from tokyo to kyoto shinkansen

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto: A Helpful Guide to a Seamless Journey Through Japan’s Bullet Train Network

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Traversing the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto by shinkansen, two of Japan’s most iconic cities, is a breeze thanks to the shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed bullet train network. Imagine yourself gliding through the picturesque countryside at speeds up to 320 km/h, arriving at your destination in a fraction of the time it would take by any other mode of transport. But the shinkansen experience is about more than just speed; it’s a testament to Japan’s unwavering commitment to efficiency, punctuality, and comfort.

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Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto: A Helpful Guide to a Seamless Journey Through Japan’s Bullet Train Network

  • Operated by Japan Railways (JR) Group
  • Runs on dedicated tracks connecting major cities
  • Known for speed, comfort, safety, and punctuality
  • Average delay of only 36 seconds

The Tokaido Bullet Train: Tokyo to Kyoto Shinkansen Details

to familiarize yourself, know that there are three main Train Types that go from Tokyo to Kyoto and they are:

  • Nozomi (fastest) (not covered by JR rail pass)
  • Hikari (second fastest)
  • Kodama (slowest)

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto Distance The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto by shinkansen is approximately 513 km (319 miles).


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Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto Time

  • Nozomi bullet train: 2 hours and 20 minutes, Tokyo to Kyoto (fastest)
  • Hikari bullet train: 2 hours and 40 minutes, Tokyo to Kyoto (best choice for JR Pass holders)
  • Kodama bullet train: 4 hours, Tokyo to Shin-Osaka (not recommended for direct Tokyo-Kyoto travel)

Hikari Shinkansen Tokyo to Kyoto

The Hikari is the second-fastest shinkansen train for this route:

  • Travel Time: Approximately 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Stops: 10 stops between Tokyo and Kyoto
  • Frequency: 2 departures per hour
from tokyo to kyoto shinkansen
Arayashima, Kyoto Secret Hidden Gem

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto Price

The one-way price for an unreserved seat on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto is:

  • Nozomi: ¥14,490
  • Hikari: ¥13,920
  • Kodama: ¥13,920

Reserved seat prices are higher – around ¥630 more for Nozomi and ¥420 more for Hikari/Kodama. The Hikari is fully covered by the JR Pass, making it the best option for pass holders.

Shinkansen Tokyo to Kyoto Timetable Tokyo to Kyoto train timetable:

  • Nozomi: 6:00 – 21:50, every 10 mins
  • Hikari: 6:26 – 22:00, every 30 mins

Kyoto to Tokyo train timetable:

  • Nozomi: 6:14 – 22:46, every 10 mins
  • Hikari: 6:23 – 20:49, every 30 mins

For the most up-to-date schedules, check the online timetables on Hyperdia or the JR Central English website.

White Bullet Trains in Train Station

Shinkansen Seating Classes and Reservations

here’s more details and information on the different train carts (green or regular) and type of tickets and trains designated for the seats ( reserved vs non reserved tickets/trains). It seems confusing at first, but you’ll get a better idea after you read the below:.

Seating Classes on bullet trains:

  • Ordinary Car: Regular seats, typically in rows of 3 + 2
  • Green Car: Business class equivalent, larger seats in 2 + 2 layout (costs extra)

Reservations on Shinkansen bullet trains:

  • Reserved vs. non-reserved cars: Advance reservations required for reserved cars (free for JR Pass holders)
  • Reservations are recommended during peak travel hours (7-9 am, 4-7 pm) and holidays to ensure seating availability

Do you need to make reservation on shinkansen?

No, it’s not necessary unless you’re traveling in a group or during busy holiday times. I didn’t make reservations and didn’t have any issues.

How To Make Seat Reservations for Shinkansen

If you would like to reserve seats, there are a few options:

At Station Counters In addition to purchasing tickets, you can make seat reservations at manned JR station counters by providing:

  • Train name (e.g. Hikari), number, or departure time
  • Smoking or non-smoking preference

How to buy shinkansen tickets online and Online Reservations

You can buy Shinkansen tickets through Klook, you can conveniently make seat reservations during the purchase process for a small additional fee.

Helpful Tip: Even with non-reserved tickets, you can join the queue for the next train if your intended one is full. This often guarantees a seat with only a short wait.

Shinkansen Tickets Options

Ticket Machines vs. Counters

Most major JR stations have both ticket counters and vending machines to purchase shinkansen tickets. Machines often have English menus but may not accept foreign credit cards. At manned counters, it’s helpful to provide:

  • Number of travelers
  • Date of travel
  • Departure and destination stations
  • Preferred car class (ordinary or green)
  • Reservation required or not

Helpful Tip Download a translation app to communicate smoothly when buying tickets at the counter.

Important Tip: there are usually long longs to buy tickets at the counter! If you plan on doing this make sure you allow at least extra minutes to line up to buy tickets at the counter. I had to do this and a lot of time it would add extra travel time because we had to take a later train due to the long lines.

booking shinkansen tickets Online

For added convenience, you can purchase shinkansen tickets online through Klook in English. Prices are competitive, and you can make seat reservations and choose delivery options like hotel pick-up.

Onboard Experience of the Kyoto to Tokyo Shinkansen

The shinkansen offers a comfortable and enjoyable ride with:

  • Spacious, reclining seats
  • Ample legroom, even in ordinary cars
  • Quiet cabin due to sound-proofing
  • Smooth acceleration and deceleration
  • Trolley service for food and beverages (bento boxes, beer, snacks)

Helpful Tip: For a unique Japanese experience, pre-order an ekiben (station bento box) to enjoy an authentic meal. There’s sushi, tempura, so many options and so well boxed up.

Baggage and Luggage Policies on Shinkansen

Luggage space is limited on shinkansen trains, so pack light if possible. Each passenger is allowed:

  • 2 pieces of luggage/large bags in designated racks
  • 1 small bag/personal item on the seat or overhead rack
  • Oversize or excessive luggage may require a separate ticket purchase.

Helpful Tip: Sending larger luggage ahead with a delivery service to avoid hauling it on the shinkansen is an affordable and easy way to travel in Japan.

JR Pass vs. Individual Tickets on Tokyo to Kyoto by shinkansen

The JR Pass, designed for foreign tourists, offers unlimited use of JR trains, including the shinkansen. It can be a cost-effective option for those planning multiple long-distance journeys within Japan. However, for more localized travel, individual tickets may be a better choice, and the JR Pass does not cover the Nozomi train line. There has been a significant price increase since 2023 so it may not save you much money anymore. But check the calculator and price comparison.

Alternative Travel Options to travel Tokyo to Kyoto

  • Willer Express Bus: Budget option, around 8 hours, ¥7,000
  • JR Night Bus: Longer journey (7.5 hours), around ¥9,400

Helpful Tip: While buses offer a more economical option, the shinkansen remains the fastest and most convenient way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto, especially for those short on time.

Best Times to Travel on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto

To avoid crowded trains and ensure availability of non-reserved seats, it’s best to travel outside of peak hours (7-9am and 4-7pm) and peak seasons like:

  • New Year’s (Dec 31 – Jan 3)
  • Golden Week (late April – early May)
  • Obon (mid-August)

Helpful Tip: If traveling during busy periods, purchase reserved seat tickets in advance or arrive early to queue for unreserved cars.

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