What Happens When You Get on the Wrong Train in Japan

Picture this: Your Google Maps direction says your train from Osaka to Nara is about to leave within a minute. You reach the platform and tell your friends to jump on the train. Minutes after the train takes off, you realize there’s something off about this train. As you track the train’s movement on Google Maps, sweat kicks in with the realization, “We’re on the WRONG train!”

Getting on the Wrong Train from Osaka to Nara

Back up plans when train lines close

When there are typhoons, floods, or heavy snowfall in Japan, train lines close until it is safe to operate. If you have travel plans, you either cancel them or find other train lines that may be open.

This was the case for our day trip from Osaka to Nara. All JR lines were closed, so the easy way to get to Nara was not possible. Our hotel offered alternate routes, but those also relied on JR trains. So it was up to us to figure out how to get from Osaka to Nara on local trains.

Wrong Train
The backup plan was for us to start at Osaka Station, transfer at Tsuruhashi Station, and get on the Kintetsu Nara Line. Logical, right? After inputting on Google Maps, Osaka Station to Tsuruhashi Station, we knew which platform and train to get on at exactly what time (and Japan transportation is almost always on time)


Realizing we are on the wrong train

As we stepped onto the train, we searched for open seats. Typically local trains have a side seat configurations. This train was situated like a bullet train. All the train cars we walked through said “Reserved Seats.” After the 4th train car, worry kicked in.

As we entered the front car of the train, we finally decided to sit down. I had yet to express my worry to my travel companions as I first wanted to find out if my fears were correct or not. When I travel on trains, taxis, and Ubers, I track my route on Google Maps so I know where I am and how close I am to my destination.

For the first 10 minutes, everything was fine. We were traveling the route headed for Tsuruhashi Station and towards Nara. Five minutes later, we flew by the station we were supposed to stop. Uh oh.

I started to track how the train turned south (literally and figuratively), and I saw that there were still stops that could connect to Nara. Nope, we kept zipping by them. At this point, I looked up to see the train’s final destination: Rapid Express to Nagoya.

Moments later, the train conductor came by asking for tickets to verify passengers were in their correct seats. I tried my best to communicate with them that we were on the wrong train as I pointed to the map on my phone. He told me, “Tsu”. As in, the next stop was Tsu, over 1.5 hours away. We were supposed to be on a 15-minute train ride! What a mistake!

I pointed to Nara and showed him my worried and apologetic face. Even though he did not speak English, he understood completely. Frantically, he motioned that we should remain in our seats and he scurried off.


Jumping off a moving train

A few minutes later, he rushed back and motioned for us to quickly follow him. We briskly walked towards the back of the train. In my head, I jokingly thought, “They are going to push us off the back of the train.”

Then we arrived at the last train car. He told us to wait for a second as he spoke to the train driver. A second later, I saw we were slowing down at a station. He motioned for us to get into the driver area as he opened the door.

Yes, we literally jumped out of a (slow) moving train.

The train could not fully stop as it would delay the exact arrival schedule as well as delay the other trains soon follow at the station. To even slow down the train for us was a massive act of kindness. They could have made us pay for that entire journey, and have us find our own way back to Nara or Osaka from Tsu. When our feet landed on the platform, we quickly waved our thanks to the conductors.

Wrong Train
Then immediately, we were greeted by two train station officers who had a book of train schedules. They informed us where to go and which exact train to take. They probably realized we might make a mistake again, so one of the train officers quickly told us to follow him as he escorted us to the proper train platform
Wrong Train
A screenshot of our misadventures. The black arrow shows our intended route. Just a straight line from Osaka to Nara. Instead, we got on the path of the red arrow – a Rapid Express that started at Osaka and the next stop was Tsu, all the way across the peninsula. The blue dot was where the train slowed down for us to jump off

The beauty of Japan is not just its nature and tourist attractions. The beauty is also in how the Japanese people are so respectful and helpful in times of need.


How to Actually Get from Osaka to Nara

Take the JR Yamanote Line from Osaka Station straight to Nara Station. The Rapid train will be on Platform 1. From Nara Station, it will take about a 15 to 20-minute walk to Nara Park (follow the signs).

Alternatively, take the Osaka Loop Line from the Osaka Station. The train will be on Platform 2. Stop at Tsuruhashi Station and transfer to the Kintetsu Nara Line on Platform 1. From Kintetsu Station, it will take a short 5-minute walk to Nara Park (turn right from the station and walk up the sidewalk).

Lesson: Don’t just jump on any train. Make sure you read that is the correct Train Number before entering!


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