The bullet train, or Shinkansen is the quickest and easiest way to get from city to city. If you’re planning to travel to multiple cities, it might be a good idea to get the JR rail pass, where it allows you to have unlimited rides within a certain amount of days. Since we were only traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and back, it wasn’t worth it for us to buy the pass. We ended up getting a round trip ticket for ¥21,000 (about $193 – pretty expensive) from the JapaniCan site, which includes a non-reserved ticket to and from Kyoto, and a 1-day Kyoto bus and subway pass.
The ride is 2 hours and 30 minutes. On the way to Kyoto, we were able to find two seats together, though most available seats left were single seats. This was because we got on at the second stop of the route, which was Shinagawa and Google Maps told us that was the closes train station to us at the time. You should really get on at the first stop, which is Tokyo Station so that you can get a good seat. On the way back, there were multiple stops before Kyoto, so the train was already packed. It was not fun standing for 2.5 hours after a long day of hiking/walking (we did Fushimi Inari and Nara Park in the same day before hopping on the train – big mistake).
That being said, I highly recommend paying extra so that you can get reserved seating. It will take all the stress out of worrying about whether or not you will get a seat. Plus, you can enjoy the food you bought from the train station. And yes, you should buy train station food. If you’re only used to American trains, you’ll find the statement quite odd. But the train stations in Japan are like no other. You can get bento boxes, sushi, highballs in a can, really anything your heart desires, and enjoy it on the Shinkansen.
Tip – going to Kyoto, Mount Fuji will be on the right side, and going to Tokyo, it will be on your left. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see it since I didn’t get a window seat on the way there (but we did catch a glimpse of the sunset), and I was stuck in a sardine can on the way back. There’s always next time!