QUOTE(first_visit @ Jul 3 2010, 12:32 AM)
This is my first time on this site so I am figuring out how to reply...whew, thank you for the very helpful information...not having to switch trains would be such a relief...I've been researching the internet regarding transportation in Japan but was feeling a tad overwhelmed trying to figure out the different names of the trains (besides puzzling over where they went)...
Um, how difficult will it be if we do not speak or read Japanese to figure out the schedule at the train station so that we can convey to the ticket person what we need? Does "reserved" mean guaranteed seating or is it a reserved section that's sort of "first come, first served"?
I just checked the Kodama schedules online, and they're a bit more limited than I expected. It looks like they only run once an hour between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo (departing at the :05 mark from Kyoto currently). There is another one available each hour from Nagoya, but that would of course require a change from Kyoto (and at that point, you'd be better off catching a Hikari to Hamamatsu and changing). If you catch one of the Kodama originating from Osaka, it would take 1hr55min.
I wouldn't worry too much about figuring out the system. While the level of conversational English ability can be low in Japan, Kyoto is probably the most "foreign-tourist-friendly" city in the country. That, plus people at the JR advance ticketing desks in major cities tend to speak good enough English. If you're in a serious pinch, the people at the tourist information office can always write a note for you. English signage won't be an issue at stations, although the posted bullet train schedules tend to be only in Japanese.
If you make a reservation, that means you will get individual reserved seats. The only time when it's first-come, first-served is when you purchase a non-reserved ticket. If you're traveling by JR Pass, you will have to make reservations ahead of time, but again that shouldn't be a big problem.