Navigating the Osaka Subway System
Visiting a new city is fun and exciting, but for visitors to a foreign land, it can also be intimidating. Osaka is a wonderful city with lots to offer, but it’s also big, and using taxis to get everywhere will soon add up! Happily, there is a great subway network here, let me show you how to use it.
Of course, this is bound to be the number one concern for tourists. Let me allay your fears right off the bat. Signs on all subway lines are in both Japanese and English, and most staff can speak at least enough to point you in the right direction. All of the ticket machines have an English guidance button, and staff at sales points can help too, so don’t worry if your Japanese is little or non-existent!
Selecting a destination.
Quite possibly the most daunting part is finding where you need to go! I would recommend taking a copy of the subway map with you (get one from any station, comes in English as well as Japanese, or see the example in this article) so you can see all the stops available to you. There are also enlarged versions of this map at stations, and maps at machines, so you can check before you purchase a ticket on where you need to go. A handy tool you can use on your phone is this website. Simply enter your start point, end point, date, and time (don’t worry too much about the seating part, this website covers mainline trains too, which is what this refers to), and hit “search”. It’ll give you a list of journeys available to you, including the line(s) you need to take, changing points, if other forms of transport are needed (such as buses), and how long it’ll take. The great thing about Japan is that a lot of places have wifi hotspots, for free, so you can plan your journey on the move as well as before you leave your accommodation. Great for folks with no data access whilst visiting.
Purchasing a ticket.
Before you even enter the vast network of tunnels, you must of course pay for your journey. Larger stations (such as Namba, one of Osaka’s biggest stations) will have ticket offices as well as machines, so you can always speak to someone if this is more comfortable for you. However, if you start your journey at one of the suburban stops, or a smaller station without a ticket hall, you will have to brave the machine! Don’t worry! It’s relatively simple! Here’s a step by step guide on how to use one.
- Language change: There’s an English guidance button, usually in the top left corner of the machine, so hit this if you don’t understand Japanese.
- Fare button: Use this to select your destination. Find it lower left on the machine.
- Child fare button: This is to change fares to child prices. Find it on the lower right of the machine's screen.
- Card selection button: This allows you to select the type of travel card you want (multi-ride, day-pass, or rainbow). This is great if you plan to hop on and off trains for a day, and will work out cheaper than buying individual journeys. Simply select the card you want, then hit the fare button to see prices. It’s on the top middle of the screen.
- Transfer button: This is for if you need to make part of your journey on a bus or with a private rail company (say if your destination either doesn't have a subway station, or you are travelling further than the subway system allows). If this is the case, press this button first, then the fare button, for appropriate pricing. You’ll find this one on the lower left half of the screen.
- Acceptable payment: This is actually a sign located at the top of the machine. Some won’t accept 5,000 and 10,000 yen notes, so please check this notice for what the machine will accept before trying to insert money.
- Coin slot: Right hand side of the machine, it accepts 10, 50, 100, and 500 yen coins.
- Note slot: Right next to the coin slot, insert 1,000 yen notes if you don’t have the correct change.
- Ticket slot: This is where your ticket is printed, and your change (if you’re due any) is released. It’s on the lower left of the machine.
Using your ticket.
So you have your ticket, great! Now it’s time to enter the subway. All stations have gates, simply insert the ticket into the slot on the entrance, the gates will open, you enter, grab your ticket on the other side, and proceed to the trains. When exiting a station, follow the same procedure. If you have a travel card of some kind, the ticket will reappear at your destination. If you have purchased a single journey, upon exit the machine will keep the ticket.
Most stations carry guides for tourists, and in a variety of languages. These can give you help with finding the best stops for popular attractions. If you arrive into Osaka by air, you can catch a train from the airport into Namba, one of the major hubs. It’s a huge station with lots of connections to other places, such as Kyoto. There is a tourist information desk here, giving advice on travel around Osaka and beyond, and also offering sales on tickets that allow for subway rides, as well as other forms of transport, such as mainline trains (make sure you check terms and conditions, some are limited to specific companies. Japan has privatised rail companies, some passes only work with certain trains, such as JR) and buses. This website is a great resource for checking out tourist style passes. I have personally used the Kansai rail pass, and found it to be a great way to get round, especially as it covers travel out of Osaka and into places such as Kyoto and Nara. The only downside to this is it doesn't cover express trains or trams. But at 4,000 yen per adult for the 2 day pass, and 5,200 yen per adult for the three day pass, and the fact it comes with a guide book, subway map, and discounts at various attractions, means it’s pretty good value for money.
Enjoy your trip to Osaka, and your adventures on its incredible subway system!