If you’re coming to enjoy Kyoto on your own, you will likely use the Keihan Line to get around. This train line runs north to south beside the Kamo River then curves west toward Osaka, terminating at Yodobashi Station. Within Kyoto, it provides convenient access to a good number of Kyoto’s attractions, since many of these are located near the Kamo. In fact one of my criteria for a good place to stay in Kyoto is proximity to a Keihan station. In this article I’ll give a rundown of how to use the Keihan Line efficiently and what’s good at each major station, from north to south.
The blog post title is inspired by Hiroshige’s masterpiece ukiyo-e collection, 53 Stations of the Tokaido. So for each station I’ll be posting one of our photos taken at a nearby site, or a site you can reach by taking that station.
The Keihan Main Line runs underground from Demachiyanagi Station to Shichijo Station, after which it emerges and runs aboveground the rest of the way to Yodobashi. This is why it’s not considered a subway — some visitors have been confused by articles saying there are only two subway lines in Kyoto, when it seems there are three. Navigating the line and its stations is easy as there are English signs at all of them.
Fares start at 150 JPY and go up based on distance. If you plan to use the trains a lot, it’s a good idea to get an ICOCA card or the Keihan Kyoto/Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Passes. The passes give unlimited rides for 1 or 2 days on Keihan trains. The JR Pass however is not valid on the Keihan line.
The Keihan Line is served by several types of train, which are color-coded.
- Local trains (futsu), coded black, stop at all stations.
- Sub-express trains (junkyu), coded blue, stop at all stations within Kyoto, but skip a number of stations on the way to Osaka.
- Express trains (kyuko), coded orange, skip many stations including Kiyomizu-Gojo, Tofukuji, and Fushimi-Inari.
- Limited Express trains (tokkyu), coded red, skip even more stations, and the premium car is reserved seating only — you need a seat ticket in addition to the regular fare for it.
- Liners are all-reserved seating, stop only at Demachiyanagi, Sanjo, Gion-Shijo and Shichijo in Kyoto before speeding on to Osaka.
When in doubt, check the station’s boards and the streaming ticker sign above the tracks to check if the current train stops at your station. We used the sub-express trains the most, but note that these make long stops at certain stations such as Sanjo to allow the express trains to pass them.
The 14 Stations
These are the 14 stations of note, from north to south:
Demachiyanagi Station is the northern terminus of the Keihan Line. From here, you can walk to the aboveground Eizan Line Demachiyanagi Station for trains to Kurama and Yase-Hiezan-Guchi (for Mt. Hiei), as well as Takaragaike Park and the Ruriko-in Temple. The station is right by the confluence of the Takano and Kamo rivers, and the meeting point is a beautiful little park that’s great for picnics and watching the variety of riverfowl that come to feed here every morning. (As of April 2019 the banks here were under repair.)
A short walk north is the Shimogamo Jinja shrine and its Tadasu no Mori forest. Just south of the station is Imadegawa-dori street, from where walking east takes you to Yoshida Shrine and Ginkakuji, and west takes you to the northern entrance of the Imperial Palace park (Kyoto Gyoen).
Jingu Marutamachi Station
Jingu-Marutamachi Station is close to Heian Jingu shrine and the Okazaki Park complex, and the southern entrance of the Imperial Palace. The riverbank walk from here to Demachiyanagi is particularly lovely in spring when the cherries bloom, and it’s a short walk to the sakura-lined Okazaki Canal. Note that some trains don’t stop here.
Sanjo Station is a major stop giving access to Kyoto’s downtown area, so all trains stop here. You can transfer from the Keihan Line to the Tozai Subway line here for destinations in the Higashiyama area such as Nanzenji, Keage Incline and the Philosopher’s Path (Keage Station), Daigoji (Daigo Station), and for Uzumasa Tenjingawa Station in the west which connects to the Randen tram line going to Arashiyama and the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. At Yamashina Station the Tozai Line connects to the JR lines going around Lake Biwa (the Kosei line goes around the western shore, the Tokaido line goes around the eastern shore).
Local and sub-express trains stop at Sanjo Station for a longer time than normal to allow the express and limited express trains to pass them. You have the option to switch to the faster train here, but make sure to head for the unreserved seating car unless you’re willing to pay for the seat ticket.
Cathy and I often joked that you’d know when you rolled into Gion-Shijo Station even without looking at the signs — nearly all the foreign-looking passengers would get off! As it says on the tin, this station leads to Gion, Kyoto’s most famous district. Walking east from Gion-Shijo Station takes you to Yasaka Shrine, beyond which is Maruyama Park; the entire walk is lined with all kinds of souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Walking west takes you into the heart of Kyoto’s downtown; this area is lined with big department stores, specialty shops, and even more restaurants. A short walk past the Hankyu Kawaramachi Station takes you to Nishiki Market and the Teramachi shopping arcades.
Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, despite being named after the famous Kiyomizudera, is a relatively minor station. Not all trains stop here. Kiyomizudera temple is located on a hill due east of this station. Most tourists, however, seem to arrive at Kiyomizudera by bus (the bus stop is much closer to the temple), or walk in from Gion which is the more fun and scenic route as you get to pass the preserved machiya of Nene-no-Michi and the Ninnenzaka/Sannenzaka stairs. The stretch of the Kamogawa from Gojo to Shichijo however has nice cherry trees, and less crowds than the Gojo-Shijo stretch.
Shichijo Station is a major station, all trains stop here. Kyoto Station is a short walk west then south from this station (12-15 minutes), while the Sanjusangendo temple and the Kyoto National Museum are about an equal distance east. Also to the east, past McDonalds, is the Chagetsu takeout sushi shop where Cathy and I would often get dinner. They have good sushi at very affordable prices. Prices are marked down in the evening. The stretch of river here is far less crowded, so it’s a very relaxing stroll – I also got some of my best bird photos near here. Note that there is now a Keihan bus service from Shichijo Station to Kyoto Station and vice versa, making the hotels nearby much more convenient to access.
Tofukuji Station is of course the primary access to Tofukuji temple, a large Zen temple complex with literally dozens of subtemples. Only Local and Sub-express trains stop here. At this station you can change to the JR Nara line.
This is another major tourist stop, being a short walk away from Kyoto’s most popular attraction. The Fushimi Inari Taisha has been voted several years running in TripAdvisor as the top attraction of Kyoto for foreign tourists, so expect major crowds here both coming and going. Note that the northbound and southbound platforms have separate entrances, and no connecting passageway between them. Make sure you enter the correct platform — if you’re returning to central Kyoto from Fushimi Inari Shrine you have to cross the tracks to get to your platform.
Chushojima Station is the access point for the Fushimi Canals and sake-brewing district, a quiet and picturesque place lined with cherries and weeping willows. You can also change here for the Keihan Uji Line to visit Uji, Japan’s matcha capital and home to the grand Byodo-in temple. The famous reflection of the Byodo-in looks best in the morning. Also don’t miss the temple’s fine museum of Buddhist art — it’s included in the admission fee.
Tambabashi Station connects the Keihan Main Line with the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. You can transfer here to get to Jonangu Shrine via Kintetsu Takeda Station. Jonangu is a Shinto shrine that was formerly an Imperial villa, with five different gardens. It’s at its most spectacular from mid-February to mid-March when the plum blossoms and camellias come into bloom.
Yawatashi Station is the main Keihan station for Yawata city. The main attraction here is the Yodogawa Riverside Park, where the Kizu, Uji, and Katsura rivers meet and flow together to form the Yodo. If you go up the Umeda Sky building’s observation deck in Osaka, you’ll see the Yodo again where it meets the sea, its banks lined with commercial buildings, factories and wharves. In Yawata however the riverbanks are lined with cherry trees, so this is a very popular hanami spot in spring. Try to get here early on a weekday to enjoy it with the least crowds.
Hirakatashi Station connects to the Keihan Katano Line for Kisaichi Station, which is the access to the vast highland Hoshida Park. This park is famous for its Hoshi no Buranko (Swing of the Stars) suspension bridge, which crosses a deep gorge that’s lined on all sides with jaw-dropping colors in autumn.
Temmabashi Station in Osaka City is a 15-minute walk away from the Osaka Castle Park. This is a convenient way to get to Osaka Castle from Kyoto without wading through the flood of commuters at Kyoto Station, and with no need to change trains as you would using JR. It’s cheaper too – half the price!
Yodoyabashi Station connects with the Midosuji Subway Line for Namba, from where you can eat at Dotonbori or the Kuromon Ichiba market, shop til you drop in the many department stores or the Doguyasuji arcade for kitchenware and Japanese ingredients, and the Nankai Namba Station has rapid trains for Kansai International Airport. If you plan to take the Keihan train from Kyoto to Osaka, however, note that there’s little room for luggage on a Keihan train; you may want to send your luggage ahead via a takkyubin service such as Yamato Kuroneko.