A major crossroads for rail traffic packed to the brim with railway companies, Osaka is the perfect city to enjoy the best of rail, whether you’re a long-time enthusiast or new to the "iron roads." That way long-distance express trains coming in from the east and the west pluck at your wanderlust, that classic scent of rail travel in solid old train cars still chugging away a half-century later, those feelings evoked by Shinkansen bullet trains clad in their auras of speed—there is lot to discover in the world of trains, and even the rail cars you ride everyday have their history, points of distinction, and special characteristics. The more you know, the more you want to know, and there’s so much to discover. From riders and photographers to the core fans and the modelists, there are many different types of rail fans, and Osaka has something to offer them all. Which one are you?
Start at either JR Shin-Osaka Station or
Shin-Osaka Station on the Subway Midosuji Line
A short walk
1. View Shinkansen and Tokkyu limited express trains at JR Shin-Osaka Station
Start off by stopping in at the gateway to rail in Osaka, JR Shin-Osaka Station, where you can check out plenty of different Tokkyu limited express and Shinkansen trains. Some of the hottest trains today are the new-style Mizuho and Sakura trains used for the San’yo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines (opened March 2011) running directly between Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima. Based on the N700 series, these gorgeous and graceful cars are done in a “white indigo” sky blue evocative of porcelain and ceramic. It’s also worth it to go check out some of the other Shin-Osaka departures like the glossy snow-white Thunderbird limited express that ties Osaka with Toyoma or the blue, porpoise-like Kuroshio (previously the Ocean Arrow) express that runs along the coast south from Kyoto down to Shingu in Wakayama. The train schedule does vary, but if you’d like to see lots of different trains, it’s best to come around in the morning. You’ll need an entry ticket (¥120, valid for 2 hours) to get into the station.
Board train at Osaka Station, Subway Midosuji Line; disembark at Umeda Station; walk 5 minutes
2. View simultaneous departures of three different lines at Hankyu Umeda Station
Hankyu Umeda Station—spacious and open like a station from overseas, where wine-red cars line the tracks in perfect order. Serving three lines across a total of nine tracks, the station is one of Japan's largest, if not Japan's largest, single railway terminal. A familiar sight to the people of Western Japan, the wine-red color traditional to Hankyu Railway is actually called Hankyu Maroon, a color they’ve used consistently from their founding to the present day. However, this aura of luxury isn’t limited to the exterior of the cars: The interior of Hankyu trains exudes an atmosphere of classic dignity, from the wood-grain detailing to the olive-colored seats. At Hankyu Umeda Station, you’ll get the chance to see three of these works of art depart at the same time. Three trains on the Kobe, Tarakazuka, and Kyoto lines are scheduled to leave the station simultaneously, creating a stunning piece of railway scenery. Time will stand still as you’re struck with the beauty of the cars, each accelerating at its own speed and tracing a curve to disappear out among the high-rises. The 3-line simultaneous departure happens about once every 10 minutes from 10:00 to 22:00 (varies with time of day). You’ll need an entry ticket (¥150, valid for 2 hours) to get into the station.
Walk 6 minutes; board JR Osaka Loop Line (Inner Circle - counterclockwise) at JR Osaka Station for Tennoji; disembark Tennoji Station; walk to Tennoji-ekimae Station to transfer to the Uemachi Line on the Hankai Traimway
3. The streetcar (Uemachi Line, Hankai Tramway)
The only tramway in Osaka, Hankai Tramway has many different kinds of tram cars, from classic configurations to the newest designs as well as the occasional unique car done in madly colorful full-body advertising sure to catch the eye. One of the car designs is the brainchild of a famed French designer, even! The tramway’s Uemachi Line departs from the bustling Tennoji-ekimae Station and passes through stations like Higashi-Tengachaya Station near Abeseimei Jinja Shrine and Tezukayama-3chome Station near the Tezukayama Tumulus, until arriving at last, clacking and clanging in full retro style, into Sumiyoshikoenmae Station near the famous Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine. Come aboard and let the train rock you gently as you pass through Osaka’s cozy, everyday townscape: As promised by the official tagline, “Head down memory lane every time you get aboard; encounter something new and fun everywhere you get off,” this may be your chance to find the best of Old Osaka.
Per ride: adults ¥200, children ¥100
Disembark at Sumiyoshikoen Station, Uemachi Line, Hankai Tramway; walk to Sumiyoshitaisha Station, Nankai Main Line and transfer to a Namba-bound train; disembark at Kishinosato-Tamade Station and transfer to a Shiomibashi-bound train on the Nankai Koya Line
4. The Nankai Koya Line’s “appendix” line
Japanese rail fans talk about a kind of line called an “appendix” or “cecum” line (“mocho-sen”). These are a kind of rail line where one of the terminal stations is a dead-end with no further rail connections: When seen on a rail map, it really does look like a dangling appendix, which is where the name comes from. The Nankai Koya Line running from Kishinosato-Tamade Station to Shiomibashi Station is one of these appendix lines. The line has many of the characteristics typical of an appendix line, including a short operating distance, few trains, and no express or limited express trains. As close as it may be to Namba, one of Osaka’s leading downtown areas, there’s hardly anyone aboard, giving the line a laid-back feel packed with local atmosphere. You can look out the windows and watch the classic downtown homes and decaying industrial landscape pass you by. During your journey, stop off at Kizugawa Station and you’ll find yourself completely alone—around you a perfectly still silence, the clear blue sky, and the tracks drawing two straight lines into the distance. Here, standing on a tiny station platform set with benches from some other era, you’ll feel as if you’ve been dropped without warning far away from where you were and into another, earlier time.
Disembark at Shiomibashi Station, Nankai Koya Line; walk to Sakuragawa Station and board a Nippombashi-bound train on the Hanshin Namba Line; disembark at Nippombashi Station
5. Nippombashi—Tour the area’s model train shops
There are many ways to have fun with model trains: operating them, collecting your favorite, putting together your very own, or setting them to run through a model diorama layout. The Nippombashi area has any number of specialty model train shops providing a rich selection of all the items needed for this diverse hobby, from trains (of course), tracks, and power supplies to structures, accessories, and basic materials. Among these shops is the Osaka Nippombashi Branch of Popondetta, located on the third floor of a building and densely packed with huge books and countless model trains old and new. There is also a painstakingly-crafted model railroad layout which you can (for a fee) actually run a model train through. However, just looking at their incredible layout is interesting enough, filled to the brim with an artisan’s pride and featuring plenty of German-made structures and figurines placed throughout. Other shops in the area include the Nippombashi Branch 1 of Hobbyland Pochi, Greenmax the Store, and Rail Workshop Higeshin together with general hobbyist shops like Volks Osaka SR and the main branch of Super Kids Land.
Board Tsuruhashi-bound train at Nippombashi Station, Kintetsu Osaka Line; disembark at Tsuruhashi Station
6. Gatan Goton, a train hobbyists’ shop
Kinki Nippon Tetsudo (“Western Japan Railway”), commonly known as “Kintetsu,” is one of Japan’s railway giants boasting tracks in the five prefectures of Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Mie, and Aichi. Putting aside the JR group railways, Kintetsu can claim more track than any other private railway company in Japan. It’s not your typical railway, and features innovative design in their limited express trains like the Urban Liner on the Osaka-Nagoya run and the luxurious, resort-inspired Ise-Shima Liner as well as the Sengyo Ressha (“Fresh Seafood Train”), a charter train with many years of history used to transport fish freshly caught in Ise-Shima along the Kintetsu line (not available for passenger use). Over in Kintetsu’s Tsuruhashi Station, among the enticing aroma of yakiniku barbecue you’ll find Gatan Goton, the railway’s directly-managed goods shop. It brings together around 300 different company brand items, from well-priced stationery to the finest model railway cars. People come from all over to visit the shop, and the dioramas inspired by famous destinations along Kintetsu lines are also a popular sight.
2-1-20 Tsuruhashi, Ikuno-ku, Osaka
Opening Hour 11:00 – 14:00 and 16:00 – 20:00; 10:00 – 18:30 (weekends and holidays) Closed No designated days closed
Sights to see：Built up as part of urban renewal on the land north of Osaka Station, Osaka Station City brings together a huge number of facilities, from department stores and specialty shops to restaurants. With its massive dome-style glass roof, the observation floor invites visitors to look down to the trains departing Osaka Station.
HUNGRY?：Near the Shinkansen ticket counter at Shin-Osaka Station is a bento boxed lunch shop called Jujutei. Their Japanese-style barbecue bento lunch box got national exposure after an entertainer spoke highly of it on a popular television program. It’s got plenty of thick-cut grilled beef marinated in a rich Japanese-style sauce of apples and red wine.