This week I made my first attempt to get out of Osaka and head for a nearby city using the train system here. I left early (2 hours) but I barely made it to my meeting on time. Why?
Outbound from Osaka to Kyoto I found the platforms for the JR Kyoto Line no problem but then I made the mistake of getting on a Local (普通) which did what one might expect - stop at every single station between the two cities. It was nearly an hour before I arrived in Kyoto. Since it was early evening and dark I couldn't even admire the countryside as the train clickety-clacked along the track.
But I now know all the stations on the line and if I ever have to go to Suita, well, it won't be a problem. I also ended up (by some strange twist of fate) in the Woman's Car. Yep, they have cars that are only for women (and I'm one so I felt right at home).
I did arrive safely at Kyoto Station and took the subway to where the meeting was. People there were more than happy to clue me in. The train I should have taken, they said, is shown as the "S. Rapid" on the display. This is the Shinkaisoku or Special Rapid Train (新快速). Can't miss it because it shown in red. So on the way back home I took that one and sure enough it got me back to Osaka Station in a swift 28 minutes. Oh my, was that one fast train - I felt like we were flying along the tracks. Very spiffy.
Whenever I go out, I have these little cards that I keep in my purse with my home address in Japanese. This is in case I get lost and have to ask for directions or tell a tax driver to take me home. It's a very long address and not so easy to interpret even in English: 1-15-25 Shimanouchi. What does that mean? Well, it's not the name of the street, it's the name of the block/district. Here's a good video that explains how it works:
And for a even more detailed explanation see this site: How the Japanese Address System Works.
Once you have the principle down, it does make a lot of sense.