The fastest, most convenient and most comfortable way to get from Kyoto to Tokyo is by the high speed shinkansen or “bullet train”. This can also be an economical route if you have a Japan Rail Pass. If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass then the fare will be 13,080 yen one way.
There are three types of train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line: the Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The Nozomi is the most frequent and the fastest train as it travels between Kyoto and Tokyo in just 2 hours and 20 minutes. However, this train is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. If you wish to use the Japan Rail Pass, your best choice is the Hikari which takes just two hours and 40 minutes to cover the distance. The Kodama stops at every station en route and so takes about four hours.
Platt Kodama offers a discount ticket of 10,100 yen on the Kodama (slow) train between Tokyo and Kyoto. This must be booked at least one day in advance at JR Tokai Tours offices. Check the official website for details.
There are a variety of companies offering highway express bus services from Kyoto Station to Tokyo. This is certainly an economical option. However, the journey can take up to 8 or 9 hours. There are also night buses that leave the station in the evening and reach Tokyo at around 6 or 7 in the morning. If you can sleep on the journey, this will save you both time and the cost of one night’s stay at a hotel. However, if you are a light sleeper and find the bus seat uncomfortable, then you won’t be able to sleep and will arrive tired at your destination.
Of the many companies offering highway express bus services, only Willer Express has an English website. If you wish to book online then that is your only choice. Willer Express are a reputable company and their buses are quite comfortable. Most of their bus stops are on the south side of Kyoto Station.
Two bus companies have offices near Kyoto Station where you can make enquiries and book tickets in person. These are JR Bus on the north side of the station and Keihan Bus on the south side. You can get information about JR Bus from the Bus Ticket Center in front of Kyoto Station’s north exit.
Keihan Bus have a ticket office on the first floor of the Avanti Building which is directly opposite Kyoto Station on the south side.
Bus prices vary by the date of travel. Prices for Willer buses to Shinjuku or Ikebukuro start at about 3570 yen but most tickets are in the 5000 – 8000 yen range.
JR Buses for Shinjuku and Tokyo Station range in price from 3,500 yen for their most basic service to 12,000 yen for their most comfortable. They also have a “Ladies Dream” night bus which is restricted to ladies only, so that they can travel with peace of mind.
Keihan services for Shibuya and Shinjuku range from 5980 – 9400 yen. They also have a service for Ueno and Tokyo Disneyland which is similarly priced.
Low cost airlines like Peach and Jetstar run extremely cheap services between Osaka’s Kansai Airport and Narita Airport in Tokyo. A flight lasting just 1 hour and 30 minutes can cost as little as 3990 yen (before tax). However, when you include the time and cost of getting from Kyoto to Kansai Airport, and then from Narita Airport to your final destination in Tokyo, it may be just as easy to take the shinkansen.
It is possible to drive from Kyoto to Tokyo via the Chuo Expressway or the Tomei Expressway. This will take 5 or 6 hours depending on traffic. However, when you factor in expressway toll fees of around 10000 yen this does not seem cost effective. To find out more about routes and toll fees check the Central Nippon Expressway Company’s website.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.