Shinkansen in style: Going Gran Class on the bullet train

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The Japanese don’t do public transport by halves – everything is reliably efficient and immaculately clean, and staff are kind to a fault. Why then, would you upgrade on the bullet train, the epitome of perfect public transport? Tour leader Mark Fujishige goes all out with a trip in the shinkansen Gran Class carriage, a cut above first class.

People often ask me if I get tired of seeing certain sites or doing certain activities on tour. However, rather than spend time talking about things that have lost a little of their initial lustre, I much prefer to focus on the things that haven’t.

I still think to myself, “Oh my gosh, I’m in Japan!” when I get a glimpse of Mount Fuji. The setting sun and evening haze that make the receding mountains along the Ibi River look like pieces of blue and purple colored paper laid one atop the other never stops taking my breath away. I also never tire of riding on the shinkansen (bullet train).

Taking trains in Japan

As I mentioned in a previous blog: I am not a ferroequinologist (a 13-year old taught me that word this summer). I like trains, but have absolutely no interest in any of the nitty-gritty (track gauge, etc.). That being the case, I will seize any opportunity to ride an interesting looking train based on appearance or special service offered.

Recently I was able to get a seat, well, what would be more correct would be: “I decided to splash out for a seat” in one of the Gran Class carriages. I’ve seen the advertisements for this class of service for the past few years, but never had the opportunity to give it a try.

Shinkansen carriages

For those who have not ridden a shinkansen before, there are the “regular” seats (both reserved and unreserved), which I spend the vast majority of my time in, and then there is the “Green Car” which are the “first class” seats on most shinkansen. However, on certain shinkansen, there is a class of service called: Gran Class. This is a product that’s a cut above the Green Car, and was developed and debuted in conjunction with the E5 shinkansen* in 2011.

*Note: the E5 is a model of shinkansen, just like the BMW 3 series is a type of sedan.

Going Gran Class on the bullet train


With it’s own private cabin consisting of 6 rows, 3 seats abreast, large, plush, deep-recline chairs, and even a dedicated attendant who can be summoned with a call button, this product is much more akin to business class on an airline. In addition to the nice seat, you’ll receive a welcome snack, light meal of your choice (only on Tohoku routes), and all the drinks you’d like.

For those who need to be sold more in the exclusivity department, there is a lounge for Gran Class ticket holders to use at Tokyo Station. Unfortunately, I had no time to check this out as I had a connection to make, but apparently it is there and waiting for you. The final trump I have up my sleeve –  if all this talk of free-flowing drink and snacks hasn’t convinced you – is this: The dedicated Gran Class toilet has a heated (yes heated) loo seat. You won’t be finding that in the Green Car!

While a Gran Class seat is about 1.4x more expensive than a “regular” reserved seat, it certainly makes for many good photos and great memories. As others on this blog have advocated: “even if your budget doesn’t stretch to everything, treat yourself to something. You won’t regret it!”

To find the best ways of travelling efficiently (and in style) in Japan, drop our team of travel experts a line.

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