Lost in Translation: A Local’s Guide to Navigating Kyoto’s Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Deciphering the Bus System
Kyoto's bus system may seem confusing at first, but learning how to navigate it is key for travelers who want to explore the city efficiently. With over 100 bus lines crisscrossing the city, buses are a convenient and inexpensive way to reach Kyoto's top sites. However, the lack of English information can make the buses intimidating for foreign visitors. By understanding a few key points about routes, maps, and passes, you can decipher Kyoto's buses like a pro.
The first thing to know is that Kyoto's bus routes are numbered. Routes 1 to 99 run inside the city limits, while 100 and above go to the suburbs and surrounding towns. This numbering makes it easy to identify which bus to take. Popular tourist routes are the 100 and 101 to Ginkaku-ji, Kinkaku-ji, and Arashiyama, and the 205 to Fushimi Inari Shrine.
When waiting at a bus stop, be sure to check the sign or pole for the numbered routes stopping there. As the bus approaches, the number will be lit up on the front so you can confirm you're boarding the right one. Inside the bus, route maps above the seats also display the upcoming stops to track your progress.
While Kyoto's buses themselves have some English, route maps and timetables at stops are mostly Japanese. Having a translation app or offline map like Google Maps on hand helps immensely for navigating unfamiliar territory. Apps like Hyperdia are also useful for looking up specific routes and travel times.
Finally, consider purchasing a bus pass if you'll be riding frequently. The 1-day pass for ¥500 gives unlimited rides, while the ¥900 2-day pass allows you to mix bus and subway rides. Passes are an economical choice versus paying ¥230 per ride, with the added convenience of just hopping on buses spontaneously without having to buy tickets.
What else is in this post?
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Deciphering the Bus System
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Buying Tickets and Passes for Buses and Subways
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Transferring Between Train Lines
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Using Apps and Maps for Routes and Schedules
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Avoiding Rush Hours in the Subway
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Biking as an Alternative Option
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Navigating Outside the City Center
- Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Asking Locals for Help When Lost
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Buying Tickets and Passes for Buses and Subways
Navigating Kyoto's public transportation requires getting your hands on the right tickets and passes. While buses take either cash or IC cards, subways require refillable IC cards for each ride. Knowing the ticketing options ahead of time prevents the headache of scrambling to pay at crowded stations.
Kyoto city buses accept exact change in coins or bills up to ¥1,000. However, fumbling with change often leads to annoyed glares from fellow commuters. The alternative is using an IC card, which you simply tap against the card reader when boarding and exiting. Popular IC cards for Kyoto include ICOCA, Suica, and Pasmo, which can be purchased at subway stations and convenience stores.
IC cards aren't just convenient for buses - they're essential for using the subway system. Kyoto's subways currently have two lines which intersect at the main Kyoto Station. Fares start at ¥210 yen based on distance travelled. But without an IC card preloaded with funds, you won't be able to even enter the platform.
Ticket machines in stations allow travelers to charge their IC cards in increments of ¥1,000 or ¥2,000. The balance on the card decreases each time you tap through the ticket gates. When the balance runs low, simply top it back up at a machine before your next ride.
In addition to single ride tickets, Kyoto offers 1-day and 2-day unlimited passes for its network of subways and buses. The ¥900 1-day subway and bus pass is a great option for visitors planning a full day of sightseeing. Meanwhile the ¥1,200 2-day version combines with discounted attraction bundles for an easy way to maximize your time.
Passes are sold at subway stations, bus information centers, and tourist information offices. Look for staffers wearing badges that read “You Me Kyoto” who can assist travelers with purchasing. To use the pass, present it each time you enter a bus or pass through the ticket gates. Some attendants may pause briefly to verify your pass is valid for that day.
Lastly, don’t discard your IC cards after leaving Kyoto! The cards can be reused in other cities like Tokyo and Osaka, saving you money on travel in the long run. When planning day trips from Kyoto, bringing your IC card eliminates the hassle of purchasing new tickets.
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Transferring Between Train Lines
With two subway lines, dozens of rail networks, and countless train stations spanning the Kyoto area, transferring between lines is an inevitable part of navigating the city by rail. While the tangled web of train lines looks intimidating at first glance, a few insider tips will have you transferring like a pro in no time.
The key to smooth transfers is planning ahead and identifying which stations allow changing between lines. Kyoto Station is the main transit hub where multiple subways, local trains, and long-distance trains intersect. This makes the station very spread out, so be sure to allot 10-15 minutes to make transfers. Study station maps to find the most efficient routes between platforms.
Other convenient transfer points include the Karasuma Oike and Gojo stations where the Karasuma and Tozai subway lines meet. Local maps also mark interchange stations with 乗換 written in Japanese. If you mistakenly miss your transfer, don’t panic. Consult station staff to identify the fastest way back on route.
When possible, go for same-platform transfers to avoid lengthy walks between lines. At Kyoto Station, the Karasuma subway line and JR local lines utilize shared platforms. By remaining on the same platform, you can quickly transfer to trains bound for destinations like Osaka, Nara, and Kobe.
Watch for wayfinding signs pointing to individual train lines within stations. Following the signs for the subway lines, color coded in vermillion for Karasuma and emerald green for Tozai, reduces confusion. Train platforms are also labeled with the final destinations to double check you’re hopping on the right one.
Schedule extra time for unexpected delays whenever making transfers. Transferring between the Tozai Line and Hankyu Railway, for example, requires a 10 minute walk via underground passages. Missing a connection could mean being stuck waiting up to 30 minutes for the next train. Leave wiggle room in your itinerary.
Prepare for queues at the ticket gates when transferring lines during rush hour. Have your IC card ready to tap and smoothly move through the gates amidst the crowds. You’ll soon think nothing of hopping between various subway, rail, and bus lines across Kyoto.
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Using Apps and Maps for Routes and Schedules
In a city as maze-like as Kyoto, real-time apps and maps are key to successfully navigating the public transportation network. While printed maps posted around the city provide the basics, they lack critical details like train schedules, platform numbers and live updates. Savvy travelers turn to a few handy apps to take the guesswork out of Kyoto’s transit.
Google Maps has accurate maps and directions for Kyoto’s buses, trains and subways. Simply plug in your desired start and end points, and Google will map out each step of your journey. It shows upcoming departure times for trains and buses, and even reminds you when it’s time to disembark. While you may not have constant data access underground, you can pre-download the Kyoto map for offline navigation.
Hyperdia is a Japanese app that excels at looking up point-to-point routes. Enter your start and end stations, date and time of travel, and Hyperdia calculates each leg of the trip, including transfers. You can filter results to preferences like fastest route or fewest transfers. Hyperdia also shows platform numbers for trains, helping you avoid disorientation at large stations. While the app is Japanese only, its straightforward interface is easy to navigate.
Citymapper offers real-time departure data for all of Kyoto’s transportation modes. Its crowning feature is ETAs showing when your next bus or train will actually arrive, rather than just schedules. Citymapper can also reroute you on the fly if lines are delayed or disrupted. While not as well known as Google Maps, Citymapper is popular among Asia-focused travelers for its transit capabilities.
Transit apps provide peace of mind for navigating unfamiliar cities. Simon, who relied on Citymapper throughout his Asia travels says, “I don’t know how we did it 10 years ago without live maps and transportation apps. I’d be constantly stressed about missing a connection or taking the wrong subway line.” He adds, “Now if I get turned around, my phone steers me back on track.”
Lisa agrees after using Google Maps to crisscross between Kyoto’s train stations. “The offline maps and detailed directions gave me confidence I could handle Kyoto’s transportation despite the language barrier,” she says. While still requiring patience, Lisa appreciates that transit apps took some of the stress out of travel in Kyoto.
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Avoiding Rush Hours in the Subway
Navigating rush hour crowds is one of the biggest headaches for travelers using Kyoto’s subways. During peak times from 8-9am and 5-7pm on weekdays, stations and trains swell with commuters and students heading to school and work. Attempting to transfer lines or board trains at these times can be an exercise in frustration. By planning around the busiest periods, you can glide through stations and snag seats on trains to enjoy a stress-free ride.
Morning rush hour starts building around 7:30am and lasts until about 9am. To avoid the worst crowds, aim to arrive at your first destination of the day by 8am latest. That means catching the first trains starting around 7am. Don’t lounge over your ryokan breakfast or linger too long photographing morning scenes when time is of the essence. During evening rush hour, try to finish up sightseeing by 5pm to beat commuters heading home. When it comes to transferring lines, allow extra time and plan to arrive at interchange stations before the peak windows.
If your schedule requires traveling at peak times, brace yourself for stations packed elbow-to-elbow with commuters. Have your IC card or pass ready to breeze through ticket gates in seconds. Rush hour veterans suggest boarding at either end of the platform where train doors open. Avoid standing near the middle entrances which bottleneck when hordes pour out simultaneously from both sides. Inside trains, snag any open seat or strap handle immediately. With experience, you’ll learn to smoothly slip into the gaps between bodies disembarking.
Travelers recount how mornings were the worst at Kyoto Station. Claire says, “Entry gates would randomly close to control the crushing crowds. I’d have to wait out multiple cycles before squeezing through.” Packed platforms left Jeremy feeling claustrophobic. “People were lined up five deep waiting to board,” he recalls. “When the doors opened, we had to shove our way on.”
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Biking as an Alternative Option
For travelers who want to fully immerse themselves in Kyoto’s intricate web of alleys and side streets, bicycles provide the perfect transportation mode. Leaving buses and subways behind for two wheels grants an unparalleled, ground-level view of life in the old capital. Kyoto’s relatively flat terrain and abundance of bike lanes make it ideally suited for cycling. Visitors who take to bikes find it both efficient for covering distance and fun for spontaneous exploration.
“I loved biking around Kyoto way more than relying on public transit,” says Amanda after renting bikes for a full day of sightseeing. “We were able to stop whenever and wherever we wanted, instead of having to follow bus routes. Plus biking helped us discover hidden gems.” She continues, “Pedaling down small lanes led us to quiet shrines and craft shops we never would have stumbled upon otherwise.”
For Yvonne, biking provided freedom and flexibility she didn’t experience on group tours. “I planned my own route hitting the top sights I was interested in. Whenever I felt tired, I'd find a cafe to stop at along the way.” Yvonne also appreciated the fitness and environmental benefits. “It felt great getting my blood pumping while avoiding carbon emissions.”
Visitors have several rental options for cruising Kyoto on two wheels. Convenient bike share ports are available by the hour through companies like Docomo Bikeshare. Travelers simply unlock bikes via an app, then return them to any port citywide. For longer rentals, shops clustered around Kyoto Station offer standard city bikes from ¥500 a day. Some hotels like the Westin Miyako Kyoto also loan free bikes to guests.
Novices needn’t be intimidated about biking around Kyoto. The city has a wealth of bike lanes and most major streets have wide sidewalks for cautious cycling. Bikers should still use caution at intersections and on narrower byways. Travelers recommend avoiding rush hours when roads fill with cars and buses. “I tried to stick to late morning and afternoons when traffic was calmer” notes James.
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Navigating Outside the City Center
While Kyoto dazzles with famous sites clustered around downtown, don’t neglect journeys farther afield. Kyoto’s web of trains and buses makes navigating to outer temples, shrines, and neighborhoods easy for transit-savvy travelers. Venturing beyond the heavily touristed city center rewards you with glimpses of everyday life.
Hopping a local train is the fastest way to reach sights scattered in Kyoto’s outskirts and suburbs. Fushimi Inari Shrine’s thousands of vermillion torii gates lure visitors south of the city. Catch the JR Nara Line two stops from Kyoto Station to Inari Station, positioned right at the trailhead. The ride takes just five minutes versus an hour slog by bus.
Trekking out to Takao Village among the forested mountains northwest of Kyoto feels worlds away from urban bustle. Yet it’s only 50 minutes by #72 bus from the city limits. Hike past temples and waterfalls before soaking weary muscles at Takao Spa. Buses thread through Arashiyama’s bamboo groves and row houses west of downtown. The Randen Kitano Line even goes one step further –this retro tram rolls through the western suburbs all the way to Kameoka.
Don’t be afraid to spontaneous hop buses bound for new neighborhoods. Emma recalls, “I noticed a bus for Okazaki Shrine leaving the Kyoto Station terminal. With no other plans that afternoon, I decided to just take it and see where I ended up.” She stumbled upon a lovely park lined with red torii gates far beyond the guidebook tourist sites. “It was a whole new side of Kyoto I'd never have explored otherwise,” Emma says.
Subway lines also stretch to Kyoto’s edges. The Karasuma Line reaches far north termini at Kokusaikaikan Station and Komazawa Station, near campuses of Kyoto University and Ritsumeikan University. Philip advises students, “Save cash by getting a dorm in the suburbs near the subway. Super convenient for going out and you get a better feel for everyday life.” The Tozai Line crosses east over the Kamo River leading to sights like the Kyoto Handicraft Center.
Lost in Translation: A Local's Guide to Navigating Kyoto's Maze of Buses, Trains, and Subways - Asking Locals for Help When Lost
Even the savviest travelers can find themselves disoriented in Kyoto’s labyrinth of transit lines. When maps fail and apps aren’t loading, never fear - Kyotoites are exceptionally willing to assist confused tourists. Don’t be shy about asking locals for help getting your bearings when lost. With a few key phrases and proper etiquette, you’ll be on your way again in no time.
Many travelers recount situations where friendly residents went out of their way to guide them to stations or correct platforms. Emma recalls how at Kyoto Station, “I couldn’t locate the right track for the Shinkansen. A businessman passing by could tell I looked distressed. Although he was rushing to catch his own train, he walked me to the exact platform I needed.”
Cultural nuances are key for politely approaching strangers. In Japan, avoiding eye contact is valued, so don’t force contact. Greet the person saying “sumimasen” to mean “excuse me” and give a slight bow. Have your destination written in Japanese to show the helper. Pointing to the Kanji helps overcome language barriers.
Trying a few basic phrases also smooths interactions. “Eego o hanashimasu ka” means “do you speak English?” while “Michi ni mayotte imasu” translates to “I am lost”. For extra courtesy, learn how to say thank you (“arigatou gozaimasu”) and goodbye (“sayounara”).
Avoid singling out women or students, which can make some uncomfortable being put on the spot. Instead look for shop owners, transit employees, or businessmen who seem receptive to assisting. When seeking help onboard trains, approach the conductor in the front car.
If you receive a complex answer in Japanese, ask “hai, wakarimashita ka?” meaning “yes, did you understand?” Check for visual cues like nods or head shakes to confirm guidance makes sense. Don’t be afraid to clarify multiple times, as locals admire the effort to bridge the language gap.