When visiting Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto are two very different, but equally impressive cities that are destined to leave a lasting impression on you.
The capital of Japan, Tokyo is a buzzing metropolis with a staggering population of 13.6 million people. Known for unbelievable food, fashion, art, late-night parties, and its quirkiness, Tokyo is like nowhere else you’ve ever been.
With a considered population of just 1.45 million people, Kyoto functions on a lower frequency than Tokyo, and its historic beauty is unmatched.
Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan (see also, ‘What is the Capital of Japan?‘), with over 2000 Buddhist temples, gardens, palaces, and Shinto shrines, some of which have been jointly listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The contrast between Tokyo and Kyoto is why visiting both cities while in Japan is such a good idea – Kyoto is the yin to Tokyo’s energetic yang.
However, Kyoto and Tokyo are located over 300 miles apart, which begs the question, how do you go about getting between the two?
In this article, we are going to showcase the different ways that you can travel between these two powerhouse cities of Japan.
We will make sure to highlight exactly how long each mode of transport is likely to take, along with the expected costs so that you’ll have a clear idea of which suits you best.
Bullet Train (Shinkansen)
If time is of the essence for your stay in Japan, then there’s no better way to travel than the bullet train way.
The Nozomi is the fastest bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, as it stops the least and has a staggering average speed of 155mph.
This means, to travel the entire 318-mile journey will take you just 138 minutes, which is 2 hours and 18 minutes.
The beauty of Japan’s bullet trains is they have been engineered so well that, besides seeing the landscapes fly by, you will barely notice traveling at such speeds.
They are ultra-comfortable, super practical state-of-the-art trains that, unsurprisingly, will set you back a cool 13,320 Yen for a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto.
That is the equivalent of $117 USD, so they certainly don’t miss your back pocket for the convenience of speed.
If you intend to make your own way around Japan in a rental car, then driving from Tokyo to Kyoto is pretty straightforward, with a few very cool places to visit en route.
If you drive it directly in one hit, the 283-mile journey can take anywhere from 4 hours and 40 minutes to six hours in heavy traffic.
On a typical day, you will be looking at 5 and a half hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, or vice versa. The thing to point out if you’re contemplating driving while in Japan is that they drive on the left, not the right.
If you’ve ever been to and driven through places like Australia, the United Kingdom, and other Asian countries, then you will already be versed in driving on the left (find out more here, ‘Why Does Japan Drive on the Left?’), but if you haven’t, then this is certainly something to consider.
Japan is a country of 128 million people, and, when you see it on a map, this island nation is far from being considered large.
This means that there are a lot of cars (see also, ‘What Cars Are Made in Japan?‘) getting around Japan at all times of the day and even the night.
Now, we don’t want to scare you off driving, in fact, we are big advocates for it, as it allows you to take your travels in your own time. Stopping wherever you like, whenever you like – the benefits of driving holidays are well documented.
But, if you’re not experienced with driving on the left, choosing Japan to be your first country to do so would have to be considered brave, and maybe even bordering on a little silly.
If you like the idea of traveling by road in Japan, but don’t fancy your chances of dicing and slicing through the Japanese Highway traffic, then hopping on a bus is your best bet.
Not only is the bus from Tokyo to Kyoto a whole lot cheaper than the bullet train at just 5,000 Yen for a round trip, but the bus journey will also give you a chance to actually take in some of the sights as you go.
Currently, 5,000 Japanese Yen converts to $43 USD, which is over $180 USD cheaper than a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the bullet train.
However, if you only have a short stay in Japan planned, then the bus is certainly not the best choice where the economy of time is concerned.
One way the Highway bus journey from Tokyo to Kyoto can take seven hours on a good run, and up to nine hours on a bad one.
Although it certainly isn’t the first mode of transport you think of when questioning how to get around Japan, it sure is the cheapest.
Cycle touring is becoming a more common sight around Japan, brought on by an increase in designated cycle paths across the country.
Eco-tourists with time on their side are jumping at the chance to cycle around Japan, and the coast between Tokyo and Kyoto is a popular route, to say the least.
Passing the iconic Mount Fuji and a string of stunning coastal cities, and towns including Omaezaki and Shizouka, the coast road is a wonderful stretch of Japan to cycle.
Another option is to head north out of Tokyo and cycle the mountainous regions west toward Kyoto.
Although distance and time are dependent on the route that you take, the northern route can take up to 10 days traversing 500 miles of mountainous Japan, which is, unsurprisingly, not for first-time cyclists.
The coastal route makes up considerably less distance, typically taking experienced cyclists 5 days to cover the 340-mile stretch.
If you like the idea, but taking on the challenge seems a bit much without help, there is also the option to book on with a trusted cycle tour company.
These experienced companies who are based locally are great at taking the stress and hardship out of the equation so that you can focus on your riding and sightseeing.
As you can see, there are a few various approaches that you can take when considering how best to get from Tokyo to Kyoto. The defining factor when deciding which approach is right for you is time, and effort.
If you’re looking to get the most out of your two-city Japanese experience but only have a short window to do it, then the bullet train is 100% your best bet.
However, if you have a couple of weeks up your sleeve and want to see Japan in your own way, then driving, cycling, and even the bus are all worthwhile means of getting from Tokyo to Kyoto.
We hope this article has helped to clarify, inform, and inspire your Japanese travels.