Like Tokyo, Osaka has an extensive railway and subway network that is perfect for getting to any where the average tourist would want to go.
Like most of Japan’s cities the rail network comprises of several competing companies operating independent networks. The main players in central Osaka’s rail network are JR West and the Osaka Municipal Subway. There are also a few private companies running rail lines in outer suburbs as far as Kobe and Nagoya.
JR run much of the above ground rail in Osaka with their main line being the Osaka loop line that circles central Osaka city. JR’s main station is Osaka Station located in the Umeda district. This huge station is attached to or adjacent many of the competing rail networks stations. JR also operate the Shinkansen Bullet train to other parts of Japan, but unlike Tokyo, the Shinkansen does not go to JR’s main Osaka Station but to the smaller Shin-Osaka one stop away.
The most extensive rail network in the central suburbs of Kita to Minami is the Osaka Municipal Subway system. The subway has several lines that cross across one another. There are subway stations every few blocks in central Osaka city with some stations covering several blocks themselves. Many visitors to Osaka may find there is very little need to use any other rail network in Osaka than the subway system. This is one reason why the Japan Rail Pass is not always good value, as the rail pass is only valid on JR lines and not on the subway.
Like JR, the subway system is fairly English friendly with most of the signs displayed in both Japanese and English, The subway also has a simple code system where each line has a colour and letter code given to it while each station has a number assigned to it. This is good as it’s much easier to remember N24 than Imafuku-Tsurumi station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi line, for example.
There are also many private rail companies in Osaka that run lines in the outer suburbs. If your hotel is near one of these lines you can use this to transfer to another network as the private lines will always terminate near a major JR or Subway station. This is why it’s important to know what brand rail network you are on and what brand network you want to get to. These private railways like Hanshin and Hankyu connects to other cities like Kyoto and Kobe, while Kintetsu connects to Nara and Nagoya. These private rail companies provide a cheaper but slower service than JR’s Shinkansen to these nearby cities.