Monday, 2 May 2016

JAPAN - Kyoto Subway

While I liked Osaka quite well as a city, I was a bit disappointed by Kyoto, but this was probably not the city's fault, but the situation in which I arrived. I took a Super Express from Osaka in the morning of Friday, 29 April, leaving at 9:00, which was packed completely, and me being squeezed in for half an hour with all my luggage with me to continue to Nagoya in the evening. Once I got to Kyoto, it was suddenly cold and windy, as if I had travelled 300 km to a different climate zone. Thousands of people were queuing to get off the platform, but as happens so often with stations designed by some super-renowned architect, they tend to be unpractical, and so is Kyoto's. It is impressive once you get into the main hall, but still not a very pleasant place as the wind blows through it. But I took all those escalators up to the roof from where you can get quite a nice view south and north.

As there was not much time for sightseeing anyway, and later the rain was even less encouraging to do that, I escaped into the Kyoto underworld. I got a day pass (600 Yen; for a bit more, also a day pass for subway+city bus is on offer), but the day pass is not available from machines, just from station clerks, and show a nice traditional motif on them. I took the Karasuma Line north to its terminus at the Congress Center, a very green area. There are lots of trains which belong to the Kintetsu Railway, which operates through the entire line and in the south connects directly to the suburban line to Nara (but also Subway trains continue beyond the southern terminus and provide local suburban service). The stations are all pretty plain, but o.k., the busiest have been equipped with half-height platform gates.

Kintetsu train in service on Karasuma Line

 Karasuma-Oike: the busiest stations have been equipped with platform gates

The second line, the Tozai Line, is newer and looks quite different. I haven't seen its trains properly, because they are hidden behind full-height platform screen doors, which resemble those on Tokyo's Namboku Line. Each station is in a different colour, but once again, the colours are nice but meaningless. They start with yellow at the western terminus and become increasingly red and finally purple, which does not help at all to distinguish two neighbouring stations, because they may just have two slightly different shades of pink. Just the last two stations in the southeast, which opened later, break this system (with pale tones), as probably someone had told them, that the initial idea was nonsense. 

Misasagi: typical station design for the Tozai Line

Uzumasa-Tenjingawa: narrow platform section

The station name and number can easily be read from the train, as there are also signs on the outside of the platform screen doors. Otherwise the stations look pleasant, but are much too small, cramped with staircases and escalators - it appears that staircases in Japan always have massive walls, and in the end the platforms get very narrow in those areas. The Tozai Line also has through operation, but Subway trains do not leave the tunnel (I believe), just the local Keihan trains to/from Hamaotsu join the Tozai Line at Misasagi, which is a bi-level station with two island platforms.

Randen: a light railway in the western districts

From the end of the Tozai Line, at Uzumasa-Tenjingawa, I took the Randen, a light railway, back to Omiya. The station at Uzumasa-Tenjingawa was probably built when the metro was extended from Nijo, and features proper platforms. With lots of people changing here, the Randen has mobile ticket inspectors on the platform. The other stops along the route looked rather pathetic, though with a concrete step rather than a platform to board the old high-floor trains. This little system has its own fare, of course, but modern IC cards can be used.

Hankyu's underground Kyoto terminus at Kawaramachi

Instead of walking back into the centre from Omiya in the light rain, I took the underground Hankyu, which within Kyoto seems to provide a kind of metro service, though with lots of express trains going directly to the last two stations in Kyoto. Also Keihan has several underground stations along its north-south route through the city, but I didn't get a chance to see these.

Having so many visitors, Kyoto has large English maps available, which show all major bus routes, but the Subway lines are hard to identify.

Kyoto was my last stop regarding cities which will be covered in our third volume of our trilogy "Metros & Trams in Japan" (West & South), due to be released in 2018. Apart from all the metro systems I have visited, it will, of course, also include the numerous tram systems in this region.

Previous stop: OSAKA | Next stop: NAGOYA


Kyoto Subway at UrbanRail.Net (feat. map)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Concerning the Subway:
    -You're correct to say subway trains don't enter the Keishin Line
    -I'm quite surprised to see screen gates on the Karasuma Line - quite a step for a city that's pretty backward transit-wise. Do the doors on the Kintetsu trains fit well? Or are they adjustable depending on the type of train (like the ones on Tokyo's Fukutoshin)?
    -Do subway trains still continue as far as Nara? (I visited Nara in 2006 and saw a subway train there)

    I'd like to ask if you've visited the Eiden interurban and the Ishiyama Sakamoto line? They have quite different characters from the Keifuku and Keishin lines too ;)

    On a similar note light railways are legally either tram or railway lines in Japan - Keifuku and the Otsu network are tramways; Eiden (and Enoden) are railways - which might also explain the rail company's attitude towards the line. From what I experienced Enoden feels much more substantial than Keifuku, with more railway-like signalling, platforms and fare control (although this is just an impression). Of course the Osaka Subway 'tram' is pretty much the exception...

    1. Theodore, I haven't observed any problems with the gates and Kintetsu trains, but in most cases anywhere in Japan, I saw that the gates are actually much wider than the train doors, maybe double the width, so although the stop very exactly it may be to fit different door arrangements.
      Not sure whether Subway trains run all the way to Nara, didn't have time to observe the destinations over a longer period. Could be, as in some cases in Tokyo, they actually have a pool of trains which do any service, therefore I certainly saw some Kintetsu train only doing the Karasuma Line as such. So, in return a Subway train might run far from its actual route.

    2. Dear Robert,

      At this moment i am still in Japan in Tokyo area and leaving sunday for my home country Holland. I only want to give you some information if you visit Tokyo.
      There is a single streetcar system you find it nearby Ikubukoro station you can,t miss it and its a joy of a ride. The other thing is what they say in germany eine schwebebahn. This one is outside Tokyo nearby Kamakura you have to ride this one it,s a graet atraction and realy a great joy.

      Johan Meijer

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