I am often asked the best train to use from Nagoya to Kyoto. While the Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) is the fastest, the distance between the two cities is not great, so the Kodama (stops at all stations) might be a viable alternative.
Of course, if you hold the JR pass, you can take either the Kodama or the Hikari (2nd fastest train), but not the Nozomi.
Nozomi trains take 36 minutes from Nagoya to Kyoto, the Hikari takes 40 and Kodama trains take 51 minutes. The Kodama leaves at 45 minutes past the hour and arrives in Kyoto at 36 minutes past the following hour.
The Nozomi is 5,640 yen, and the Kodama costing 5,440 yen, being a basic fare of 2,520 yen and an Express charge during regular seasons of 2,920 yen. Children travel at half price.
The fare differences here seem insignificant; however, the "Puratto Kodama Economy Plan" changes the picture totally in favor of the Kodama. Just by buying the ticket at least a day ahead at selected JR Stations or JTB offices, you can get on the Kodama for only 4100 yen, plus you get one drink for free. You can use this drink voucher at a kiosk on the Shinkansen platform, or with a vendor on the train to get a soft drink or a beer. Not bad in an era where you usually pay for every extra. http://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/
This is known as a packaged ticket (Train ticket plus drink), and you can only get it at JR Tokai Tours, a subsidiary of JR Central, located at Tokyo, Shinagawa and Nagoya Stations. You can get it at JTB or JTB Traveland counters all over Central Japan and Kansai, including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo, and Wakayama. In JR Kyoto there are two branches that sell this package. One is at the Central Exit, on the second floor. The other is at the Hachijo exit, on the first floor. They are open until 6 or 7 pm.
Alternatively, tourists on a short stay passport stamp visiting Kyoto should also think about JTB's Free Plan Kyoto 2 Days tour package. This includes a return ticket from Nagoya to Kyoto by Kodama Shinkansen and a one or two night stay at a hotel, starting from 11,400 yen per person.
So, let's get on the Kodama and see what it's like. Being a more "local" train, you are more likely to get a seat. In fact the train I got was nearly empty. Stopping at the more "countryside" stations like Gifu Hachiman, you get to get a glimpse at life in regional centers; away from the hurried businessmen rushing on their way to their meetings in Tokyo.
Even though the Kodama waits for the Hikari and Nozomi to overtake it at the main interchange stations, it still fulfills your need for speed, with a maximum speed of 285 km/h (175 mph). Just because you are on a slower train, it doesn't mean you are getting on a second rate train. Actually the train stock is often the same between the three types. There are great facilities for the sight impaired, including braille signs in the bathroom, and lots of different drinks available in the vending machines.
If you couldn't get to the ticket office a day before, then try the discount ticket shops, where you can get a Hikari ticket for as little as 4,500 yen.
If the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan is out of your budget, then there are ordinary JR trains. You take the first one from Nagoya to Maibara, and then change trains for one bound for Kyoto (they usually continue to Osaka and even to Himeji). The tickets are 2520 yen.
During holiday periods there is an even cheaper alternative, the Juhachi kippu ticket. It is only 2,300 yen per coupon, and a “book” of 5 coupons can be shared between 5 people or 5 days. It can be used from 1st March to 10th April, 20th July to 10th September, and 10th December to 20th January. The ticket is valid for a whole day from 12am to 11:59pm, so if you are using this, I suggest that you use it to travel beyond Kyoto to Himeji or Nara for a day trip to make the most out of it. Between Nagoya and Kyoto, you can also stop by some historic towns that are often overlooked. Shigaraki was the imperial capital in 745, and has an fascinating story with its tanuki statues and unique pottery kilns.