Physiological properties involved in divergent cadmium (Cd) accumulation among rice genotypes were characterized using the indica cultivar 'Habataki' (high Cd in grains) and the japonica cultivar 'Sasanishiki' (low Cd in grains). Time-dependence and concentration-dependence of symplastic Cd absorption in roots were revealed not to be responsible for the different Cd accumulation between the two cultivars because root Cd uptake was not greater in the Cd-accumulating cultivar 'Habataki' compared with 'Sasanishiki'. On the other hand, rapid and greater root-to-shoot Cd translocation was observed in 'Habataki', which could be mediated by higher abilities in xylem loading of Cd and transpiration rate as a driving force. To verify whether different abilities in xylem-mediated shoot-to-root translocation generally account for the genotypic variation in shoot Cd accumulation in rice, the world rice core collection, consisting of 69 accessions which covers the genetic diversity of almost 32,000 accessions of cultivated rice, was used. The results showed strong correlation between Cd levels in xylem sap and shoots and grains among the 69 rice accessions. Overall, the results presented in this study revealed that the root-to-shoot Cd translocation via the xylem is the major and common physiological process determining the Cd accumulation level in shoots and grains of rice plants.