Loop Line Trains: 外回り vs 内回り

If you travel on a loop rail line in Japan such as the Osaka loop line or the Yamanote line in Tokyo, you’ll encounter signage for 外回り (そとまわり) outer circle and 内回り (うちまわり) inner circle notation as you choose which track to use catch your train.

But which one do you want to take?

Often, resources like google maps will indicate that you should take the “clockwise” or “counter-clockwise” direction of a loop line.  Likewise, looking at your starting and destination stations on the rail map at the station, it will be evident to you which is the shortest physical route to your destination.  But how do you translate clockwise/counter-clockwise to the 外回り / 内回り notation used on the loop line signage?

The key to keeping this straight is remembering that trains travel on the left, just like cars in Japan.  Hence, the outside (外回り) is clockwise and the inside (内回り) is counter-clockwise!

So, consulting the helpful sign below, if we want to travel on the Osaka Loop Line (大阪環状線) from Noda (野田) to Temma (天満), we want to travel clockwise in the 外回り direction.  Off to Platform 2 we go!