Thanks to plenty of options, getting around in Osaka is fairly straightforward, despite the city's large size. Trains and subways are the best and most comprehensive forms of public transport, though the sheer number of routes available can be dizzying. While taxis are fast and reliable, they are expensive. Learn more about general transport in Osaka on the Osaka Info Guide.
Public transport in Osaka
Public transport in Osaka uses a smart card system known as ICOCA. This prepaid card allows travellers to easily pay for subway, train and bus rides. ICOCA cards can be purchased and recharged at railway stations.
Apart from using ICOCA for commuting, expats can also use it for certain vending machines and coin-operated lockers at stations. This might come in handy at times. Also, for those staying short-term in Osaka, it's possible to return the ICOCA card at the end of their stay for a 500 yen refund, minus a handling fee.
Learn more about the smart card system on the West Japan Railway ICOCA page.
Nine colour-coded lines make up the subway system in Osaka. Each station has a name as well as an alphanumeric code. This can significantly ease pronunciation issues. It's easy to see that 'M14', for example, is much less of a tongue-twister than 'Nishinakajimaminamigata'.
The subway runs from 5am to midnight every day of the week. Taking the subway at peak travel times can be chaotic due to overcrowding. Expats should note that it's a common courtesy in Japan to avoid speaking loudly or making phone calls on the subway. This helps maintain a peaceful environment for all commuters.
Check the subway route maps and other details on the official Osaka Metro website.
There are nine train lines in use in Osaka, including a shinkansen (bullet train) line. These connect Osaka to surrounding regions and are an excellent way to travel around the greater Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Expats should note that some train cars are designated as 'women-only' during peak hours. This measure is designed to prevent harassment and provide a safe space during the rush.
Visit the West Japan Railway Company for more information.
The bus service in Osaka is comprehensive and convenient. Many bus stops are adjacent to railway stations, making transferring easy. The bus is boarded in the rear or centre, and passengers exit through the front of the bus, paying the fare as they leave. Each trip is charged at a flat rate. While English is not widely spoken among bus drivers, expats might find it helpful to have a few key Japanese phrases on hand or to have their destination written down in Japanese.
More details about the bus system can be found on the Kintetsu Corporation website.
Taxis in Osaka
All taxis in Osaka are regulated and use meters with standardised pricing. Though expensive, taxis are a valuable option to have, especially when the subway is closed for the night or if one's destination isn't close to a train station or bus stop. Taxis can be found in taxi ranks around the city or can be hailed from the street. An occupied taxi will display a red light on the windscreen.
Expats should keep in mind that not all taxi drivers may be fluent in English. Therefore, having the destination address written in Japanese is a good idea. Another cultural note; taxis in Japan are equipped with automatic doors, which the driver controls – no need for travellers to open or close the door themselves.
Expats should remember that in Japan, driving is on the left side of the road. And for those considering driving in the city centre, bear in mind that parking can be quite expensive and scarce.
Ride-hailing apps like Uber are available in Osaka and are a valuable alternative to regular taxis.
Driving in Osaka
Expats wanting to drive in Osaka will initially need an international driver's permit. This allows them to start driving on arrival in Japan. To get a local licence, residents must first have their licence from home officially translated into Japanese. After making an appointment at the nearest Japanese Driving Centre, the licence translation is submitted along with several other documents, including proof of residence. Once these documents have been processed, expats from certain countries will be granted a local licence immediately. Others must first pass written and practical tests before their licence is issued.
Cycling and walking in Osaka
Though Osaka is large, the landscape is generally flat, making walking and cycling a pleasant way to get around within specific areas. Both are popular pursuits among locals. Alternative modes of transport like the subway or bus are recommended for longer distances.
If expats are planning to cycle, it should be noted that bicycles must be registered with the police in Japan – an easy but necessary process. Also, as pedestrians, they should be aware that jaywalking is generally frowned upon, and it's common practice to wait for the light, even if there's no traffic.