- Travel inside Osaka -
Despite being a big city, Osaka is easy to get around, especially compared to the sprawling mess of Tokyo. In fact, you could walk from Umeda (where Osaka station is) in the North to Namba in the South in about an hour! And because it’s nearly completely flat, renting bicycles is one of the best ways to experience Osaka.
- Public Transport -
Osaka is a fairly compact city with a cheap, reliable, easy-to-use public transportation system. You’ve got JR trains running around the loop line ( Kanjo sen / 環状線 ), a comprehensive subway system and several private railway lines too.
Subways are usually the best option for getting around the inner city, although a few routes (like to Universal Studios Japan) are via JR or other private railway lines. Pre-paid charge cards will function on all of these lines, and save you having to buy a ticket each time you ride. See the Travel Passes section below for more information. See the Osaka Tourist Spots page for information on areas of interest. Here’s a map with a general subway layout featuring some useful stations for transferring and visiting famous tourist attractions.
PRO TIP - It’s easy to plan trips in Japan via train & subway. Go to www.hyperdia.com or use another online planning website/app. Enter your departure & destination station, your departure or arrival time and click “search” and it’ll tell you what trains to catch, when and where to change, how long your journey will take and how much it’ll cost! Super helpful.
PRO TIP - Nozomi, Mizuho & Hayabusa bullet trains aren’t covered by the JR Rail Pass! Click “more options” then deselect that box in the search conditions to avoid paying a surcharge.
- Namba train station guide -
A common tourist mistake is assuming that there is one “Namba Station”, when there are actually 6 of them! While they are joined underground, different “Namba” stations can be quite a distance from each other. Following the signs walking underground from Nankai Namba station to JR-Namba station takes close to 20 minutes! The 7th “station” in the image below is OCAT bus terminal. It’s on the second floor of the OCAT building, directly above JR station. Here’s a map showing the useful exits and a layout of the various stations on a map.
PRO TIP - While walking all the way around the “n” shape from the Southern part of the Midosuji (red) subway to the Yotsubashi (blue) subway would take at least 15 minutes, you can shortcut above-ground from exit #7 (or the escalator at #5) to exit #31 in just a minute or two.
- Japanese addresses are hard to find! -
Japan has a unusual system of addresses which can make places incredibly hard to find. Instead of street names and numbers, addresses are broken down into increasingly smaller blocks, then a number inside that block that is based on construction date, not numerical order! Which means that that building’s location in a city block is essentially random, and not even locals will be much help finding a particular address.
The end result is that finding places without detailed directions is MUCH harder than in most other countries. Even taxi drivers often have trouble locating buildings from just the address! My STRONG advice to you is please DON’T ASSUME that you can find a location with just the address, or by asking people in the street. This is ESPECIALLY TRUE if you’re looking for a private apartment building and not a big hotel or landmark. Hotels and thoughtful hosts will provide detailed directions with landmarks that you should follow to avoid getting lost. I've had to help many tourists wandering around like hopelessly lost lambs. ;)
- Tourism/Travel Passes -
“IC cards” are rechargeable cards that can be used to pay fares on public transportation and to make payments at some shops and restaurants by simply touching the card on a reader. You pre-pay them before use and they work on all train lines. IC cards aren’t necessary, but using them gives you a small discount and simply swiping through the ticket gates is easier than having to stop, line up and buy a ticket from the machine each time. Read more about them at the following link.
“Osaka Amazing Pass” will get you into a whole bunch of touristy places for the one low price:
This pass also gives you free journeys on subways and (for the 1-day but strangely not for 2-day pass) some private railway lines too (not JR). In my opinion though, while this pass might save you a little on subway fares, whether it’s worth it or not depends on how many of the tourist attractions on their list you plan to visit. Add up the costs of those and you’ll see whether getting the Osaka Amazing Pass makes sense for you. Some things that look quite fun are the HEP FIVE or Osakako ferris wheel, the Tombori river cruises (The Dotombori River in Namba), Tsutenkaku Tower entry, the Santa Maria ship cruises, various museums and the combination of Osaka castle museum and the Nishinomaru garden. But follow the link above and see what appeals to you.
“JR Rail Pass” can be a great investment for those going far and wide across Japan. Only available to foreign passport holders, they come in 7, 14 or 21 consecutive day versions and offer unlimited JR travel, including on bullet trains, while active. The way to make the most of them is to do a lot of shinkansen (bullet train) travel to far away locations while your pass is active, that’s where they really prove economical. If you’re spending a lot of time in Osaka then you will use the subways far more often and they’re not covered by JR Rail Passes. Use the website www.hyperdia.com to plan your train journeys, calculate the costs and see whether getting a JR Rail Pass makes sense for you.
- Taxis -
Taxis are a little expensive in Japan, compared to the trains and subway. But the drivers are honest, even if they can’t always find where you need to go easily. Drivers don’t usually speak English, so having an address written down (especially in Japanese) will be helpful. Trains and subways stop some time just before or after midnight, so if you’re planning a late night out, you might end up enjoying a Japanese taxi’s main point of difference - the back door opens and closes automatically. :)
Larger taxis are extremely rare, and a normal taxi will take up to 4 people. 4 people and luggage may or may not be possible depending on how many bags you have.
- Ordering a taxi pick up -
In my experience it’s difficult to book taxis for pick ups, and they’re not always reliably available even then! So I don’t generally advise relying on a pick up when you’re on a deadline. There’s nothing worse than waiting for a taxi that hasn’t come when you need to catch a flight! There aren’t many foreign language services available, but here is a company that seems to be making an effort to cater for tourists - MK Taxis.