Getting around Kyoto is easy: an excellent bus network, two subway lines, and plenty of taxis all meld together into one of the best public transport systems in the world. Let’s take a look.
Kyoto City Bus
First, get a copy of the Kyoto Bus Map. Hardcopies are available from major train and subway stations in Kyoto in several languages.
Buses within the city (those whose numbers are white on a coloured background) are all flat-fare: each journey is 220円 for adults and 110円 for children. Buses whose numbers are black on a white background are charged by distance. If you will be making three or more bus journeys in a single day, consider purchasing an All-Day Pass for 500円 (250円 for children). Passes are available at major stations, and from bus drivers, but be aware that bus drivers may run out of the passes on busy days. The all-day pass looks like this:
Be aware that at bus ticket offices there is often one counter for regular tickets, and a specific counter for the All-Day Pass. If so, a sign is above the All-Day Pass counter in both Japanese and English.
The Kyoto Bus Map includes excellent information on boarding the bus and paying your fare, as well as planning your route. The key points are:
- Enter the bus via the rear door.
- For flat-fare journeys, either enter the the All-Day Pass or deposit the correct fare in the machine by the driver as you exit. Once your All-Day Pass has a date stamped on the back, you do not need to do this – simply show it to the driver as you exit.For non-flat-fare journeys, collect a numbered ticket from the machine inside the rear door, or insert your All-Day Pass. Deposit the correct fare, or your All-Day Pass plus the excess fare, in the machine by the driver as you exit.
- Disembark the bus via the front door.
Kyoto City Subway
There are only two Subway lines in Kyoto: The Karasuma Line is green on the map; and the Tozai line, which is red.
The Subway is as easy to use as the bus.
- Purchase your ticket from the automated fare machines inside the station.
- Pass your ticket through the automatic ticket gates as you enter and exit.
Station names are listed in both Japanese and English, as well as by their number.
If you intend to use both Subway and Bus in Kyoto over a day or two, consider purchasing a Kyoto Sightseeing One or Two Day Pass Card. This covers the same area as the All-Day Bus Pass, and includes unlimited Subway use too. At 1,200円 for One-Day or 2,000円 for Two-Day (and half those figures for children) I can’t say that I’ve ever found it economically attractive, but if you plan to zip around an awful lot it could work for you. These are available from the ticket machines at Subway Stations.
Spoken English is not a widespread skill among Kyoto’s taxi drivers, but don’t panic! With a little preparation your trip will go smoothly.
It’s important to understand that only main streets in Japan have names. Smaller roads do not, and buildings are numbered by the order in which they were constructed, not numerically from low to high one end of a road to the other. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you have an address, that your driver will be able to work out where exactly it is. He’s also not guaranteed to know where one single named destination is, unless it’s a major hub or attraction. How, then, to work around this?
Before you arrive, consider which destinations you are likely to want to use a taxi to reach. Your hotel, on arriving in the city, perhaps? Taking luggage onto the bus is tricky, and many subway stations lack elevators, so you may wish to do this.
For each such destination, do a little Googling. If it’s your hotel, for instance, it may have a map on the hotel’s website. If it does, print this off and take it with you. If not, use Google Maps to do likewise. Showing these maps to your taxi driver will tell him everything he needs to know to get you there, and you’ll both be glad for it.
And there you have it! Kyoto’s a breeze to get around, so jump right in!