Tokyo to Kyoto – By Bus, Train, Plane or Car?
Tokyo to Kyoto by bus, train, plane, driving, carpool or even hitchhiking! Read this handy guide to help you decide which is the best option for you.
With Tokyo and Kyoto as by far the most famous and popular destinations in Japan, one representing the contemporary and one the past, it is a common feature of a tourist itinerary to take in both during a single trip.
How far is it from Tokyo to Kyoto? Well, not that far! As the bird flies it is only 366.65 km (227.83 miles), making it possible to reach Kyoto through various means: by bus, by train, by plane, by driving, by carpooling, and by hitchhiking. This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option as well as help you discover which is the most suitable option for you.
Tokyo to Kyoto by bus
Travel time required: 10 – 11 hours (overnight buses) or 8-10 hours (daytime buses)
Price: from 3,600 to 10,000 yen
Advantage: Cheap and affordable, especially if you’re on a budget, plus you can enjoy the scenery along the way
Disadvantage: Time-consuming and may be uncomfortable
It’s easy to buy a ticket to Kyoto by going to Shinjuku Express Way Bus Terminal, at which information desks with English speaking staff are on hand to help. Alternatively, make a reservation online through Rakuten Travel, which will enable you to conveniently search for buses and compare the prices between different bus companies. However, the site is only available in Japanese so it may not be an easy option for foreigners. You can also buy tickets straight from bus companies like Willer Express, JR Kanto Bus and Keihan Bus (more info below).
Willer Express is tourist-friendly and extremely affordable. It’s super simple to book a ticket from the Willer Express website as all of the information is written clearly in English. All you have to do is: select a bus, decide the boarding and destination station, choose a plan and a seat type. Willer Express provides many different types of seats so remember to check the seat details to get the most suitable one for yourself! If you’re a girl travelling alone, don’t worry because Willer Express will place you next to another female customer to ensure your safety and comfort.
In case you want to travel to several other cities, the Japan Bus Pass offered by Willer Express is a real bargain! You can use it for 3, 5 or 7 nonconsecutive days in 2 months for just 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 yen respectively.
JR Kanto Bus
A detailed map of each station and time schedule can be found here. To make a reservation, you can choose to do it online here (if you are able to understand Japanese) or simply make a call to Kanto Bus Seat Center between 9am and 5pm (Tel: 03-3386-5489). You can also reserve directly at JR Ticket Counters (Midori no Guchi). Kanto buses leave from Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station. To go from Kyoto to Tokyo, you can purchase a ticket at the Bus Ticket Center located at Kyoto Station North Exit where the buses also depart from. You may be able to use JR Rail Pass for certain routes operated by JR Kanto Bus, so be sure to check before purchasing.
To make a reservation, you can either do it online here (Japanese understanding required) or make a call to Keihan Bus Center (Tel: 075-661-8200). The Keihan ticket counter is also on the first floor of Avanti Building on the south side of Kyoto Station (as known as Hachijo Exit). The buses also arrive and depart from here.
Tokyo to Kyoto by train
Price: 13,080 yen (non-reserved seat), 13,600 yen (reserved ordinary seat on Hikari and Kodama), 13,910 yen (reserved ordinary seat on Nozomi) as of June, 2016. If you want to reserve a seat in a Green Car (first-class seats), you will have to pay an extra fee based on the travel distance. Click here to find out the exact prices.
Travel time required: 2 hours 22 minutes to 4 hours
Advantage: Easy, fast, convenient, comfortable and you can enjoy the view
Disadvantage: Expensive, especially if you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass
Kyoto can be accessed from Tokyo by riding the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet trains) on the Tokaido Line. There are 3 different bullet trains for you to choose from: Nozomi (のぞみ) which takes 2 hours 22 minutes, Hikari (ひかり) which takes 2 hours 45 minutes and the slowest is Kodama (こだま) which takes approximately 4 hours. There are 2 different types of cars on the Tokaido Line: Ordinary Car and Green Car (please click here to see the differences) between which prices vary significantly. The Green Car offers travellers hot towels when boarding, comfortable seats, sockets and food and drink purchasable on board.
Even though the Kodama bullet train is the slowest out of the 3, it makes up for this in the cheapness of it tickets. Using the Platt Kodama Economy Plan (ぷらっとこだま) a ticket can be purchased for 10,300 yen , though this must be done at least one day in advance at the JR Tokai Tours Office.
From Kyoto to Tokyo, please jump on the trains bound for Toyo (東京行 ). Be careful not to mistake it with trains bound for Hakata (博多行) as this will send you in the completely wrong direction. Please click here for detailed timetables: Weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.
Price: 8,000-9,000 yen (2,370 yen if you use Seishun 18 ticket)
Travel time required: 11 hours (including waiting time)
Advantage: Slightly cheaper than Shinkansen, can enjoy the view
Disadvantage: Slow and complex
Travelling by local trains is an adventure but complicated, requiring you to navigate your own route and ensure for yourself you’re boarding the correct trains. This map may give you an idea of the whole JR train system in Japan. Suggested route: Tokyo -> Atami or Numazu -> Shizuoka -> Hamamatsu -> Toyohashi -> Nagoya -> Ogaki -> Maibara -> Kyoto. If you leave with the first train in the morning, you are likely to reach Kyoto by 8-9pm in the evening.
The Seishun 18 Ticket is the cheapest way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo, though you must have 4 other people to travel and share the ticket with you.
Tokyo to Kyoto by plane
Price: 4,000-37,000 yen (depending on the airline and the time) + approximately 5,000 yen for travelling to and from the airports
Travel time required: 1 hour flying time + 3-4 hours to travel to and from the airports
Advantage: Can be really cheap if you buy on sale LLC tickets, plus an awesome view from above the clouds
How to get to the airport from Tokyo
As Kyoto does not have its own airport, if you want to do travel by plane, your only choice is to first fly to Osaka. There are 2 airports in Tokyo from which you can catch a flight to Osaka. Narita Airport is further from the city centre and accessed by train (local train or rapid Skyliner), bus, or taxi. The whole trip takes 40 to 90 minutes depending on your means of transportation and the departure point. For detailed Narita Airport access information, please click here.
Haneda airport is closer to the centre of Tokyo and can also be accessed by train, bus or taxi. The trip will take approximately 40 to 60 minutes. For detailed Haneda Airport access information, please click here. You can use this Access Wayfinding tool to find out the exact time, fare and route that are suitable for you.
How to get to Kyoto from the airport
There are two airports in Osaka: Itami Airport which is a bit closer to Kyoto and Kansai Airport.
Bus: Both airports provide passengers with direct Airport Limousine Bus to Kyoto. However, it is more convenient and time-efficient to go to Kyoto from Itami Airport as it stops at the main Kyoto Station. The bus timetable for Kansai Airport to Kyoto can be found here (2,550 yen / way). The timetable for the bus from Itami Airport to Kyoto can be found here (1,310 yen / way).
Train: An easy option from Kansai Airport, you can get on the direct JR Haruka to Kyoto, whilst from Itami Airport you will have to make a few transfers. Discount tickets for the JR Haruka are also available (Click here for more information). Keep in mind that transferring means carrying your luggage with you at all times, perhaps a problem if you’re not a light packer.
MK shuttle car: If you have a considerable amount of luggage, you may be better off booking a seat on the MK shuttle car. From 3,600 yen / person from Kansai Airport and 2,400 yen / person from Itami Airport, you can get to Kyoto with no trouble or worries. Click here for detailed information and reservation.
Jetstar is one of the low-cost carriers (LCC) that offers cheap flights from Narita Airport to Kansai Airport. During sale periods, the fare can be as low as 3,950 yen (before tax) which makes it one of the cheapest way to travel to Kyoto. The normal fare is around 5,000 – 7,000 yen but can rise above 10,000 yen during peak time. To purchase tickets online, please click here.
Similar to Jetstar, Peach Aviation is one of the most popular LCCs in Japan. Fares from Narita Airport to Kansai Airport can be as low as 3,690 yen (Happy Peach Fare) rising to approximately 10,000 yen during peak time. To purchase tickets online, please click here.
ANA (All Nippon Airways) is the largest airline in Japan and provides passengers with a wider range of flights and routes: Haneda to Kansai, Haneda to Itami and Narita to Itami (only 2 flights per day). Due to its high-quality service, ANA charges much more than other LCC airlines ranging from 10,000 to 36,000 yen depending on the type of ticket. To purchase tickets online, please click here.
JAL (Japan Airlines) is the second largest airline in Japan and has many codeshare flights with Jetstar. JAL also operates flights on the Haneda – Itami, Haneda – Kansai and Narita – Itami (only 2 flights per day) routes. The fare is slightly more affordable than ANA ranging from 11,000 to 20,000 yen. To purchase tickets online, please click here.
Tokyo to Kyoto by car
Price: approximately 10,000 yen in tolls each way
Travel time required: 6 hours (using highway with not much traffic, breaks not included), 11-12 hours (no highway)
Advantage: you can travel at your own pace, enjoy the view and it can be cheap if you travel in a group
Disadvantage: can be very complicated if you’re not familiar with Japanese rules and language, time-consuming during heavy traffic, plus left-side driving may be unnatural for some
If you have an international driving permit or Japanese driving license, driving is another option to consider. If you do not own a car in Japan, you can make reservations online and rent a car from Japan Experience (English GPS available), Nippon Rent-a-car (English GPS available on some vehicles), Toyota Rent-a-car, Orix Rent-a-car, Times Car Rental, Nissan Rent-a-car, or ToCoo!.
Though the driving distance ranges from 450 to 550 km depending on the route, the easiest and fastest way is via the Shin-toumei Expressway(新東名高速道路) and Meishin Expressway (名神高速道路). Google Maps, GPS available on your vehicle, and this Central Nippon Expressway site can be useful to figure out routes and toll fees.
Tips: You should only use a car to go between Tokyo to Kyoto, driving inside the city is not advised as there are a lot of one-way streets, few parking lots and parking fees can be expensive. Furthermore, don’t forget to confirm whether it is possible to park at your hotel.
Tokyo to Kyoto by carpooling
Price: 7,000 yen or lower
Travel time required: more than 6 hours
Advantage: Affordable, can be fun to talk to local people
Disadvantage: can be risky, you may not be able to find anyone who is going to your exact destination so you may have to arrange several different rides or combine carpooling with other means of transportation.
If you have an adventurous soul, why not try carpooling or car sharing? Carpooling allows you to share a ride with one or more people through prior arrangement, thereby reducing travel costs (fuel, toll, car rent, etc.) and avoiding driving alone. It’s not as common a way of commuting in Japan as it is in Europe or North America, but it is possible! You will be able to save money and will have an exciting journey, in which you can get to know some new friends. Easily look for drivers and companions with these websites: Carpoolworld, Carpoolking or Notteco (if you can speak Japanese). However, as these sites are not always responsible for problems between users, be prepared for any trouble that could occur and be careful with your arrangements to ensure your safety!
Tokyo to Kyoto by hitchhiking
Price: 0 yen!!!
Travel time required: Depends on how many cars agree to give you a ride and the distance each driver is willing to take you
Advantage: it’s free, a great way to have a memorable experience and to get to know more local people
Disadvantage: time-consuming, may be risky for girls who travel alone and may require at least basic Japanese skills
If you are on a strict budget, hitchhiking is your best bet! For those unaware, hitchhiking involves soliciting rides from strangers, classically from the side of the road. Hitchhiking in Japan is said to be quite easy but can differ from other countries. For more information, please read from Hitchwiki Japan written by Jani Patokallio.