Kyo Train Garaku: Take The Zen Garden Train To Kyoto or Osaka

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Helen Foster

The cities of Kyoto and Osaka are only about 55 kilometers away from each other, making it easy for you to take a day trip between them, and, if you’re there at the weekend, there’s a very special train you can use to make the journey – the Kyo Train Garaku.

It’s the prettiest way to get between Osaka and Kyoto. It even has a zen garden!

Exterior view of the Kyo Train Garaku between Osaka and Kyoto. It has an oxblood coloured carriage exterior with a black and gold fan drawing spanning the carriage.

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What is the Kyo Train Garaku?

It’s a sightseeing train run by the Hankyu train company, but, as well as giving you a view outside the train, the interior is Kyoto-themed – and it’s soooo pretty.

Each of the six carriages has a slightly different design based on Kyoto’s seasons and traditional plants.

cherry blosspm patterns around a circular window on the Kyo Train Garaku, Kyoto Japan

Seats aren’t reserved, so you can sit anywhere you like on the train, and I’d firmly suggest getting to the platform early and walking through all the cars to see them all before you decide on your seat.

What Are The Carriage Themes?

To give you a clue as to what you might find.

Car One – autumn-themed, has a maple leaf pattern on the seats, with tatami-mat accents.

Car Two – is winter-themed, with bamboo as its featured plant. This car also has a dry landscaped garden inside that has given the train the nickname of the zen garden train.

Car Three – is spring-themed with a cherry blossom motif. This car has side-facing seats to allow people to watch the scenery as the train travels.

Car Four – another car with side-facing seats; this is a Summer carriage that has an iris motif.

Car Five – the second car with a garden in it – this one is modeled on the garden commonly found in Kyoto’s old wooden houses.

Car Six – plum blossoms and cranes decorate this spring-themed car.

Tourists sit in the side facing seats on the Kyo train Garaku sightseeing train

The most sought-after seats are the ones that face the windows and, as you can see, those in the know will snag these at least 20 minutes before the train leaves the station and settle down with a bento box admiring the view for the 47-minute journey to/from Kyoto.

Note – some of the trains have tatami mats on the seats – if you sit in these, you soon realize they’re quite hard. I’d stick to the padded seats if I were you!

Where Do You Catch the Train?

There are six stops on the line between Kyoto and Osaka – however, to allow you to explore the train for the longest amount of time, I’d suggest getting on at one of the terminal stations.

These are Kyoto-Kawaramachi, which is located close to the Pontocho area of Kyoto, and Osaka Umeda, which is an easy jumping-off point to all the sights you might want to visit in Osaka.

Of these, the best for exploring the train is Kyoto Kawaramachi as the train spends longer here between arrival and departure – you have about 26 minutes to wander around the train before it starts moving or gets too busy.

My advice would be to get to the platform as the preceding train pulls in (at 15 minutes past the relevant hour) so you can walk through each carriage in turn and pick your favorite to travel in.

As I said though, if you want one of the side-facing seats against the window, you’ll need to snag those quickly.

How Often Does It Run?

It only runs on Saturdays, Sundays, and Japanese holidays, but there are four departures a day in each direction.

As I write this, the Kyo Train Garaku leaves Osaka for Kyoto at 9.32, 11.32, 13.32 and 15.32

It departs Kyoto for Osaka at 10.41, 12.41, 2.41 and 4.41

zen garden on the Kyo Train Garaku between Kyoto and Osaka

But, do check the timetable closer to your journey just to ensure that the times haven’t been changed.

The journey takes 47 minutes from end to end.

How Much Does The Kyo Train Garaku Cost?

It’s the same price as the normal trains traveling this journey on the Hanyuku line – which means it costs a bargain 410 yen each way.

Do You Need to Book in Advance?

No – just turn up on the day and buy a ticket.

How Do You Buy Kyo Train Garaku Tickets?

Easy – go to the Hankyu line of the station and use the machine to book a ticket to the Osaka Umeda.

Because it’s the same price as the normal train, you just buy a normal ticket!

The important point is to ensure you head to the right platform, as it doesn’t say the train name on the station board. The key is to look for the train leaving at the correct time from the Hankyu line platform.

If you’re making a return trip, you can save a few yen by buying a one-day Hankyu Pass for 800 yen in advance from Klook, which also allows you to travel on Hankyu line trains in Kyoto and down to Kobe.

This isn’t worth it if you’re going to explore Osaka as it’s not the most convenient line, but it could come in handy if you’re using the train from Osaka to Kyoto as the Hankyu line will take you to Arashiyama, where you’ll find the famous bamboo forest.

You could then jump on one of the normal Hankyu line trains to return to Osaka later in the day using the same pass.

It also allows you to travel past Osaka to Kobe on the Hankyu line.

You can buy it in advance here.

Can You Use the JR Pass?

No. It’s not a JR train, so none of the JR Passes are valid on this train.

Can You Take Luggage on the Train?

There are no official luggage areas on the Kyo Train Garaku, so it’s not ideal if you’re traveling with large cases.

If you have smaller cases (cabin-sized), I’d suggest traveling in cars 2 and 5, as the aisles between the seats here are the widest.

Avoid the cars with window-facing seats; there isn’t enough room to put a case in the aisles without blocking someone else’s access.

If you have a lot of luggage, you’d be better off getting other services between the two cities – or using a luggage transport service, which will save you from carrying anything.

How Crowded Was It?

I went on the 12.41 services on a Sunday in May, and my carriage (No2) was virtually empty – but I think that’s because most people using the train for a day trip will depart on the first service or return on the last one.

The middle-of-the-day service wasn’t, therefore, during peak period. It was very handy for getting to Universal Studios at 3 pm if you’re using a 1.5-day ticket, though!

Helen from Japlanease on the Kyo Train Garuku. Sitting in the carriage with the Zen Garden.

I feel that the early and late services are likely to be much busier – I would also predict more people in autumn leaves season as much of the journey goes through pretty countryside.

Also, right now, the train doesn’t seem to be that well known with foreign tourists, which cuts down the crowds – I have seen more Instagram and TikTok videos on it, though so it’s likely to get busier as word gets out.

So, that’s my guide to the prettiest train between Kyoto and Osaka. If you do have any more questions, though, please head over to our Facebook group. I’ll do my best to answer them over there.

What to Read Next

If you are coming to Kyoto for the day, you might want to look at our guide to the top 10 things to do in Kyoto, which will help whittle down the highlights.

If you’re going the other way and visiting Osaka, we also have a post on what we think are the ten Osaka highlights.

And, if you’re not traveling at weekends and want to know the other routes you can use to travel between the two, then take a look at our guide to how to get from Osaka to Kyoto, which pinpoints the best route for where you want to end up in the city – and other parameters like what rail pass you might be using.

Who Writes This Blog?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a journalist and author. My travel articles have appeared in publications including The Australian, RAC Horizons, Jetstar Magazine, Sainsbury’s Magazine, and more.

I’ve traveled to Japan five times before- solo and with my partner – and I’ve just returned from trip six in June 2023. So, everything here is pretty up to date.