How we used Kyoto as a base to explore Kansai

During my 10-day trip to Japan last October, my mom and I spent 6 days in the Kansai region and visited Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari shrine, Uji, Nara and Osaka.

Since we wanted to see many sites in Kyoto as well as the Jidai Matsuri, we used Kyoto as a base and took day trips to the other Kansai cities. But if you are more of a city person, you’d probably like staying in Osaka better than Kyoto.

Our itinerary was like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto
Day 2: Kyoto – Fushimi Inari – Uji – Nara - Kyoto [Kansai Thru Pass]
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto – Osaka – Kyoto [Kansai Thru Pass]
Day 5: Kyoto – Nara -Kyoto [JR]
Day 6: Kyoto (Jidai matsuri)

My mom and I are temple, old building lovers so three days in Kyoto was fine. (Although we did spend a large part of our last day napping in the public bus.)

Saving on transport

Since we did not buy a JR Pass, I had to think of other ways of saving on transportation. I had different strategies depending on where we were visiting that day.

Kyoto

Kyoto City Bus 1 Day Pass

For trips in Kyoto, the 500-yen one day bus pass is quite sufficient. My mom and I usually buy one the night before from the vending machines at Kyoto Station so that we can use it immediately when we leave the hostel the next morning. But you can also buy it directly from the bus driver.

For the first time you are using the pass, you’ll need to slot it into the machine which will print out the date behind. On your next trips, you’ll only need to flash the date at the bus driver.

As Kyoto’s bus system is very compact, we didn’t buy the subway+bus pass which is about 1,200 yen. When we needed to reach the location for Jidai Matsuri, we bought a one-way ticket which was a lot cheaper than the pass.

Kyoto subway ticket

Away from Kyoto

For our Osaka/Nara trips, we used a 2-day Kansai Through Pass which costs 3,800 yen.

2-day Kansai Thru Pass

The pass covers a large portion of the private railway lines, subway and bus in the Kansai region. You won’t be able to take JR trains–including the Shinkansen–but there are plenty of equally timing saving alternatives around.

The pass is great since we can start using it on the bus immediately in Kyoto to get to the main terminal. For our Osaka trip, I’m not sure if it would have saved us money if we bought a combination of Kyoto bus pass, return train trip to Osaka and Osaka subway pass, but it sure saved us time buying tickets.

Do note that the train stations for these private lines might be different from the JR ones, even if they had the same name. I had to ask around for the line that goes to Fushimi-Inari.

Oh, you won’t be able to use the pass for buses in Nara. Boo, when we wanted to visit the Yurara-no-yu onsen.

JR ticket to Nara

We also took a JR train. For our second day in Nara (the Jidai Matsuri was cancelled because of the rain), we had exhausted our Kansai Through Pass so we bought one-way tickets to and from Nara. The scenery on JR seems to be more scenic than the private rail.

So that’s how we used Kyoto as a base for exploring Kansai. Do you have similar experiences?

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18 thoughts on “How we used Kyoto as a base to explore Kansai

  1. I am going on first trip to Osaka, and was feeling a little lost, good to read your article, but was it easy to find out which bus to take?

    • Hello Ian, I read Japanese so it was ok for me. I believe the route map at bus stations have English names next to the Japanese names.
      If you are only visiting the major attractions, there are buses 10X that go around those area so it’s not that difficult.

  2. Hi your article is really informative and I planned to the exact thing as in making Kyoto my base. I am not sure to buy the JR Pass or not and how good would the Kansai Thru Pass be. You article has given me so ideas.

  3. Hi there, I would like to check if the 2-day Kansai Thru Pass can be used on different days instead of consecutively? Thanks!

      • I am based in Osaka. I am thinking if I should buy the Kansai Thru 2-day pass for travel to Kyoto (1 day) and Nara (1 day)? Does that mean I can take most buses like 10X in Kyoto without having to pay for the 500yen bus ticket?

      • Yes, you can use the Kansai Thru Pass as much as you want on Kyoto buses..
        Unfortunately, Nara buses do not accept the Thru Pass.

  4. hi, we will be going to osaka & kyoto for 8 days. My question is can we buy 2 tix of kansai thru pass for one person? or is it limited to one ticket per person. Where can we buy the ticket. Can it be purchase in KL? TQ

    • Hello, from the Kansai Thru Pass web site, I don’t think that visitors are limited to buying one pass each but I might be wrong. What I suggest is buying the pass at two different times.
      The pass is available only in Japan (which means there’s no need to apply for one back in your home country like the JR Pass). I bought mine at Kyoto train station. If you ask the tourist information centre, they will politely show you where you can get one. The site also has a full list: http://www.surutto.com/tickets/kansai_thru_english.html
      Hope that helps.

      -Yun Qing

  5. Hello. I will be in Kyoto on Sunday. Could you tell me excatly which train and lines I have to take from Kyoto to go to these destinations :
    - Osaka
    - Nara
    - Uji
    - Fushimi Inari
    - Saga Arashiyama
    - Ohara

    If you know others destinations to try please tell me. I will stay 6 days in Kyoto in total so I have the time to visit almost everything inside and outide the city !

    I already search of course on internet for the best and fast itinary without too many or no transfer. But there are too much lines of trains to choose the best one ! Indeed I saw that I can maybe go faster by using Kyoto subway to reach some destination like Nara or Uji more easily.

    Looking forward to your answers,

    Best regards,

    Benoit.

    • Hello Benoit,

      I don’t stay in Japan so I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of transportation there.

      Still, I trust maps.google.com enough to do most of my planning there. Do give it a try. You can even set the departure time.

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