Tokyo and Kyoto, along with Osaka, are usually at the top of tourists’ itineraries when they visit Japan. Tokyo is commonly regarded as a city of modernity, whereas Kyoto is seen as a city of tradition. These places aren’t exactly next to each other, so how do you get from Tokyo to Kyoto? There are plenty of ways, and what to choose depends on whether you consider time or cost to be more important. Probably your best bet is getting the amazing value JR Rail Pass, especially if you have more than just Tokyo and Kyoto on your itinerary. If it’s just a Tokyo to Kyoto trip, get a shinkansen + hotel package, or a one-day bullet train package if time is tight. But read on for the full low-down.
Shinkansen (Bullet train)
Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen, costs ¥14,110 one-way in peak season, and can get you from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Hikari, which is slightly cheaper at ¥13,800 one-way, takes a little longer at 2 hours and 40 minutes. The slowest Shinkansen, Kodama, reaches Kyoto in about 3 hours and 50 minutes, and for the same price as Hikari. Knock a few hundred yen off the prices if you’re traveling off-peak—that’s anytime outside spring and summer holidays, Golden Week, and the New Year period.
If you want to keep things super cheap, then the Shinkansen isn’t your best bet. However, it’s the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and there are ways to make your Shinkansen journey cheaper. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (though longer options are also available), the Hikari is covered by the pass.
There’s also the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, which allows you to travel on the Kodama from Tokyo to Kyoto for ¥10,300 – ¥11,800 one-way, depending on the season. This plan can only be purchased at least a day in advance, and tickets are limited, so call or visit JR Tokai Tours for booking.
Lastly, if you’re not getting the JR Rail Pass, you can still purchase a special discount ticket (for tourists/visitors only), and if you’re going for a few days, you can save money with a shinkansen + hotel package. Unlike the Puratto ticket, these packages include the faster bullet trains. Top options include this economical 4-day train + hotel package, which starts at ¥37,700, and this 3-day train + 4-star hotel deal, starting at ¥46,700. There is also a 1-night hotel + train package for Osaka from ¥33,000, if you’d prefer to be based there.
Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes – 3 hours and 50 minutes
Pricing: ¥10,300– ¥14,110 (one-way)
Kyoto may not have an airport, but nearby Osaka has Kansai International Airport as the gateway to the region. Fly from Narita or Haneda Airport with a budget airline like Peach or Jetstar, and you’ll be in Osaka in just 1 and a half hours. Prices start around ¥4,590 – ¥5,190. Peach has promo fares every so often, so be on the lookout. Promo fares can go as low as ¥2,490 one-way.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar Japan||¥4,513 (US$41)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Vanilla Air||¥4,655 (US$43)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥4,725 (US$43)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||ANA (All Nippon Airways)||¥11,133 (US$101)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Japan Airlines||¥11,276 (US$102)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||STARFLYER||¥15,073 (US$137)||Details|
Although promo fares may be cheap, you’ll still have to consider the cost of getting to Narita, the cheapest of which is ¥900 (one-way) for a bus that departs from Tokyo Station. You’ll also have to consider that, once you arrive at Osaka, you’ll have to board a train or bus to Kyoto. The Haruka Limited Express, which connects Kansai Airport to Kyoto, is a 75-minute ride that costs ¥3,570 one-way in high season. For short-term visitors, we recommend getting a Haruka-and-ICOCA package, which is a better deal at ¥3,600 one-way and ¥5,200 round-trip—you get an IC card called ICOCA that comes with an initial balance of ¥1,500. You can use the card for other rail travel. The time and cost of airport transfers can still add up.
Time: About 4.5 hours (including airport transfers)
Pricing: At least ¥6,700 (one-way, including airport fees and transfer costs)
The Seishun 18 pass is a seasonal package consisting of five tickets (for five consecutive or non-consecutive days of unlimited travel) for ¥11,850. Anytime during the validity period, solo travelers can use up all five days, or group travelers can split them among themselves. In effect, each day of travel costs just ¥2,370. The catch? The pass can only be used on local and rapid JR trains, which makes for very long journeys!
The routes can be quite complicated, so plan the journey in advance on Hyperdia (deselect everything but Japan Railways and local) and budget your time accordingly, as missing one train might have a domino effect on your ride to Kyoto. If you have time to spare and are keen on saving money, this is the option for you, but it definitely isn’t for those who want an uncomplicated, quick ride to Kyoto.
Time: About 9 hours
Pricing: ¥2,370 one-way
There are numerous bus companies plying the route from Tokyo to Kyoto, including Kosoku Bus, Midnight Express, Tokyu and Willer. A ride from Tokyo to Kyoto costs from about ¥4,800 depending on comfort and season, taking about 6-9 hours. Buses that depart from Tokyo during the day usually take longer due to traffic, but night buses can get you to Kyoto Station as early as 5:15am.
Time: 6-9 hours
Pricing: At least ¥3,000 one-way
The verdict on travel from Tokyo to Kyoto
There’s no dispute that the Shinkansen is still the fastest and smoothest way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, and if you’re going to get the JR Rail Pass then it’s a no-brainer.
Otherwise, the Seishun 18 ticket is the cheapest way, but will take a toll on your time. If you want to go for the middle ground—not wasting too much time but not paying too much—you’re better off taking an overnight bus to Kyoto. Taking a plane can still be expensive and time-consuming due to airport transfers, but if you snag a good deal during promo season, go for it!
This post is updated regularly. Last update: August 15, 2017.
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