Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen Train

Discount tickets, seat selection plus more

 By Bonson Lam   Feb 19, 2014

Everybody loves a bargain. The Japan Rail Pass is one example. With one week’s unlimited travel around Japan for 28,000 yen, you could save thousands traveling from Sapporo to Fukuoka and return. The reality is, most visitors don’t travel that much. Some might even struggle to go from Tokyo to Kyoto return, especially when you can fly into Tokyo and fly out of Osaka, or vice versa.

Discount Ticket Shops are a way to pay less than full price, even without a Japan Rail Pass, and even for one way tickets.

The Shinagawa discount ticket shop in Tokyo is about 3 minutes’ walk from the west gate. After leaving the station exit, you will see a taxi rank. Once you are past the taxi rank, cross the traffic lights and then turn left, and you will see it just before a small shrine. It is near the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, and if you are lost, I am sure the concierge will help you.

In Kyoto, the discount ticket shop called “Tokai” is also about 3 minutes’ walk. Leaving the central exit and walking north east, you will come to a taxi rank. Cross the traffic lights at Shikoji Street and it is to your right, being 1.5 blocks east of Kyoto Tower. If you walk past Dormy Inn, you have gone too far. Both shops sell everything from discount subway, JR, and plane tickets. For Shinkansen bullet trains, you can’t actually buy the ticket from the discount shop. You buy the voucher which you exchange for a ticket at the JR Midori-no-madoguchi ticket reservation offices with a green seat sign. When you exchange the voucher for the ticket, you need to have an idea exactly what time you want to depart, as they will give you a ticket with an exact departure time and seat number allocated to you.

The discount shop in Shinagawa is open from 10 to 7pm generally, so if you are traveling first thing in the morning it is best to get the voucher the day before. You can buy vouchers for travel that day or up to 3 months ahead. These vouchers are not valid in peak Japanese travel seasons, such as the New Year holidays. On the other hand, the discount shop in Kyoto is open from 9am.

Expect to save approximately 5 per cent off listed prices, like 12700 yen to Kyoto from Shinagawa or Tokyo. This includes the seat reservation fee which is highly recommended on the Nozomi trains which may be 100 per cent full. The advantage with the discount shops is that you can access the more frequent and faster Nozomi trains which depart every 10 minutes, or 3 times more frequent than the half hourly Hikari trains that JR Pass holders are restricted in catching. Of course if you decide early you have a greater choice of seats, especially for couples or groups wanting to sit next to each other. Otherwise you would be separated or the next train may be full.

The Nozomi trains are every 10 mins to Shin-Osaka though for cities further west it may be every 20 mins or you will need to change at Shin Osaka. There are separate smoking cars as well. The Nozomi train takes 134 minutes, while the Hikari takes 20 minutes longer. Car 1 is generally the Osaka / Hakata end of the train while car 8 is the Tokyo or Eastern end. I generally prefer to book a seat in cars 4 to 8, as it is closer to the subway entrance in Kyoto.

All trains, whether they are Nozomi or the slower Hikari or Kodoma trains are of the same stock, so it is not like the faster Nozomi trains are more luxurious. For trips less than 3 hours, like the one from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, you are better off with an ordinary car seat, compared with the slightly more spacious Green car seat. The ordinary cars are in my opinion cleaner and newer than those on the French TGVs or the Eurostar trains. However, there is no buffet car, so buy your meal before you board. Otherwise, the roving crew comes by every 20 minutes or so, selling snacks, ice cream and hot coffee. There are also vending machines selling chilled Japanese tea and sports drinks for 150 yen, but due to the lack of demand they are thinking of phasing them out.

You need to hold on to your ticket, first to get through the entry gate, secondly when it is stamped by the conductor, and lastly when it will be taken at the exit gate.

There is not much scenery to speak off due to sound reducing walls placed next to the track. In Tokyo and Yokohama, you are more likely to see bland post war houses and industrial buildings, and likewise on the train itself, as the other passengers are mainly business people during the weekday. The sound of middle aged office workers snoring comes into mind, along with the sound of plastic bento wrapping being opened, as if you are in some large dormitory at night, it is very quiet with hushed conversation, so quiet that people voluntarily take phone calls in the door lobbies.

Keep an eye out though for Mount Fuji and some ocean glimpses between Yokohama and Nagoya. They don’t announce when the train is passing through these spots (maybe not to wake up the snoring workers). Chances are you will get a better view of Mount Fuji from the plane.

There is Wi-Fi officially however I could not find it. There are public telephones on every fifth or so car as well as super clean toilets, which has touch sensors for flushing and also nappy change tables. These facilities are very clean and well maintained and are a notch above even first class carriages on the Thalys trains in France. Also unlike these European trains all seats turnaround so you are always facing forwards. There are no video screens or other entertainment so being a book or a travel pillow. There is limited information in English on the overhead screens. If you understand Japanese there is more information including what station the train is passing through as well as service conditions on other lines and some news feed items.

Alternatively if you want to save time and can sleep easily the overnight train with flat beds from Tokyo will get you to Himeji in the Mornings, for which you need to double back to Osaka and Kyoto. At night you can board the Tokyo bound night train from Osaka

If you need a Charging point for phones and other electrical appliances, they are below the window near the window seat so it is ideal to book a window seat for that purpose. Row 1 also has charging points for the middle and aisle seats. Otherwise there are charging points next to the wash basin though not in the toilet itself.

Luggage space is limited to cabin luggage so unlike airport trains large luggage may be difficult to store if the train is full otherwise you can keep large luggage next to you seat as the pitch and leg room is generous, something akin to premium economy seats, so even the middle seat is bearable. Even you have a lot of luggage I would still encourage you to catch the train as they get you point to point in the city center without multiple airport transfers which is the bane of aircraft travel.

Tips for getting a ticket on the Shinkansen Bullet Train:

There are at least two Midori-no-madoguchi or reservation offices with a green seat sign in Kyoto Station, where you can book reserved seats. There is one east of the central exit (street level) and one almost directly underneath. So if the one on the street level is too crowded then go to the one downstairs, as you could save 20 minutes of queues. This also applies to JR Rail pass holders who want to reserve a seat. They also provide timetable information. Officially only the one at the Central Exit can exchange vouchers, and only from 8:15 - 17:00, but sometimes if they are lenient they may let you exchange it between 5:30 and 8:15 am at the standard counters inside.

Written by Bonson Lam
Japan Travel Partner

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Join the discussion

Sam Chard a year ago
Hi, I am planning on getting a Nozomi train Green car from Tokyo to Kyoto early in the morning (between 6:30 and 7:30 am) on Tuesday 23 Japan. I have three questions:
- is this peak time?
- If i get a green car ticket and miss the train, can I catch the next one?
- how long does it take to walk from the ticket office to the platform (how much time should I give myself)?
Sam Chard a year ago
many thanks :)
Razhadar Smith a year ago
Hi Bonson, thank you so much for your reply. I am so glad that I found your site. It saves me a lot of time in finding all information before travelling to Japan. I have a few more questions to ask. And I hope you don't mind to help.
1) Using Keisei Express service from Narita Airport to Ueno Station then change to Tokyo Metro to a hotel near Shimbashi Station.
1.1) Where can I buy 3 days Tokyo Metro pass at Narita Airport please? According to Tokyo http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/. I need to buy the ticket at Travel Agencies like JTB, Kinki Nippon Tourist, Nippon Travel Agency, Tobu Top Tours, Nishitetsu Travel, JALPAK and etc.

2) Where are JR Midori-no-madoguchi ticket reservation offices in Tokyo please? Is there one near the Shinagawa Discount Shop please? According to your site, I need to exchange the voucher to be a Shinkansen Bullet Train ticket.

3) With your recommendation to buy a private trains ticket at a discount shop to travel from Kyoto to Osaka, could you give me a name of any private trains which I can travel from Kyoto Station to Namba Station please? Or any private trains which will stop at the closest to those stations.

4) Will I get better discount for buying Nankai train ticket from Osaka to Kansai Airport at the discount shop?

Many thanks
Razhadar Smith a year ago
Hi Bonson,

Thank you so much for all the information. It was so useful when I was travelling in Japan. My sister even said we saved a lot of money on the trip and there were no need for us to buy 7 days JR passes for this trip.
Razhadar Smith a year ago
Hi Bonson, I would like to say the information that you provided is very helpful. I am traveling to Tokyo on 24/7/16 (travel to a hotel via Keisei train) and plan to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto via Shinkansen Bullet Train in the morning of 27/07/2016 and then travel to Osaka on 28/7/16 then go home from Kansai Airport on 29/7/16. Buying Shinkansen bullet train voucher at Shinagawa discount ticket shop, you said we buy a voucher and exchange for ticket at the JR Midori-no-madoguchi ticket reservation offices with a green seat sign. My questions are
1) Can I buy a Shinkansen Train ticket without a reserved seat or with a normal reserved seat not green seat. Is your green seat sign means more expensive seat ones or not?
2) can you recommend me what is the cheapest way to travel from Kyoto to Osaka and to Kansai Airport please?
3) which station that Shinkansen Bullet Train will depart from Tokyo to Kyoto please?
4) will Shinkansen Bullet Train stop at Kyoto Station or not? A hotel that I booked is very near Kyoto station.
5) what kind of best public transport I should use for traveling in Kyoto please? Buses or train?


Bonson Lam Author a year ago
Hi Razhadar, You have a great plan for travelling in Japan.
1. You can buy a Shinkansen Train ticket without a reserved seat or with a normal reserved seat. The green sign office sells all kinds of Shinkansen tickets, not just the green class tickets.
2. The cheapest way from JR Kyoto to JR Osaka is to go to a discount shop and get a ticket for travel during off peak (outside rush hours). The private trains are cheaper than JR, but they leave and arrive from a different part of the city. This is a short trip, around 400 yen depending on what ticket you choose. From Osaka to Kansai Airport, Nankai is the cheapest.
http://en.japantravel.com/osaka/kansai-airport-express-train/28406
http://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/best-way-to-and-from-kansai-airport-to-kyoto/404
http://en.japantravel.com/osaka/kansai-airport-to-namba-osaka/24075
3. You can board the shinkansen from Tokyo or Shinagawa stations.
4. All Shinkansen trains on the Tokaido line from Tokyo stop at Kyoto, except those terminating at Nagoya. You are unlikely to board a train that terminates at Nagoya, as they tend to be the slower trains. Even if you do, you can change at Nagoya for Kyoto.
5. The best transport in Kyoto depends on where you want to go. I suggest you get a combined subway and bus pass, so you can use both services.
http://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/kyoto-by-subway/3224
http://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/kyoto-by-bus/1185
Toby Milano a year ago
Hi Bonson- You have a wonderful site filled with a lot of useful information! My husband and I are traveling to Tokyo next week. We will be visiting friends in Hayama with day trips to Tokyo from Zushi station, then 1 night in Kyoto and 1 night in Tokyo before departing. Do you suggest purchasing a JR Pass? Is the trip from Shinagawa to Kyoto included with that ticket? Also, is there a way to purchase and reserve seats on the bullet train to and from Kyoto before arriving in Japan or do you have to purchase it from the station in person. Thanks for your advice in advance!
Bonson Lam Author a year ago
please note for short day trips, like hayama, there are JR kanto passes as well. http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/
Jae Lim a year ago
Hi Bonson,

Please see if I got the below correct.

880 yen Base fare ticket (Shinjuku – Odawara)
5060 yen Shinkansen reserved seat surcharge (Odawara-Kyoto)
8640 yen Base fare ticket (Odwara-Kansai airport)
10800 flight back from KIX to Narita
Total: 25380 vs JR pass: 29100?

And I should use the difference to buy Kansai pass for my travels in Kyoto instead?

Bonson Lam Author a year ago
Hi Jae, I think you mean:
880 yen Base fare ticket (Shinjuku – Odawara)
5060 yen Shinkansen reserved seat surcharge (Odawara-Kyoto)
8640 yen Base fare ticket (Odwara-Kyoto)
10800 flight back from KIX to Narita

For KIX to Narita you should be able to get fares around 8500 yen on Jetstar Japan. For Kyoto to KIX, you can get the ICOCA + Haruka ticket or the JR Kansai Pass: http://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/best-way-to-and-from-kansai-airport-to-kyoto/404