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Kyoto to Tokyo by Shinkansen Bullet Train

Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train
Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train

In this article, I’m going to tell you about our trip from Kyoto to Tokyo by train. It’s a great trip and definitely the most comfortable way to get from Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto to the modern capital of Tokyo. Riding on the bullet train or shinkansen was something I was determined to fit into our tour of Japan.

In fact, we used the bullet train a number of times. Travelling from Osaka to Hiroshima as well as Kyoto to Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend taking the train when visiting Japan. It’s a fast efficient way to get around and it can be good value as well if you plan ahead.

Kyoto to Tokyo by Bullet Train A Glimpse of Mount Fuji
Kyoto to Tokyo by Bullet Train
A Glimpse of Mount Fuji

Japanese Rail Pass

We bought the Japanese Rail Pass so that we could use trains to get around wherever possible and it turned out to be a really good buy. Trains in Japan aren’t cheap but the pass makes them really affordable. On the other hand, trains in Japan aren’t that expensive either so you need to look at what trips you’re going to make and then work out if the pass is good value for you.

When I drew up our itinerary for Japan, I made a list of all the train journeys involved. Then I totalled up the individual costs and compared it to the cost of the Japanese rail pass. For us, it was an easy decision. We made a lot of shorter trips by regional and local trains as well as our bullet train journeys.

The Kyoto to Tokyo Train Offers a Great View of the Japanese Countryside
The Kyoto to Tokyo Train Offers a Great View of the Japanese Countryside

What does the Japanese rail pass cover?

When you compare costs, make sure all the journeys you want to take are covered by the pass. In fact, it’s likely that it does cover them as it is pretty comprehensive. You can travel on any JR (Japanese Railways) train anywhere in Japan. This includes the bullet trains and many trains within cities such as Kyoto and Tokyo as well. It even covers the Narita Express train from Tokyo airport into the city.

However, there are a few trains you can’t take if you use the pass. Firstly, it doesn’t cover metro/subway lines in the city. You’ll still need a separate ticket for those. I didn’t expect those to be included and it is easy to buy a daily ticket for those or individual tickets depending on how many trips your take.

Nozomi and Mizuho Bullet Trains

Additionally, there are some bullet trains which are not included. When you look at the bullet train timetables look out for scheduled Nozomi or Mizuho type shinkansen trains. You need to avoid these if you want to use the pass as they are not included. Don’t worry though. There are plenty of bullet trains which are included.

Private Railways

Japan also has a number of private railways lines. These don’t accept the Japanese rail pass either. We just avoided them entirely. There are plenty of JR trains available wherever you want to go.

To check which trains you can take and help draw up your itinerary use the schedules at hyperdia. There is an option to exclude Nozomi and Mizuho and also private railways which makes it super easy to plan using the Japanese rail pass.

Kyoto to Tokyo Train
Kyoto to Tokyo Train

Buying your Japanese Rail Pass

You should buy your Japanese Rail Pass before you leave home. A voucher will be sent to you and you need to take this to any JR ticket office and they will give you the official ticket. We exchanged ours at Osaka station on our first day. It was very quick and easy.

Firstly, choose which pass you need. You can buy a 7, 14 or 21-day pass. Obviously which one you buy depends on how long you’re in Japan. We bought a 7 day pass as all our planned journey’s fitted within this timescale.

Standard or Green Class?

Then you need to choose either the standard or green class ticket. Green class is basically First Class. We bought the green class tickets as we had quite a lot of luggage with us and thought it would give us a bit more room. In standard class, the seats are 3-2 and in green, they are 2-2. We thought it was worth the extra. However, standard class on Japanese trains is perfectly good and if you’re on a budget it’s an excellent choice.

Seat Reservations

For most inter-city Japanese trains you can make seat reservations in advance. These are free to make with the Japanese rail pass. I made a list of all the reservations we needed and made them when we picked up our pass. The lovely lady who processed them all at Osaka station was very helpful and it was all done quickly. However, you can just make reservations when you need them if that suits you better. You don’t need reservations for regional and local trains, just hop on and find a seat.

If you want to use the Narita Express from the airport, it is fully reserved seats only. So do make sure you reserve your seat if you want to travel on it. Otherwise, most trains do have some unreserved seats although these may get busy. You can make a reservation at the station just before you board the train though so it’s always worth a try even if you make your travel plans late.

Our trip from Kyoto to Tokyo

A glimpse of Mount Fuji from the Kyoto to Tokyo Train
A glimpse of Mount Fuji from the Kyoto to Tokyo Train

We had planned on spending longer in Kyoto and were booked on the 6.33 pm train to Tokyo. However, after a full day exploring shrines, castles, temples and gardens we decided our feet were aching too much so we went to the JR ticket office at Kyoto station to see if we could change our seat reservations to an earlier train. We also realised it would be dark by the time we passed Mount Fuji on the way into Tokyo if we took our original train and I really wanted a glimpse.

So we asked for seats on the 4.35 pm instead. This was quickly arranged and we even got seats on the left side of the train for the hoped-for view of Mount Fuji. With our new plans in place, we bought some bento boxes (Japanese packed lunches) for dinner on the train and collected our rucksacks from the lockers at Kyoto Station. There are lots of options to pick up food for the journey at Kyoto station. We found a little bakery shop to buy rolls and cakes and then stocked up on beer and sweets at the 7/11, collected our bags and headed up to the Shinkansen platform to wait for our train.

Mount Fuji

The green cars on Japanese trains are really very comfortable and we settled down for our 2 1/2 hour trip to Tokyo. We also had a great view of the countryside as we sped through Japan. There is a very impressive mountain just outside Kyoto. Not sure which one. I think it might be Mount Ibuki just from the timing of when we passed it.

We had to wait until later in the journey for a glimpse of Mount Fuji though – it was beginning to get dark when we finally spotted it. We spent the journey wondering if we’d know it when we saw it but there isn’t any doubt when it comes into view. When we first saw it, the top was shrouded in mist but it cleared to reveal the full height of it. It is true what they say that you have to see Fuji for yourself as the pictures don’t do it justice but it is a really spectacular sight. It’s a shame we didn’t get the opportunity to see it a bit closer but perhaps another time.

We arrived in Tokyo on time, of course. On the way, we passed through Yokohama. We will return here in a few days when we board our cruise ship to take us across the Pacific Ocean. But that’s another blog post! Compared to Kyoto, Tokyo station seemed far easier to navigate, although it may have been sheer luck that we came off the train near the north exit which is where we needed to be. 

Riding the train from Kyoto to Tokyo was part of our trip around the world without flying. Read all the other articles about this fabulous trip by clicking on one of the image links below:

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From the ancient capital to the modenr one. Take a ride on the famous Japanese bullet train or shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. Get a glimpse of Mount Fuji as you speed through the Japanese countryside. This is the fast and comfortable way to travel between Kyoto and Tokyo.