Stephanie. If you are planning of traveling outside of the Kansai area like between Osaka and Tokyo, then the JR is recommended. But if you are remaining within Osaka, then the Osaka Unlimited Pass is best as it gives you unlimited rides on the subways and free entry to many of their main attractions. One way tickets will accumulate to quite a lot at the end of the day. If you are traveling around the Kansai area, then I would recommend the Kansai Thru Pass. Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Hi, I am visiting The Kansai area in Dec with my aged parents and 3 young kids. Are the trains and buses convenient for luggage and stroller? I was initially thinking of renting a car.
Thank you.

Tania said...

Might be hard to move about with luggage and strollers but not impossible. A car might be more convenient but bare in mind, it will be pricey.