Taking the Train: Shinkansen Package Deal to Kyoto

shinkansen train to Kyoto

We were told any visit to Japan would be incomplete without visiting Kyoto, but we were only going for a week, barely enough time to do Tokyo any justice. So, to make good use of our time, we booked tickets on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. It’s a 6-hour drive from Tokyo, but only a 2-hour train ride on the Nozomi train, the fastest train category along the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train). We purchased a package deal on www.Japanican.com, including tickets and an overnight stay at a Kyoto hotel.

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Shinkansen Package Deal to Kyoto

Kyoto is a lovely city that used to be the capital of Imperial Japan. It is also the home of a thousand temples and the Geisha (Geiko in Kyoto).

We purchased a package deal on www.Japanican.com that included tickets and an overnight stay at a Kyoto hotel. You can select the train, but be aware that the fare is higher the faster you travel. We selected the Hikari train based on how much we wanted to spend. But as a reference, we spent $360 for the two tickets and hotel stay.

Booking the Tickets

City Discovery was the actual vendor for the tickets. During the booking process, we selected the travel dates, train and hotel room categories from the selections available. We chose the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel based on the pictures and hotel reviews. And it turned out to be a beautiful hotel in the heart of Kyoto and close to all the public transportation we would use frequently over those two days. The hotel was located on Karasuma dori a main street in Kyoto and minutes to both the Metro and bus lines.

The tickets were delivered to our Tokyo hotel two days before our trip. They were waiting for us at check-in. All we knew was that we would depart between 6 and 8 am and return the next day between 2 and 4 pm. The tickets tell you the departure time, car, and seat number. Most trains have reserved seating in the rear cabins. Our departure time was 6:30 am when we received our tickets, placing us in Kyoto before 9 am. It was much too early to check in to our hotel, but plenty of time to explore the city.

Shinkansen Categories

The Hikari is the second fastest train category along the Tokaido Shinkansen, reaches up to 220 km/h or about 136 mph and serves a few more stations than the Nozomi (the fastest), requiring about three hours to reach Shin-Osaka from Tokyo. There are two departures per hour in each direction, one operating between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka and the other between Tokyo and Okayama on the Sanyo Shinkansen.

The Nozomi Shinkansen is one of only a few JR trains that cannot be used with the Japan Rail Pass and can get up to 300 km/h (186 mph). The rail pass is costly at 29,110 Yen for a regular ticket. That’s roughly $236 as of today’s rate of exchange. The Kodama is the slowest train category along the Tokaido Shinkansen, stopping at all stations and requiring about four hours to reach Shin-Osaka from Tokyo. There are usually two departures per hour in each direction, one between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka and one between Tokyo and Nagoya. Some trains during AM and PM rush hours are first come, first served.

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Amenities on the Trains

The Shinkansen trains are clean, run on-time, have a dining car that serves snacks and beverages and a cart that comes through each car several times during the trip. They also have outlets at your feet to plug in your laptop. What they don’t offer, unlike the train station platforms, is free WI-FI. The Japanese are quite polite people on the trains. Announcements ask riders to be quiet and courteous, refraining from talking on their phones. Unfortunately, they do not ask riders not to bring food, which in Asia can be quite aromatic.

We caught the Metro at the Hiro-o (the closest Metro station to the New Sanno Resort) on the Hibayo Line, transferring once to Shinagawa station (you can also catch it at Shin-Yokohama station in Tokyo. I recommend you arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your departure time in case you get a little turned around.

Once in the station, follow the signs that say Shinkansen. You will need both your Metro and Shinkansen ticket to go through the station “turnstile” because you are exiting one station and entering another.

The Shinkansen ticket will be returned to you, validated. Once you use it, keep it handy for the train staff once you board the train, but be careful to separate it from your return ticket, so it won’t create a delay for you later. You’ll also need it to exit the station once you arrive at your final destination.

We found our hotel, dropped off our bags and hit the road with the anticipation and enthusiasm of two teenagers. Yeah, I’m just kidding. We took a travelers nap at a local diner first, we’d been up since 4:30am.

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What we Did in Kyoto

Over the next 36 hours we hiked a mountain, saw a few temples, walked the streets of Gion, ate a zen dinner in a ryokan, experienced kabuki and Maiko performances, participated in a traditional tea ceremony and shopped for kimonos. It was a whirlwind trip, but it was totally worth it.

The Return Trip to Tokyo

Our return trip afforded us a little treat because we caught the train at the end of the line. We were able to see the train transform when with the touch of a button, the seats mechanically changed from rear facing to front facing in a matter of seconds. Cool.

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