Kyoto is a must on any traveler’s Japan itinerary. Eventually though, you’ll probably have to leave the charming old capital and head to the bustling streets of Tokyo. The trip from Kyoto to Tokyo is quick and easy, as it’s one of the most popular travel routes in Japan.

The old capital is separated from its contemporary counterpart by roughly 280 miles (450 km, which back in the day was traversed by foot!). Nowdays, we’re lucky enough to have other options including bullet trains and overnight buses.

Heading the other way? Check out our article for how to get from Tokyo to Kyoto.

What are the options for getting from Kyoto to Tokyo?

By far the fastest and most efficient way of getting from Kyoto to Tokyo is the Shinkansen (aka bullet train). It’s a popular choice, but not always the cheapest option — unless you have a Japan Rail Pass.

Pro tip: If you’re doing any other trips within Japan, buying a Japan Rail Pass is almost definitely your best option. It pays for you to go up, down, and all over the country on the Shinkansen.

You can also make the Kyoto to Tokyo trip via bus, plane, car, or local train. Taking an overnight bus is a popular choice for the budget conscious, as it’s affordable and saves on a night’s accommodation. But you’ll be sacrificing comfort, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

Quick comparison of options for travel between Kyoto and Tokyo

Transport Comfort Price Time Emissions Booking Links
Bullet train ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ¥13,320¥14,370, possibly cheaper with deals 2 hrs 15 min to 3 hrs 50 min 4.1kg CO2 Japan Rail Pass
Buses ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ from ¥2,500 5.5–8 hrs 13.4kg CO2 Search Buses
Flights ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ¥3,500¥8,000 + travel to/from the airports 1 hr 15 mins + travel to/from the airports 59.2kg CO2 Search flights
Regular trains ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ¥8,360 9 hrs (possibly much longer) 8.5kg CO2 Buy at the station
Car ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ¥10,300¥11,340 6–6.5 hrs 19.7kg CO2 Car rental options

Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Tokyo

tokyo to kyoto bullet train
Photo by iStock.com/Yongyuan Dai

Tokyo and Kyoto are directly connected by the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. There are a few different services running along this route, so the journey time varies, but allow 2.5 to 3 hours on average.

The fastest Shinkansen is the Nozomi, which will get you from Kyoto to Tokyo in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Next in line is the Hikari, which makes the journey in 2 hours 40 minutes. The slowest option is the Kodama, which takes about 3 hours and 50 minutes. Unless you’re buying a special discount ticket for the Kodama (see below), it’s not really worth taking. There is roughly one Shinkansen departing Kyoto Station every 6 to 10 minutes, so options are plentiful.

A one-way ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo costs about ¥13,320 to ¥14,370. The price shifts depending on a variety of factors, including which Shinkansen service you opt for, whether you are traveling in peak season, or get a reserved seat or not. For everything Shinkansen, see our mega guide to riding the bullet train in Japan.

How much does it cost? ¥13,320¥14,370
How long does it take? 2 hrs and 20 mins to 3 hrs and 50 mins

Note: If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. Recent Shinkansen luggage rules dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (included in your JR Pass, if you have one), and bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all.

Rail passes and other discounts

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Note that the fastest (Nozomi) service is not covered by the rail pass, though, so you’ll want to catch a Hikari. Also keep in mind that this rail pass is only available to short term visitors to Japan, not residents.

There’s also something called the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Economy Plan, which gets you a one-way ticket on the slowpoke Kodama for between ¥10,600 and ¥12,000. You have to buy your ticket at least a day ahead of your travel, and numbers are limited. This is a good option for travelers ineligible for a rail pass.

If slow travel is your thing, you could also consider the Hokuriku Arch Pass. It’s a regional rail pass that takes you between Kyoto and Tokyo, along an arching route via to Kanazawa and Nagano. For more details see our dedicated Hokuriku Arch Pass article.

Highway buses between Kyoto and Tokyo

Highway Bus Selection
Photo by iStock.com/tonystudio

Another option for getting from Kyoto to Tokyo is to take an overnight highway bus. They typically leave Kyoto Station just before midnight and deposit you in Tokyo around 6:30 a.m. One-way tickets start at ¥2,500 and go up depending on what level of plushness you want and when you book. Check out Willer Express and Kosoku Bus to see what’s available.

While busing is not the most comfortable or convenient option (and it’s definitely less than ideal for families), it’s a reliably economical way of traveling between major cities in Japan. Women might want to note that women-only buses are available.

How much does it cost? from ¥2,500
How long does it take? 5.5–8 hrs

Flying between Kyoto and Tokyo: Low-cost airlines

Kyoto to Tokyo flights
Photo by iStock.com/franckreporter

Japan’s fleet of low-cost carriers offer discount airfares between neighboring Osaka and Tokyo. If you’re happy to make your way to Kansai International Airport, you could fly to the capital city for between ¥3,500 and ¥8,000 one-way. Prices can go even lower during promo sales. Flights take about 90 minutes and land at either Narita or Haneda Airport.

Route Airline One-way Fare Date Booking
Osaka Kansai International => Tokyo Narita Jetstar ¥4,419 (US$34) 2023-02-05 Details
Osaka Kansai International => Tokyo Narita Peach ¥4,773 (US$36) 2023-04-17 Details
Osaka Kansai International => Tokyo Haneda Japan Airlines ¥8,372 (US$64) 2023-12-08 Details
Osaka Kansai International => Tokyo Haneda ANA ¥35,170 (US$270) 2023-11-27 Details

Keep an eye on airlines like Peach and Jetstar for value deals. Just remember to factor in the cost of airport transfers, which can add up to quite a lot. Here are the options for getting from Narita to Tokyo, and these are your transport choices if you arrive at Haneda.

How much does it cost? ¥3,500¥8,000 + travel to/from the airports
How long does it take? 1 hr and 15 mins + travel to/from the airports

Other ways to get from Kyoto to Tokyo

Besides the three options we’ve already covered, there are a few other ways to make the trip from Kyoto to Tokyo. However, we don’t really recommend them due to cost or time considerations.

Driving

When taking into account the cost of tolls and fuel along with the 5.5 to 6.5 hour travel time, driving from Kyoto to Tokyo (or vice versa) doesn’t make a lot of sense.

For a standard vehicle using ETC (the automatic toll collection system) the tolls alone from Minami Kyoto to Shinjuku in Tokyo would be ¥10,300 to ¥11,340, depending on the route. On top of the tolls, the 285 mile (460 km) journey should also empty your gas tank. Of course, if you are traveling with multiple passengers, pets, or large items of luggage, driving starts making more sense.

If you don’t have your own wheels, consult our guide to renting a car. And for more on driving in Japan, see our article on Japan’s network of toll highways.

Local trains and the Seishun 18

If you’re stony broke and happen to be in Japan during Seishun 18 ticket season, you could inch your way to Kyoto on local JR trains over a couple of days (maybe just one, if you time it right). 

The Seishun 18 pass comes out three times a year (in summer, winter, and spring) and allows five consecutive or non-consecutive days of unlimited travel on local and rapid JR trains (nothing faster) for ¥12,050. You can split one ticket five ways, giving a group of five travelers one full day of travel for just ¥2,410.

Note that journeys with the Seishun 18 ticket are very long and rather complicated, so plan your route carefully on a site like Hyperdia or Jorudan before you commit!

Hike the Old Tōkaidō Road

If you’re a keen hiker or a history buff, you might like to take a nice long walk along the Old Tōkaidō Hwy, the foot path that connected Kyoto with Tokyo (then Edo) during the feudal era. However, once you consider that the old trail has mostly been replaced by the Tōkaidō Express and the fact that it would take around three weeks, you can begin to see why we don’t really recommend it. We do recommend shorter hikes along certain sections though, which you can read more about here.

FAQs about traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo

Can you make a day trip from Kyoto to Tokyo?

You definitely could. Taking the Shinkansen is your best bet. You could also bookend your day with overnight highway buses to really maximize your time, but you’ll be exhausted the next day.

If I take the Shinkansen, will I be able to see Mt Fuji?

On a clear day, yes. For the best view of Mt Fuji, snag yourself a window seat on the left side of the train.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This article was first published in 2017. Last updated in October 2022, by Maria Danuco.

Get the best Japan Cheapo hacks direct to your inbox