Getting 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 450km, which can be traversed by bullet train, overnight bus or another type of transport—all depending on your budget and available time.
If you’re doing any other trips within Japan, buying a Japan Rail Pass is almost definitely your best option, as it pays for you to go up, down and all over the country on the Shinkansen. If you’re just planning a single Kyoto to Tokyo trip, a one-way bullet train ticket may prove better for your bank balance (select Kyoto as the departing station). But read on for a more comprehensive breakdown of your options.
Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Tokyo
By far the fastest and most efficient way of getting from Kyoto to Tokyo, the Shinkansen (aka bullet train) is a popular choice—though not always the cheapest option. If you want to get to Tokyo within a few hours, without worrying about airport transfers or where you’re going to fit your feet on a bus, this is the way to go.
How long does the Shinkansen take?
It depends which model of Shinkansen you take, but estimate 2.5 to 3 hours for your trip. 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. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you’ll be limited to the Hikari and slower bullet trains.
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 6-10 minutes, so rest assured that there are plenty to ferry you Tokyo-wards.
How much does the Shinkansen cost?
A regular one-way ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo costs ¥14,370 in peak season (spring and summer holidays, Golden Week and New Year), and a few hundred yen less off peak. You get a lower rate if you opt for unreserved seating (jiyuuseki), but then you risk not having anywhere to put your rear-end for the ride—especially in peak season. If you are traveling with kids, aren’t awesome at standing for long periods of time, or have a lot of luggage, our advice is to go for a reserved seat (shiteiseki). You can reserve your seats in advance.
There are various ways to lower the cost of a Shinkansen ticket. If you’re planning to do a fair bit of traveling around Japan, the best option is to buy a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (longer options are available too).
There’s also something called the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Economy Plan, which gets you a one-way ticket on the slowpoke Kodama for between ¥10,500 and ¥11,900, depending on the season. You have to buy your ticket at least a day ahead of your travel, and numbers are limited.
The Hokuriku Arch Pass: If slow travel is your thing, you might want to consider the Hokuriku Arch Pass too—it’s a regional rail pass that takes you between Kyoto/Osaka and Tokyo, along Japan’s “golden route” that includes Kanazawa and Nagano.
Pro tip: If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. New Shinkansen luggage rules from May 2020 dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (included in your JR Pass), and bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all.
Flying between Kyoto and Tokyo: Low-cost airlines
Japan’s fleet of low-cost carriers offer discount airfares between neighboring Osaka and Tokyo, so 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.
|Kansai => Tokyo||Jetstar||¥4,871 (US$35)||Details|
|Kansai => Tokyo||Peach||¥5,298 (US$38)||Details|
|Kansai => Tokyo||Japan Airlines||¥8,441 (US$61)||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 be quite a lot. Here are the options for getting from Narita to Tokyo, and these are your transport choices if you arrive at Haneda.
Highway buses between Kyoto and Tokyo
Another option for getting from Kyoto to Tokyo is to take an overnight highway bus. They leave Kyoto Station just before midnight and deposit you in Tokyo around 6:30am, in time to see the sunrise. One-way tickets start from ¥1,600 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 female-only buses are available.
Driving from Kyoto to Tokyo
When taking into account the cost of tolls and fuel along with the 5 and a half to 6 and a half hour travel time, driving 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 ¥10,700 to ¥11,120 depending on the exact route. On top of the tolls, the 460km (285 mile) journey should also empty your gas tank. Of course, if you are traveling with multiple passengers, pets, or large items of luggage, driving makes a lot more sense.
If you’re stony broke and happen to be in Japan during Seishun 18 ticket season, you could inch your way to Kyoto on regular 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 Hyperdia (deselect everything but Japan Railways and local) before you commit!
Summary of transport options from Kyoto to Tokyo
The fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting between the two cities is the Shinkansen, particularly if you have a Japan Rail Pass. The Seishun 18 ticket is the cheapest if you time it right and are traveling in a group, but it’s also the longest option. The middle road is to take a highway bus or cheap flight—keep an eye peeled for advance booking deals.
Technically, you could walk or cycle from Kyoto to Tokyo over a number of days or weeks (or months or years, let’s be real—fitness is not everyone’s strong point), but, much like spending every day making laser cat memes, it’s a little impractical.
The reverse route: Tokyo to Kyoto
Going the other way? Your options are almost identical, but you might want to have a look at our Tokyo to Kyoto transport guide anyway.
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 September, 2019.