Japan has been a legend in commuter travel for over half a century. Early Japanese train travel featured decadent luxury, such as on Japan’s famous night trains. The introduction of the Shinkansen bullet trains added new levels of speed to the mix, creating excitement and lessening the chances of travel related discomfort.
Japan continues to stay ahead of the game with new innovations – luxury trains such as the Seven Stars Kyushu, and the increased velocities of the soon to be released Maglev. Another such innovation is a new luxury class available on the Shinkansen bullet train lines – the Shinkansen Gran Class.
Can you see yourself luxuriating among plush leather seats, endless meal and beverage service, and plenty of little extras to make you feel like a celebrity? If so, the Shinkansen Gran Class is the train for you.
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What is the Shinkansen Gran Class?
Most bullet trains have standard class, similar to the economy class, as well as the green class, which is comparable to first class travel. Newer Shinkansen models as the Hayabusa E5 Series, however, have introduced the Gran Class – first class travel that far exceeds that of the green class. E7 models, in service since 2014, also feature a Gran Class car with fully active suspension.
The Gran Class involves the use of a special train car with ample seating room, as well as the constant attention of your host or hostess. Trains generally have one Gran Class car along with standard and green cars.
Gran Class lines and prices
The first trains with a Gran Class option began running on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line in 2011. The line covers Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station near Hokkaido.
The trip from Tokyo to Aomori City takes approximately three hours and costs ¥26,360 – ¥9,870 for the train fare, and an additional ¥16,490 to upgrade to Gran Class seating.
The train fare itself is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but holders must pay for an additional Gran Class charge, that is, the difference to the standard or Green Class ticket (depending on your pass). These charges vary slightly for a Hayabusa ride or for a Hayate ride from Shin-Aomori to Tokyo.
For details about fees and reservations, please check JR EAST Official Website: http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/index.html.
The Hayate and Yamabiko Lines, and the lines from Tokyo to Nagano, also run trains with Gran Class cars. Gran Class cars will be added to additional Shinkansen lines in the near future.
Inside the Gran Class: Amenities and features
The E5 Hayabusa Super-Express model bullet trains offer an experience of unsurpassed luxury. The fully redesigned exterior features colors related to Japan’s Tohoku region. The interior of the train is lavishly decorated and equipped with the latest technology.
The word gran means “big” in French and Spanish, and that term certainly describes the interior of this train. Delivering “quality and spaciousness unprecedented in train travel,” each car houses only six rows of seats, with three seats in each row. This provides ample leg room to recline in the plush chairs. The reclining feature, as well as the footrest, can be operated using a control panel on the seat’s armrest.
Service is also a point of interest in the Shinkansen Gran Class. Upon entering the train, an attendant will guide you to your seat. You will then be offered such amenities as a menu, blanket, warm towel, slippers (which may be taken home by the passenger), and eye mask.
A note inside the menu reads: “Our service reflects the land traversed, and is attentive to individual needs so that you may enjoy the trip in your own personal way. We are honored to make your travels a high point in your journey.” The attendant can be called to your seat at any time using a button on the armrest.
The menu options include gourmet delicacies, all locally sourced. For example, you may order a bento box featuring locally grown vegetables, along with fresh apple juice produced in Aomori. Other options include drinks, snacks, alcoholic beverages, and a western-style lunch. All food and beverages are provided at no additional cost.
Food services are offered as soon as the train departs from the station. After the meal, passengers may relax and enjoy the view of the passing countryside. With only three seats in each row, two-thirds of all passengers in Gran Class cars are afforded their own window seat.
While not all Gran Class trains are currently utilizing an attendant and gourmet meals, more will incorporate this feature in the future.
Before leaving the train, you may be asked to fill out a brief survey about your experiences in Gran Class. The survey envelope may include a gift of appreciation – an exclusive leather rail pass holder featuring the Gran Class emblem.
More lines are integrating Gran Class cars into the Shinkansen network, to compete with the Seven Stars Kyushu and other luxury trains. Be sure to book a top-class travel experience with the Shinkansen Gran Class on your next Japanese vacation.