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Rail Report: Gran Class, Japan’s most luxurious bullet train experience

Rail Report: Gran Class, Japan’s most luxurious bullet train experience

Updated as of 27 February 2024
Originally published on 3 June 2022

 

You may have heard of First Class on a plane, but have you heard of First Class on a train? With only 18 seats per train, a ride in the ultra-luxe and ultra-exclusive Gran Class (グランクラス Guran Kurasu) car is definitely an experience to remember.

 

Other than the extra space and comfort, passengers can also look forward to dedicated Gran Class attendants, a light meal and snack service, unlimited beverages, and amenities for comfort. In this article, we will check out what it’s like riding the Gran Class on the Tohoku Shinkansen, from Tokyo Station (東京駅) to Shin-Aomori Station (新青森駅), a journey that takes around 3 hours. Interested to find out what’s in store for you on a ride on a Gran Class seat? Read on to find out!

 

Gran Class indicators on the platform floor and train door. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The Gran Class car is housed in Car 10 of a 10-car Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen train, and Car 12 of a 12-car Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen train. This is because these cars are at the ends of the trains, which have less space compared to other cars, as they also house the driver cabins.

 

Before you board a Gran Class car, you will see signs from the floor stickers, to the train doors, to the electronic signages. Gran Class was first launched in 2011

 


Entering a Gran Class car on the Tohoku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Once you enter the Gran Class car, you might have a hard time believing you’re on a train! “Gran” is a French word that means “large”, and Gran Class seats certainly offer plenty of space. The entire Gran Class car has just six rows of seats laid out in a 2+1 configuration.

 

In addition, the seats’ ergonomic and well-balanced support offer a high level of comfort no matter your sitting position or body type. The real leather seats can be reclined up to 45 degrees, and are housed in a hard shell, so you won’t be affected by other passengers’ reclining, and you won’t affect other passengers when you recline.

 

Overhead luggage racks can be closed. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Just like a plane, the Gran Class’s overhead luggage racks can be closed, and the car’s floor is carpeted, so you’ll be spared the noisy clacking of shoes when other people walk by.

 

Kind attendants on my trip. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

And just like how planes have flight attendants, Gran Class cars have dedicated Gran Class attendants who offer warm hospitality to the 18 Gran Class passengers. They are always ready to help with providing a comfortable train ride.

 

Dining on the Gran Class

Meal service onboard the Gran Class. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Once the train departs the station, an attendant will offer you a wet towel and hand you a service menu with a list of food and drinks. Usually, the meal will be served shortly after departing the station you boarded at, unless you request otherwise. Throughout the entire train ride, you can order as many drinks as you like. For my first beverage, I chose apple juice, which was served together with the light meal.

 

Gran Class light meal on the outbound journey on the Tohoku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Did you know? Gran Class offers light meals (軽食 keishoku) to its passengers, which are made with the freshest ingredients that are in season, and the menu changes every season (every 3 months).

 

On my trip on the Tohoku Shinkansen, it was spring, and the menu featured a variety of bite-sized dishes, such as simmered scallop, pickled shrimp, sesame grilled mackerel, chicken meatballs, Japanese omelette, an assortment of vegetables, and more. Everything was so tasty, and with the extra table space, it was on a whole different level from eating ekiben on ordinary cars with smaller seats and tables.

 

As it is a light meal, the portion is less than a typical ekiben (駅弁lunchbox for eating on the train), but was still substantial. Personally, I felt that it was an appropriate amount, enough as a snack, but also enough as a light lunch.

 

The four different meals for spring (April–June) 2022. (Image credit: JR East)

 

2024 update: The light meal offerings are now divided into 2 types, Western Fare and Japanese Fare. For the latest news on the seasonal menu on offer, please check out the official GranClass sub-page on refreshments

 

Tohoku yomogi and sanonto pound cake. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

In addition to the light meal, for dessert you’ll also get a slice of pound cake, the flavour of which also changes every season. This spring, it was a Tohoku yomogi (よもぎ mugwort) and sanonto (三温糖 san’ontо̄, caramelised sugar) flavoured pound cake, made specially for the Gran Class menu. This was a flavour combination that I had never tried before, but it was delicious! Do note that passengers may only have one serving each of the light meal and pound cake per train ride.

 

Rice crackers and nuts snacks. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Other than the light meal and pound cake, passengers also receive snacks like rice crackers and nuts, in a beautiful washi (和紙 Japanese paper) packaging. If you would like extra servings of these snacks, you can approach the attendants.

 

GranDrinks.jpg (380 KB)

Drinks are served in glass cups. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

For beverages, you can choose from over 10 varieties, which include coffee, tea, apple juice, beer, wine, sake, whisky, and a region-limited special alcoholic beverage. When I rode the Gran Class, the regional specialty was Aomori apple cider on the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen, and sparkling plum wine on the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

 

Drinks are served in actual glass cups, so take care not to knock them over or break them! Hot drinks are served in glass cups with a holder/handle, how thoughtful is that? The coasters used are not just paper, but made with an anti-slip material, so the cup will not slip or slide as the train moves at speeds of up to 320km/h.

 

Seats on the Gran Class

Seats on the Gran Class on the Tohoku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

But of course, the highlight of the Gran Class is without a doubt its luxurious seats. With a seat pitch of 1,300mm that rivals that of a first-class seat on a domestic plane, Gran Class seats offer the highest level of comfort you could possibly ask for on a bullet train.

 

Easy reclining of the seats provides many comfortable positions. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The chair’s recline is easily controlled with the push of a button, with the seat split into three sections: the back rest, the butt rest, and the leg rest. Other than buttons controlling all three as a whole for maximum reclining and sitting upright, passengers can also choose to adjust each section individually.

 

Perhaps you do not want the back rest to tilt backwards, but want the leg rest to go up. Or perhaps you want the butt rest to move forward but the leg rest to stay down. These can be done. There’s also a button on the panel to call the attendant in case you need assistance with anything.

 


Instruction card on how to use the seat’s reclining functions. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you are unsure of how to utilise the chair’s reclining buttons, do not worry, an instruction card is available, with Japanese and English explanations on how to do so. You can also ask the friendly attendants for help should you require it.

 

Gran Class seats are extremely comfortable. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Gran Class seats are made of real leather, and are so soft and comfortable. If I wasn’t on a business trip, I definitely would have slept in comfort on this seat! To make your journey even more comfortable, slippers are provided, and you can request for blankets if you are feeling cold. Just like on a plane, the blankets were stored in the overhead compartments, with the attendants taking them out to give to passengers who asked for them. Shoe horns and eye masks are also available.

 

Each seat has a power outlet, so you can plug in and charge your laptop, phone, or other electronic device. There’s also a reading light that switches on and off with a twist of the frame, and two sizes of retractable tables to suit your needs.

 

Price to ride Gran Class

Japan Rail Pass and Gran Class ticket. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Is it worth it to take a ride on Gran Class? After having experienced it once, YES, I certainly think so, and would love to ride it again! The 3-hour ride to Shin-Aomori from Tokyo went by in a flash, and I was sad to get off and say goodbye to the comfortable seat.

 

Did you know? If you are a Japan Rail Pass or JR EAST PASS holder, the pass covers the basic fare (乗車券 jо̄shaken) of the shinkansen, so you only need to top up the Gran Class surcharge! If you're looking to experience a little luxury in your train rides, why not try it out? Usually, a ticket on Gran Class from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori would cost ¥28,980, but if you are a rail pass holder, the cost would just be ¥18,640.

 

For comparison, here are the prices for an Ordinary (普通 futsū), Green (グリーン gurīn), and Gran Class seat on two different routes, with the numbers in brackets being the surcharge you need to pay if you have a valid rail pass (ordinary) for that route:

 

Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (3–3.5 hours) on the Tohoku Shinkansen

  • Ordinary: ¥17,670* (¥0, free)
  • Green: ¥23,740 (¥13,400)
  • Gran: ¥28,980 (¥18,640)

 

Tokyo to Kanazawa (2.5–3 hours) on the Hokuriku Shinkansen

  • Ordinary: ¥14,380* (¥0, free)
  • Green: ¥20,840 (¥13,360)
  • Gran: ¥29,220 (¥21,740)

 

*Ordinary prices are based on regular season reserved seat prices.
Reserved seats are subject to seasonality prices:

  • regular (通常期 tsūjо̄ki)
  • peak (繁忙期 hanbōki)
  • extra peak (最繁忙期 saihanbōki)
  • off-season (閑散期 kansanki)

 

For more details on each period, you can check the seasonality calendar here. Green and Gran Class prices are the same throughout the year.

 

BONUS: Lounge Usage at Tokyo Station

If you are departing from Tokyo Station, you can show your GranClass ticket to gain entry to the View Gold Lounge. Located outside the ticket gates near the Yaesu Central Entrance, opposite the JAPAN RAIL CAFE, you can use the lounge for 90 minutes before your scheduled departure time. The lounge is open daily from 8am to 6pm.

 

While you are in the lounge, you will get to enjoy a snack and non-alcoholic drink service. You can also make use of free Wi-Fi for some work or travel information research and the cloak service for temporary storage of your luggage. Please note that no-entry is allowed.

 

How to book

Passengers can reserve seats online up to 1 month before departure. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Good news for foreign visitors, you can now book Gran Class seats online here, up to 1 month before your date of travel. You can purchase them as point-to-point tickets, or if you have a rail pass that covers the section you want to ride, you can just purchase the Gran Class surcharge ticket.

 

Once you arrive in Japan, you can collect your seat ticket from a Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machine (指定席販売機 shiteiseki hanbaiki) at major JR East stations.

 

Gran Class (No Beverage and Light Meal Service)

Logos for Gran Class with service (left) and no service (right). (Image credit: JR East)

 

All E5/H5 trains and most E7/W7 trains have the Gran Class seats, but the shorter service routes do not have Gran Class attendants or beverage/meal services. If you are looking at a train timetable, you can keep an eye out for the logos to determine whether the train will have the services or not. A shaded hexagonal logo indicates that the train has Gran Class attendants and beverage/meal services, while a white hexagonal logo indicates that it doesn’t.

 

These shorter service routes are without Gran Class attendants and beverage/meal services are:

Tohoku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen

  • All Nasuno, Hayate, and Yamabiko train services
  • All Hayabusa train services that only operate between Tokyo and Sendai
  • All Hayabusa train services that operate to/from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto that do not start or end at Tokyo

Hokuriku Shinkansen

  • All Asama train services
  • All Hakutaka train services that only operate between Nagano and Kanazawa

Joetsu Shinkansen

  • All Toki and Tanizawa train services that utilise the E7 train

Note: Despite being a E7/W7 train, all Tsurugi train services operating between Toyama and Kanazawa do not have Gran Class seats.

 

You can find out more about the Gran Class on its English website here.

 

Header image credit: JR East
Information is correct as of February 2024.

 

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