Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways to Travel

Carey Finn

Tokyo and Kyoto, along with neighboring Osaka, are usually at the top of the itinerary when you visit Japan. Tokyo is commonly regarded as a hub of modernity, whereas Kyoto is seen as a city of tradition. The distance between the two is roughly 450km, so how do you get from Tokyo to Kyoto?

tokyo to kyoto bullet train
On clear days, Mount Fuji is visible from the bullet train. | Photo by hans-johnson used under CC

tl;dr: There are plenty of ways, and what to choose depends on whether you consider time or cost to be more important. In general, the Shinkansen is the fastest and most convenient option. Probably your best bet is getting the amazing-value Japan Rail Pass, especially if you have more than just Tokyo and Kyoto on your itinerary. If it’s just one Tokyo to Kyoto trip, consider getting a discounted round-trip bullet train package. But read on for the full low-down.

Jump to:

Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
The Shinkansen is the easiest way of getting from Tokyo to Kyoto. | Photo by Thilo Hilberer used under CC

Time and cost

The Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen, costs about ¥14,370 one-way during peak season, and can get you from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Hikari, which is slightly cheaper at around ¥14,050 one way, takes a little longer at 2 hours and 40 minutes. The slowest Shinkansen, the Kodama, reaches Kyoto in about 3 hours and 50 minutes, and for the same price as the 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.

Departure stations and seat reservations

You can board the Shinkansen at Tokyo, Shinagawa or Shin-Yokohama Station. This is one of the most popular bullet train routes in the country, with a train departing for Kyoto Station approximately every 10 minutes. You can see timetables on fare- and route-finding sites like Hyperdia.

The frequency of trains doesn’t mean it’s ideal to board without a seat reservation—opting for the unreserved jiyuuseki will save you a few hundred yen, but could see you standing awkwardly the whole way to Kyoto. The standard advice is, if possible, to cough up those extra coins and get reserved seats (shiteiseki)—which you can arrange easily at JR ticket offices. You can do that at the same time as activating your JR Pass, if you have one (reservations are free with the pass). If you’re committed to unreserved seats, as is the case with some of the discount tickets, just get to the station early, and try to be close to the front of the line outside one of the designated unreserved carriages, to increase your chances of getting a seat.

How to save money on bullet train tickets

If you want to keep things super cheap, then the Shinkansen probably isn’t your best bet. However, it is the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and there are a few ways to make your Shinkansen journey more affordable.

Japan Rail Pass

First off, if you have a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (longer options are also available), the Hikari (not Nozomi) is 100% covered by the pass.

Discount tickets

If you’re not getting the JR Pass, you can still purchase a special discount ticket (for tourists/visitors only), which is ¥21,000 for a round-trip and includes a subway and bus pass. While good for overnight or longer stays, this discount package can also be used for day trips from Tokyo to Kyoto.

There’s also the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, which allows travel on the slow Kodama from Tokyo to Kyoto for around ¥10,500¥11,900 one way, depending on the season. This plan must be purchased at least a day in advance, and tickets are limited. Look up JR Tokai Tours for more info.

The Hokuriku Arch Pass: If slow travel is your jam, you might want to check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass too—it’s a nice little regional rail pass that takes you between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka, along Japan’s “golden route” that includes Nagano and Kanazawa.

Bullet train summary

Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes – 3 hours and 50 minutes
Pricing: ¥10,500¥14,370 one-way (discount packages may be cheaper)

Flights from Tokyo to Kyoto: Low-cost airlines

Peach Airlines
Photo by Gregory Lane

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 one and a half hours. Prices start around ¥4,590¥5,190. There are tourist and other promo fares every so often, so be on the lookout. One-way fares can go as low as ¥2,490.

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Tokyo => Kansai SAM Columbia ¥5,201 (US$48) Details
Tokyo => Kansai Jetstar ¥5,614 (US$51) Details

Pro tip: Here’s a nice little hack—check which day of the week you’ll get the best deal.

Although fares for flights between Tokyo and Osaka may be cheap, you’ll still have to consider the cost of getting to Narita Airport, the cheapest of which is about ¥900 (one-way) for a bus that departs from Tokyo Station, or the cost of getting to Haneda Airport. You’ll also need to consider that, once you land 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 in the region of ¥3,570 one-way in high season. For short-term visitors, we recommend getting a Haruka + ICOCA package, which is a better deal at ¥3,600 one-way and ¥5,200 for a 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 in Japan. Note that the route from Kansai Airport to Kyoto is also covered by the JR Pass.

Flights summary

Time: About 4.5 hours (including airport transfers)
Pricing: At least ¥6,700 (one-way, including airport fees and transfer costs)

From Tokyo to Kyoto by bus

tokyo to kyoto - japan rail pass
Night buses are also a good option for budget travelers. | Photo by na0905 used under CC

There are numerous companies plying the highway bus route from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka. A ride starts from as little as ¥1,600 and can go up to around ¥9,000 depending on comfort and season, with the journey taking about 6-9 hours. Buses that depart from Tokyo during the day usually take longer due to traffic, but late-night buses, which are the preferred option, departing between 9pm and midnight, can get you to Kyoto Station as early as 5:15am, giving you a full day to explore. Play around on Willer Express and Kosoku Bus to see what your cheapest option is for either a night bus or day bus.

Note: Many buses from Tokyo end their routes in Osaka, which is not far from Kyoto. The two cities are just a 30-minute train ride apart. So, if you find a good price on a bus ticket that goes to Osaka but not Kyoto, it’s still a viable option. Read up on other ways to get from Tokyo to Osaka.

Buses summary

Time: 6-9 hours
Pricing: From ¥1,600 one-way (low season)

Regular trains and the Seishun 18 Pass

tokyo to kyoto
The Seishun 18 ticket is dirt cheap, but limits you to local and basic express trains. | Photo by Yuya Tamai used under CC

The approximate cost of a one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on regular, rather than bullet, trains, is ¥10,000¥14,000—which is just about what you’ll pay for a Shinkansen ticket! However, there is a hack that allows significant savings. The journey will still be a long one, though—anticipate a full day of travel.

The Seishun 18 pass is a seasonal rail package consisting of five tickets (for five consecutive or non-consecutive days of travel) for ¥12,050. Anytime during the validity period, solo travelers can use up all five days, or group travelers can split them among themselves. In effect, one day of travel costs just ¥2,410 for one person. The catch? The pass can only be used on local and rapid JR trains, which makes for rather long journeys. Plus, it’s only valid for a few weeks, three times a year.

Routes can be quite complicated, with lots of transfers, so it’s best to plan your journey in advance on sites like Jorudan or Hyperdia (deselect everything but Japan Railways and local), and budget your time accordingly. Missing even one train might have a pretty lengthy domino effect! If you have time to spare and are keen on saving money, this pass is a possible option for you, but it definitely isn’t for those who want an uncomplicated, quick ride from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Regular trains summary

Time: About 9 hours (in theory)
Pricing: ¥2,410 one-way

The verdict on travel from Tokyo to Kyoto

There’s no dispute that the Shinkansen is the fastest and smoothest way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, and if you’re going to get the Japan Rail Pass, then it’s a real no-brainer.

Here’s how the various transport options stack up:

Transport: Bullet train Flights Buses Regular trains
Price: ¥10,500¥14,370, cheaper with discount packages From about ¥4,600, plus transfers ¥1,600¥9,000, see rates for your dates ¥2,410 with the Seisun 18 Pass, otherwise ¥10,000¥14,000
Time: 2 hrs 20 min – 3 hrs 50 min 4 – 5 hrs (incl. transfers) 6 – 9 hrs +- 9 hrs (possibly much longer)

Pro tip: Check out our guide to Kyoto for ideas on what to do when you get there. Our Kyoto accommodation guide might come in handy too.

Video guide to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto

The reverse route: Traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo

If you are looking for the best ways to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, rather than the other way round, your transport options are almost exactly the same—with a few different special offers for tourists. We have a dedicated guide to the reverse route—read it here.

Day trips between Tokyo and Kyoto

Many cheapos wonder about the feasibility of a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto (or the reverse). Is a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto possible? The answer is yes: as long as you plan things out carefully, a day trip will give you enough time to get a good taste of Kyoto (or Tokyo). The bullet train is the best option for a day trip, as they start running around 6am and stop around 9pm—so you can get a full day of sightseeing in if you’re prepared to be up with the larks and go to bed late. You can also get a full day in Kyoto by using a night bus there and a night bus back, but this can be really tiring.

While we do our best to ensure it is correct, pricing and other information is subject to change. This post, which was originally written by Tiffany, is updated regularly. Last update: October 9, 2019.

Written by:
Carey's Tokyo favorites are: artless craft tea & coffee
Filed under: Getting around, Transport
Tags: Bullet Train, Culture, Day Trip, Flying, Highway Bus, History, Holiday, JR Pass, JR Rail Pass, Kyoto, Low-cost Carriers, Night Bus, Rail Passes, Seishun 18, Shinkansen, Tokyo, Tourist, Train, Transportation, Weekend-getaway
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