JR News: Thank you, Max! E4 series shinkansen makes its Last Run on 1 October
Thank you, Max! Japan’s most beloved double-decker shinkansen (新幹線 bullet train), the E4 series Max, made its final voyage of regular service on 1 October 2021. Its retirement comes after 24 years of operation, during which it has touched the lives of many, and gained a faithful following of fans—local and foreign, young and old.
Gazing at fantastic views of Niigata’s countryside from the 2nd floor; excitedly running up the stairs looking for your seat; the large smile on your face as you took a ride on Japan’s only double-decker shinkansen. What’s your favourite memory of the E4 series Max?
Two 8-car vehicles couple to form 16 cars, which together hold up to 1,634 passengers. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Running on the Jо̄etsu Shinkansen between Tokyo and Niigata, the E4 series Max made its debut in 1997, and was originally built to cope with increased passenger demand. The E4 series Max has a maximum passenger capacity of 1,634 over 16 cars, the largest in the world for a high-speed train. All cars are double-decker cars, and upper decks feature 3+3 seating, which is rare for high-speed trains. “Max” is an acronym for “Multi Amenity Xpress”, and during winter, it was a common sight to see the E4 series trains filled with excited travellers heading to hit the ski slopes of Gunma and Niigata.
Last Run (ラストラン rasuto ran) refers to the final run of a train before it is retired. Since mid-March 2021, selected E4 series trains had been sporting with special Last Run livery, which you can read more on here.
Farewell and Thank you, Max
Many people have fond memories of and deep feelings for the E4 series Max, and turned up in droves at various stations along the Jо̄etsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線) to bid farewell on its Last Run on 1 October. The trains had about 17 services that day, but the very last regular service was on the Max Tanigawa 416, which departed Echigo-Yuzawa Station at 21:41 and arrived at Tokyo Station at 23:08. Despite its late timing, train station platforms were still packed with fans filled with nostalgic memories, who came to say thank you and goodbye to the iconic bullet train.
While you look back on your own fond memories of the E4 series Max, let's check out some of the scenes, as well as some heartfelt farewell messages from the staff and crew working at stations and depots that the E4 series Max stopped at:
Niigata Station (新潟駅)
Fans who turned up at Niigata Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Farewell from Niigata Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“Setting off from Niigata Station, Max carries everyone’s fond feelings. The delighted faces of children who look at the scenery from the second floor. People waving their hands to say farewell. The sight of the familiar faces of daily commuters. These precious memories of Max will never fade. In preparation for the Last Run, we, the staff and crew of Niigata Station, will also continue running and working hard. Thank you, Max!” —Niigata Station
Niigata Shinkansen Depot (新潟新幹線運輸区)
Farewell from Niigata Shinkansen Depot. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“Dear E4, we clearly remember the first time we took you out to drive. Despite your appearance, you had good acceleration and your brakes were delicate. However, your special skill is your transportation capacity, isn’t it? Only you can carry 1,634 passengers and run at 240kmh. Thank you for all the dreams and hopes you gave us over the past 24 years.” —Niigata Shinkansen Depot
Niigata Shinkansen Rolling Stock Center (新潟新幹線車両センター)
Farewell from Niigata Shinkansen Rolling Stock Center. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“Approaching its Last Run, the double-decker shinkansen, E4 series Max, started operations in 1997, and has continued to run on the Joetsu Shinkansen, where the weather conditions change drastically due to the intense heat and heavy snow. Unlike other types of shinkansen, the E4 series Max was organised with an equipment layout that made maintenance easy to learn. To Max, who has continued to support the safe and stable transportation of many customers, which include commuters to work, to school, and travellers, we would like to thank you for your hard work!” —Niigata Shinkansen Rolling Stock Center
Tsubame-Sanjo Station (燕三条駅)
Fans who turned up at Tsubame-Sanjo Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Farewell from Tsubame-Sanjo Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“Seats that the staff of Tsubame-Sanjo Station like ♡
I like the 2nd floor seats: 6 pax
I like the 1st floor seats: 8 pax
I like the mid-level seats: 11 pax
I like all seats ♡: 2 pax
Which was your favourite seat on the E4 series Max train? We are waiting for your visit!” —Tsubame-Sanjo Station
Nagaoka Station (長岡駅)
Fans who turned up at Nagaoka Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Farewell from Nagaoka Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
"Max, you always brought a lot of smiles and hope to Nagaoka. Your Last Run is finally approaching. The most special seat for viewing the Nagaoka Fireworks was from your 2nd floor. You’ll be retiring soon, so run to the end without losing to COVID-19!" —Nagaoka Station
Urasa Station (浦佐駅)
Fans who turned up at Urasa Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Farewell from Urasa Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“After passing through the tunnel from Echigo Yuzawa, the magnificent view of the Three Mountains of Echigo opens up before our eyes, and the view from the second-floor seats was something that we would have liked to look at forever. It's a pity that we won’t be able to enjoy the window view from the second floor anymore… Thank you for your hard work, Max!”—Urasa Station
Echigo-Yuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅)
Fans who turned up at Echigo-Yuzawa Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Farewell from Echigo-Yuzawa Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“We will never forget the magnificent views of Niigata from the 2nd floor, the calm times we spent on the 1st floor, and above all, the support you gave to the lives of many people. Thank you for your hard work of over 20 years. Thank you, Max.”—Echigo-Yuzawa Station
JR Niigata Tetsudo Service (JR新潟鉄道サービス)
Farewell from JR Niigata Tetsudo Service (Shinkansen Sales Office). (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
"As you are a double-decker shinkansen, we imagined the smiles of customers and always polished the windowpanes until they sparkled. It makes us feel sad and lonely that this shinkansen, which provides good views of the scenery, will retire. Thank you Max." —JR Niigata Tetsudo Service (Shinkansen Sales Office) (in charge of maintenance and cleaning of E4 series Max trains)
JR East Cross Station (JR東日本クロスステーション)
Farewell from JR East Cross Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“Thank you for always delivering a large number of customers safely. Thank you for always making everyone smile. Thank you for always letting us enjoy the beautiful scenery from the train windows on the 2nd floor. With gratitude, thank you!” —JR East Cross Station (operates NewDays convenience stores)
Jōmō-Kōgen Station (上毛高原駅)
Farewell from Jōmō-Kōgen Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
"We will never forget the power and speed of a double-decker shinkansen!"—Jōmō-Kōgen Station
Takasaki Station (高崎駅)
Farewell from Takasaki Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“At Takasaki Station, the gateway to Joshu, many passengers rode the E4 series Max, including commuters, students, and tourists. Especially on weekends and holidays, the station is full of passengers who come to see Takasaki Station’s famous “Max coupling work”, and we could feel the love everyone had for you. Thank you for the past 24 years, and otsukaresa-MAX!”—Takasaki Station
Honjōwaseda Station (本庄早稲田駅)
Farewell from Honjōwaseda Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“A shinkansen that’s a little tall. Thank you for always carrying a lot of people! Although only a few E4 series trains stop at Honjōwaseda Station, we were very happy to have been able to work with you for a long time.” — Honjōwaseda Station
Kumagaya Station (熊谷駅)
Farewell from Kumagaya Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
"In Kumagaya’s burning heat,
and in Niigata’s heavy snow,
your days of running through our station over the past 24 years are engraved in our hearts.
Powerfully, like the way you run." —Kumagaya Station
О̄miya Station (大宮駅)
Farewell from О̄miya Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
"Even at О̄miya Station, where all of JR East’s shinkansen stop at, the E4 series Max had a big presence that stood out. Its big car body with an echoing roar stood out against the chic frames of the junior shinkansen. Everyone loves Max.” —О̄miya Station
Ueno Station (上野駅)
Farewell from Ueno Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“The feeling of awe when we see the running train! The powerful body like an approaching wall! Many passengers board from Ueno Station, and we’re sure they were impressed by the scenery that they wouldn't normally see. Although it's a pity that we cannot meet anymore, thank you for your hard work over the past years. Thank you, Max!”—Ueno Station
Tokyo Station (東京駅)
Fans who turned up at Tokyo Station to say farewell. (Image credit: JR East Tokyo Branch Office)
Farewell from Tokyo Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
“We feel something special when we see you off from Tokyo Station saying "Have a good trip!", and when welcoming you back saying "Welcome back!". Everyone was excited by the unique scenery they could experience when riding a double-decker shinkansen. We hope you continue running safely until your retirement.”—Tokyo Station
Last Run train station decorations
Escalator at Tokyo Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
As part of the Max Last Run promotional activities, some train stations were outfitted with decorations of the E4 series train, or messages saying “Thank you, Max”. One ingenious decoration is that of an escalator at Tokyo Station, which was done up to resemble an E4 series train. Doesn’t it look cute?
Artwork by children at Niigata Station. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Over at Niigata Station, there are walls covered with artwork done by children, who have coloured pictures of the E4 series Max in their own ways. The double-decker E4 series Max has touched the lives of and left many fond memories with not just adults, but children as well. In Japan, many young children, especially boys, aspire to be train drivers when they grow up.
Farewell decorations around stations in Niigata. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
At Niigata Station, there are banners filled with handwritten messages from passengers. At Nagaoka Station, a lovely mural of the E4 series Max train was made with over 3,000 bottle caps. In the waiting room at Niigata Station, confectionery and candy created with a theme of "Thank you, Max" are on display, and feature iconic landmarks of the various stations that the train stops at.
Special event at Niigata
Special event at Niigata. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
On the day of the Last Run, a special event was held in the mall connected to Niigata Station, the terminal station of the Jо̄etsu Shinkansen. Visitors could purchase limited edition Max Last Run goods, ekiben, and participate in a banner workshop to pen farewell messages.
Max Last Run Limited Edition Ekiben
Ekiben on sale at the special event. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
The popular double-decker ekiben. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Some of the most popular items were the limited edition double-decker ekiben (駅弁 lunch box for eating on the train), which like the train, feature two “storeys” of food. These ekiben, which come in three different menus, have been on sale at selected NewDays convenience stores since July, but often sell out quickly due to their popularity. The three different menus were also sold at different stations, but specially for this event, you could buy all three at the same place.
Fun fact: the price of each ekiben is ¥1,634, which is the maximum number of passengers that an E4 series train can carry!
Special edition Toge no Kamamesh ekiben. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Also available at the event was a special edition of the famous Toge no Kamameshi (峠の釜めし) ekiben, decorated to match the E4 series train. Born in 1953, Toge no Kamameshi is one of Japan’s most famous ekiben, and comes in a beautiful earthenware container. The special edition for the Max Last Run event features a blue earthenware container, to match the E4 series train.
This exclusive ekiben was only available for 1 day, 1 October 2021, and other than at Niigata Station, it was also sold at Tokyo Station, Ueno Station, Omiya Station, Kumagaya Station, and Takasaki Station.
Max Last Run Smoothie
Max Last Run smoothie. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Thirsty? A special Max Last Run smoothie, which featured different layers that perfectly matched the stripes of the E4 series Max, was also available at Niigata Station. Yoghurt, locally-produced tomatoes from Niigata, and herbs form the three distince layers of white, pink, and blue respectively.
Max Last Run commemorative goods
NewDays at Niigata Station selling E4 max commemorative goods. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
If you miss the train, you might still be able to get some commemorative goods from selected NewDays convenience stores. In commemoration of the train’s retirement, limited edition E4 series Max merchandise with Last Run livery are being sold at selected NewDays convenience stores in stations that the E4 series Max stopped at.
E4 series Max commemorative goods. (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Niigata-limited items, which are only available at stations in Niigata Prefecture that the E4 series Max stops at, include clothing like hoodies and T-shirts, as well as sake, canvas bags, mugs, and more. More widely available are the items available at stations along the Jо̄etsu Shinkansen that the E4 series Max stops at, including Tokyo Station. These items include postage stamps, chocolates, face masks, card holders, and more. You can check the full list of items here.
E4 series train (left) and E7 series train (right). (Image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office)
Since 2 October, the E4 series trains running on the Joetsu Shinkansen have been replaced with E7 series trains, which can reach higher speeds and have more luggage racks for large baggage. Farewell Max, you will be dearly missed, but never forgotten. Otsukaresa-max!
The final date of regular operations of the E4 series Max was on 1 October 2021. Special ticketed events will be held on 9–10 October and 16–17 October. These events require the purchase of a special package/ticket, details of which can be found here (Japanese only).
Header image credit: JR East Niigata Branch Office