How many stations does it take to confuse a tourist in Osaka? Four, apparently. Having flown into Kansai International Airport (KIX), a disorientated tourist will likely find themselves on a train hurtling into the hustle and bustle of Namba. Namba, also referred to as Nanba, is one of the main districts in the heart of Osaka and it boasts some of the city's best shopping centres and eateries. But its main function, whether you're a local or a visitor, is as a connection point for changing trains or swapping subway lines. And this is where the confusion starts! If you type 'Namba Station' into Google maps, it will promptly highlight the JR-Namba, Osaka-Namba, Namba and Namba (yes, two Nambas) stations. But which one should you use?!
1. Namba - The Subway Station
The first and easiest way to differentiate the stations is that only one of these is a subway station. The remaining three are train stations. You can identify Namba subway station by the red icon. It is where the Midosuji, Yotsubashi and Sennichimae subway lines cross (the red line, the blue line and the pink line respectively). The signs are colour-coded so they’re easy to follow, but it can be quite a trek through the underground walkways before you reach the different platforms. Keep following the signs, I promise you will get there – eventually.
Helpful hint: be prepared for the crowds – just beyond the gates of the Midosuji line is a popular meeting point.
2. Namba Station - The Train Station
The Namba train station is also referred to as Nankai-Namba and Nankai Station. This is because, in addition to being run by the local government, it is part owned by the Nankai Electric Railway company. It contains the Nankai Line, the Airport Line and the Koya Line (you will need to use this last line if you are planning to see the monks on Koya-san).
If, when leaving Kansai International Airport, you purchase a Nankai ticket (you use the ticket machines on the left-hand side), you will be arriving at this station. The Airport Limited Express also ends here. Located on the second floor of the Namba City shopping centre, Nankai-Namba station benefits from being surrounded by a wealth of shops and restaurants. I would recommend taking a moment to exit the gates and caffeinate yourself at the St. Marc's Cafe: Choco Cro (its brown and orange logo is ubiquitous in Japan. Think Japanese Starbucks).
ChocoCro Coffee Shop
Like Nankai-Namba station, this station gets its namesake from the company that owns it - Japan Rail, better known by its anacronym 'JR'. It’s easy to recognize because of the massive sculpture outside, a popular haunt for aspiring street dancers.
JR Namba Sculpture
If, when leaving Kansai International Airport, you purchase a JR ticket (you use the ticket machines on the righthand side), you will be arriving at this station. Be advised that, although this is a train station, its platforms are underground. At ground level, JR-Namba is a bus station where the Kansai Airport Limousine Bus drops off.
4. Osaka-Namba Station
Entrance to Osaka-Namba Station
Osaka-Namba sits on two important lines: the Kintestu Namba line and the Hanshin Namba line. These are of interest to those wishing to explore the nearby cities of Kobe (use the Hanshin Namba line), Nara and Nagoya (use the Kintestu Namba line). Be advised that these train station platforms are underground, very close to the Sennichimae subway line.
Having discussed the differences, it is worth noting that the Namba area is a warren of underground shops, restaurants and walkways. Therefore, whilst the four stations are distinct entities, they are connected below ground and you will be able to reach any of them by following the appropriate yellow and hanging signs. Note that the signs may just refer to the lines and not the station names.
The surface level streets between the Nankai-Namba, Osaka-Namba and JR-Namba are a little rundown and shady. It can be a little disorientating remaining underground but ultimately it is easier and you will feel safer.
And there you have it, the four Namba stations' confusion clarified!