Kyoto Transportation

Subways and Trains

Kyoto has a subway and some trains, but they are mostly designed for commuters coming in/out from the suburbs and are not very useful for getting around within the city.


Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed on the street. The ryokan innkeeper can call one in advance for you, and you can book them at the train station. The only problem is that taxis are expensive, about Y620 for the flagfall, with charges for distance and time spent in traffic. The costs run up quickly, especially if the driver makes a few wrong turns or ends up on one way streets. Because of Kyoto's impossible address system, just showing a driver the address of your ryokan does not give him more than a general hint where you are headed. The drivers do of course know the major sites, and taxis can be a fast and convenient way to get around, especially if you are a group of four or five. Their trunks are big enough for strollers and baby gear.

If you have more money than time, you can also consider hiring a taxi for a few hours as your personal car and driver. Unless you speak Japanese, this is best done through your ryokan, or at the tourist counter in the train station. Figure on a couple of hundred dollars with a driver who speaks English and will serve as a guide, seriously.


For most folks, buses are the way you get around Kyoto. The good news is that they run often enough and go everywhere. The system is hard to decipher at times, and you have to climb up stairs and stand while the bus is in motion in many cases.

Let's start with money. The standard fare is (as of 2004) Y220 per adult, half price for children as defined by the driver but usually elementary school age or so. You pay in cash and most buses can change Y1000 notes but nothing larger. Change is made in the change slot, marked 5 in the picture. The money goes in the money box, marked 6 in the photo. You can also buy a book of five tickets from the driver, kaitsuken, with a handy ten percent discount. All-day passes are also available, but be careful: unlike the book tickets, the all day passes are not good for both of the two bus lines that service Kyoto (the Kyoto bus company and the City bus company).

Kyoto busAnyway, when you board the bus (from the rear door), take a ticket. This is your boarding stop. See that lighted sign in the front, marked 3 in the picture? Match the number on your ticket with the sign to know if you have to pay more than the standard fare. If there are no tickets or lighted sign, than all rides are the standard fare, no matter the distance.

As to which bus to take, the best thing is to ask someone who seems to know. Next best thing is to use a bus map, available from the tourist info center at the train station or many guide books. Bus routes are marked almost exclusively in Japanese, sorry. None of the drivers we encountered speak English, but often just stating your destination-”Ginkakuji Temple”—will bring forth a nod yes or no.

You can also troll for bus information at the City of Kyoto's web site.


Central Kyoto is generally pretty flat, and the streets are safe and clean. Though the distances can be a drag, walking is a realistic option in many cases. One thing to watch out for are the lack of sidewalks on many side streets, definitely nasty business for strollers and little kids. Drivers are usually careful, but when the street is three inches wider than the car, care is not enough. Hold on to your kids' hands.

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