The Kansai Region is home to some of Japan's most popular sightseeing destinations, including Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Himeji. The region is served by a dense rail network which is operated by over half a dozen railway companies. As a result, a myriad of tickets and rail passes are available to help tourists save some money. Yet so much selection often leaves our readers confused over which is the best rail pass for them.

What tickets and passes are available?

The following is a list of tickets and passes available for the Kansai Region and their pros and cons:

IC Cards

Icoca    click here for details
Type: A prepaid card rather than a rail pass, Icoca can be used on virtually all trains, subways and buses in the Kansai Region (and other metropolitan areas in Japan) instead of cash. The Kansai One Pass is a special version of Icoca, exclusively available to foreign tourists, that additionally qualifies for discounts at various attractions in the Kansai Region.
Pros: + Provides convenience over payment by cash
+ Can be used on JR and non-JR transportation
Cons: - Does not provide any discount on fares over regular tickets
Ideal for: The many travelers whose itineraries do not justify the purchase of a rail pass, especially those who stay for several days in a single city.
More details...

City Passes

City Passes
Type: A variety of day passes for designated transportation in individual cities are available, such as the Osaka Amazing Pass, Osaka One-Day Pass and Kyoto One Day Bus Card.
Pros: + Some day passes can provide savings and convenience over regular tickets
Cons: - Some day passes are too expensive to pay off for regular travelers
- City passes are not valid outside of the given city
Ideal for: Travelers who extensively use urban transportation in a given city.
More details on day passes for Osaka
More details on day passes for Kyoto

Regional Passes

Kansai Thru Pass    click here for details
Type: Unlimited travel on non-JR trains, subways and buses in Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Nara and Mount Koya.
Pros: + Wide coverage of trains, subways and buses inside and between cities
+ Can be used on non-consecutive days
Cons: - Not valid on JR trains, which tend to be faster
- Likely not to pay off if you only visit the central cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara
Ideal for: Those who are based in Osaka or Kyoto and make a side trip to a less central destination in the Kansai Region, such as Himeji or Mount Koya.
More details...

JR Kansai Area Pass    click here for details
Type: Unlimited travel on local and rapid JR trains and the Haruka airport train.
Pros: + 1-day pass is cheaper than regular tickets for a side trip from Kyoto/Osaka to Himeji
Cons: - Usually too expensive to pay off
- Not valid on non-JR trains
- Not convenient for transportation inside cities (except Osaka to a certain degree)
Ideal for: This pass usually only pays off for side trips to one or more of the more outlying destinations covered, such as Himeji, Hikone, Iga Ueno or Koka.
More details...

JR Kansai Wide Area Pass    click here for details
Type: Unlimited use of local, rapid and limited express JR trains in the Kansai Region and the shinkansen between Osaka and Okayama.
Pros: + Wide coverage area
+ Covers shinkansen and limited express trains
Cons: - Shinkansen between Kyoto and Osaka is not covered
- Not valid on non-JR trains
- Not convenient for transportation inside cities (except Osaka to a certain degree)
Ideal for: Those who plan to visit one or more of the less central destinations in the pass' coverage area, such as Okayama, Kinosaki Onsen, Naoshima or the Kumano Region.
More details...

Kintetsu Rail Pass    click here for details
Type: Unlimited travel on the Kintetsu Railway network (except limited express trains). A "plus" version additionally covers selected buses.
Pros: + Wide coverage area all the way to Nagoya and Ise
+ Pays off for long distance trips
Cons: - Not ideal for most Kansai-centric itineraries
- Not valid on non-Kintetsu trains
- Does not cover transportation inside cities
Ideal for: Those who plan to use Kintetsu trains extensively, especially for trips to Ise or Nagoya.
More details...

Which pass is right for me?

When visiting only Kyoto or Osaka

If you limit your visit to just Kyoto or Osaka, regional passes will not pay off. Using an IC card in combination with good transportation planning is often most economical. Day passes can also be of good value (see lists of day passes for Kyoto and Osaka), especially the Osaka Amazing Pass. Travelers arriving at Kansai Airport should consider the Icoca & Haruka ticket.

When visiting a combination of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and/or Kobe

These major cities are all within 20-60 minutes of each other and are connected by a variety of inexpensive, local trains. As a result, regional passes do not typically pay off. Instead, an IC card and/or day passes for individual cities are usually the best choice. For transportation to/from the airport, consider the Icoca & Haruka ticket.

When also visiting Himeji

Himeji is far enough from the rest of the big cities that a day trip out to see Himeji Castle will make some of the regional passes pay off, namely the 1-day JR Kansai Area Pass and the Kansai Thru Pass.

When also visiting Mount Koya

The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket pays off for a daytrip or overnight visit to Mount Koya. Alternatively, consider the Kansai Thru Pass, especially if staying at the mountain for more than one night or if also visiting other parts of the Kansai Region besides Mount Koya.

When also visiting Kinosaki, Amanohashidate or the Kumano Region

The JR Kansai Wide Area Pass pays off if you take a side trip to one or more of the more outlying destinations covered by the pass, namely Kinosaki Onsen, Amanohashidate or the Kumano Region.

When also visiting the Ise Shrines

The Kintetsu Rail Pass can be a good value for those who take a side trip to the Ise Shines from any a major city in the Kansai Region.

For Japan Rail Pass holders

The Japan Rail Pass only pays off for long-distance train travel and is not worth purchasing for travel around the Kansai Region alone. Pass holders visiting the Kansai Region will be able to travel between most of the region's cities (one exception is Mount Koya); however, the pass does not cover non-JR transportation which is often most convenient for getting around the cities, such as subways and buses in Osaka and Kyoto. Pass holders could consider using an IC card for the non-JR transportation or day passes for Kyoto or Osaka.