Japan’s E5 Shinkansen: The Sleekest Thing On Rails

It can travel at 320 km/hr (200 miles/hr), but you don’t feel it from the inside – other than looking out the window. The E5 Shinkansen is not only the fastest train in Japan but also a hot contender for the most comfortable, even in economy class. 

Thanks to its speed, the Hayabusa Shinkansen service (using the E5 Shinkansen series trains) covers the distance between Tokyo and Sendai, the capital of Tohoku, in two hours. Remote workers and even commuters use it to spend a day in Tokyo. But it is also perfect for anyone who wants to discover the northern part of Japan. 

In this article, you will learn what makes this superfast train comfortable, why it has become iconic, how the exterior and interior of the E5 Shinkansen are set up, and more about the Green and Gran classes. 

A sleek E5 Series Shinkansen train parked at a station, showcasing its distinctive green and pink livery. The train's nose is aerodynamically designed, emphasizing speed and efficiency. Positioned at platform 14, the scene includes cautionary platform edge markings in yellow with black stripes, under the sheltering structure of the station with visible overhead lines and signage.
An E5 Shinkansen at the station

Introduction to the E5 Shinkansen

The Shinkansen E5 series trains were introduced to the Tohuku Shinkansen line in 2011 and the Hokkaido line in 2016. The H5, a cold-weather variation, was put into service on both lines in 2016.

In tests, the E5 Hayabusa train was taken to speeds higher than 400 km/hr, but its operating speed is limited to 320 km/hr for passenger comfort and to limit the effects on the environment.

The extreme streamlining of the engine car, designed to dampen wind resistance and the shockwave of the train passing, is part of the secret behind the E5’s ultrafast speeds. 

Routes and Destinations

The E5 series trains run the Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko and Nasuno Shinkansen services on tracks in Tohoku, the northern third of the Japanese main island of Honshu. 

The trains run on the Shinkansen Tohoku line from Tokyo via Utsunomiya in Tochigi, through Fukushima, to Sendai in Miyagi and Morioka in Iwate; then on to Aomori and through the Seikan tunnel to Hokkaido. 

The green E5 Hayabusa service trains are often coupled with red E6 Shinkansen trains from Tokyo Station to Morioko for the Komachi service to Akita. They look similar to E5 trains (except for the different colours) and have similar interiors.

A close-up view of the E6 Series Shinkansen train parked at a station, captured in bright daylight. The train is painted in a striking red and white color scheme, enhancing its streamlined design. The background shows the structure of the station with overhead shelters and clear skies, illustrating the dynamic environment of high-speed rail travel in Japan.
The E6 Shinkansen train used on the Komachi service.

The H5 Shinkansen series trains operate Shinkansen services in Hokkaido, as they have been adapted to the cold and snow of the region’s strong winters. 

Riding aboard the E5 Shinkansen

The Shinkansen ride is not only fast but also very comfortable, even in the economy (ordinary) class. The level of comfort is due to both the exterior and interior design.

E5 Shinkansen Exterior

The H5, E5, and E6 Shinkansen trains have a very streamlined design, making the operating speed of 320 km/h and the maximum speed of 400 km/h possible. 

The long iconic nose cone with the driver bubble minimises air resistance and breaks up the shock waves that an object travelling at a third of the speed of sound will make. 

The exterior colours used for the E5 shinkansen are based on those of an experimental train called the Fastech360. The upper section of the train is Tokiya green, and the lower section is Hiun white, separated by a Hayate pink stripe.

The colour has become iconic in Japan and synonymous with sleekness and speed. Just painting something in the E5 Shinkansen colour scheme gives an impression of being fast, smooth, and reliable. The scheme is used on everything from bicycle helmets to socks. It has become so synonymous with the Shinkansen Hayabusa service that merely showing the colour invokes images of super-high speed and quality. 

A side view of the iconic E5 Series Shinkansen, displayed at a train station under bright daylight. The high-speed train features a streamlined design with a distinctive green and pink stripe running along its white body. The train is on the tracks, set against the backdrop of the station's overhead structures, highlighting its sleek, modern engineering.
The colour scheme of the E5 Shinkansen has become iconic.

The windows are designed to be both large and soundproof, but when two E5 Shinkansen trains meet, there is still a bit of a sonic chock.

Despite the high speed, the ride is supremely smooth. When the powerful engines kick in, you might expect a train as fast as the Hayabusa Shinkansen to move in bumps and spurts, but this is not the case. 

Riding the E5 series Shinkansen is smoother than most people’s driving (probably including yourself). Even when it accelerates out of a station to get up to speed, you hardly feel that you are moving. You hardly notice more than a whisper from the outside when it moves at full speed. Braking when decelerating into the stations is equally smooth. 

Boarding the E5 Shinkansen

Once you have found the right platform at your station, you need to find the right car. To find your car, look at the signs on the walls of the Shinkansen platform.

A detailed train information board at a station displaying the YAMABIKO & NASUNO Train Information for Omiya and Tokyo. The board outlines the car configurations for different train services, with cars numbered from 1 to 17. Each car's position is color-coded to indicate different classes and amenities, such as green for first class. 'You are here' is marked to assist passengers with orientation on the platform.
The cars for different train services are shown on the board at the platform.

Since Japanese trains always stop precisely at the exact point marked on the platform, you can also look at the symbols on the platform to identify where your car is going to be. If you are first in line to board, move a little to the side to make room for people leaving the train. 

Overhead view of a train platform showing designated waiting areas with numbers and car positions for different train cars. The foreground features green signs on the platform labeled '17号車', '16-17号車', and '10号車' indicating car numbers 17, 16-17, and 10 respectively, each with a number '8月' and '6月' on separate signs. Behind the signs are multiple train tracks and the edge of another platform, highlighting the structured organization at a busy train station.
The location of the number of cars you are in depends on the number of cars on the train. Here, the position of car 8 in a train with 16 or 17 cars is the same as that of car 6 in a train with 10 cars.

Be careful to check the number of cars for your train service. The middle of the train may be in the same place, but a shorter train will have the first car much closer to the middle of the platform. 

Green Class cars are marked with a green four-leaf clover symbol, and Gran Class cars have a brown bisected ring on the car. 

Once inside, the seat numbers are written over the windows. 

View from inside a train showing a window signage indicating seat numbers. The signage reads '19 A 窓 B 中 C 通路' corresponding to '19 A Window, B Center, C Aisle' in English, set against a backdrop of blurred train tracks seen through the window.
The seat numbers are printed over the windows for each row.

When boarding, be aware that the station stops are extremely short. You have less than one minute to board or disembark, which can be a massive hassle if you have oversized luggage and a stroller. When exiting, be prepared and get to the exit with all suitcases ready as soon as the conductor announces your station.

Ordinary Class Car Overview

There are three classes on the E5 Shinkansen trains: Ordinary class (普通), Green Class (グリーン クラス), and Gran Class (グランクラス). 

If you buy an ordinary ticket, you end up in Ordinary Class. In most cars, all seats are reserved, but usually, the first car is not, so you can sit if there are open seats or stand if you can’t find a seat. But all seats on the trains are reserved around big holidays like Golden Week in May, New Year, and Obon in August.

While seat reservations are not necessary for small children (under six), you should get them their own seats as soon as they are toddlers. Having even a two-year-old crawling around in your lap can be taxing, and it is better if they can stretch out and sleep in their seat. 

Ordinary Class cars have 20 rows of five seats (two plus three). Green Class has four seats in a row, and Gran Class has three seats in a row, which means wider (and more comfortable) seats. 

Interior view of a Shinkansen train showing the Ordinary Class cabin. The cabin is filled with rows of grey upholstered seats, overhead luggage racks with suitcases, and a central aisle where a person is walking. The floor and curved ceiling panels give the cabin a modern, sleek appearance.
Interior of the Ordinary Class cabin with five seats in a row.

If you are a family, try booking two two-seat rows after each other. While it is a bit of a bother, you can turn one of the rows around, making the four seats face each other. A pedal near the floor can be used to release the seats so you can turn them manually. 

Close-up view of a Shinkansen train seat base showing a small gray pedal on the floor for adjusting the seat direction, set against a textured floor
The little pedal next to the floor allows you to turn the seat row around.

The seats in Ordinary Class are wide enough for most people, although if you feel cramped in an economy class airline seat, you should consider an upgrade. 

The legroom is longer than in an airplane, and the seat reclines. Just as in an airplane, you have to look out that nobody is using a laptop in the seat behind you. 

The tables fold down from the seat in front and are bigger than plane tables (since the legroom is wider). They are also more solid, but they cannot support the weight of even a small child (the weight limit is five kilograms).

Close-up view of a Shinkansen train seat and folding tray table. The tray table is down, showing a cup holder, next to a window seat with grey upholstery. A pink suitcase is stored beside the seat, neatly fitting the compact space.
The tray table comes folding down from the back of the seat ahead.

There are no individual reading lights in the E5 Shinkansen Ordinary Class, but the interior is bright enough for reading or working despite the rather muted brown and grey colour scheme. 

There are standard Japanese 110v electric outlets for all seats and free in-train wifi. Registration with the provider is required before you can use it. This is triggered by selecting the JR free wifi network in the settings. 

Close-up view of an AC power outlet on the floor of a Shinkansen train, featuring a green indicator light and labeled 'AC 100V 2A 50Hz' to specify electrical specifications
There are electric outlets on the floor.

There are also hooks where you can hang small backpacks, eco bags, and, of course, coats. 

Close-up view of a beige seat back in a Shinkansen train featuring a bag hook built into the fabric panel, designed for hanging small items like bags and coats for passenger convenience.
There are hooks for bags and coats next to all seats.

The overhead racks are fine for standard carry-on bags, but a big hiking backpack or ordinary-sized suitcase can be a problem.

You do not have to pay for extra large luggage on the Hayabusa Shinkansen and other Tohoku Shinkansen services. There are storage racks for suitcases at the end of the cars, and another storage space in the corridors. 

The storage space is sufficient unless everyone brings large luggage, which typically happens during ski season. Do not attempt to store your skis on the rack over the seats, since they are so long that they will use the space of other passengers. Instead, put them in the ski rack in the corridor between cars or the rack at the end of the compartment. 

A secure luggage storage area on a train, featuring metal bars with adjustable straps to hold baggage in place. A black suitcase is stored on the shelf, and instructions for use are posted on a plaque next to the storage space.
There are luggage racks at the end of each cabin. The racks can also hold skis.

Green Class Car Overview

The Green Class is a step up from the Ordinary Class, with wider seats, individual reading lights, and the ability to adjust seats in more ways than in the Ordinary Class. 

Interior of the Green Class cabin on the E5 Shinkansen, featuring spacious seating arranged four across in a 2-2 configuration. The seats are upholstered in textured brown fabric with adjustable headrests and ample legroom, illuminated by soft overhead lighting. The aisle is clear, providing a comfortable and quiet travel environment.
Green Class cabin on the E5 Shinkansen train in Hayabusa service. There are four seats in a row.

Green Class is usually used by people travelling for work since it isn’t much more expensive than Ordinary Class, particularly with corporate discounts. That means travellers do not appreciate being disturbed by noisy children and may even complain to the conductor if the noise level makes work difficult. 

There is considerably more comfort since there are only four seats instead of five in each row and fewer rows (13 instead of 20).

The seats are still cloth-covered, but there is more upholstering compared to the Ordinary Class. An electronically adjustable footrest makes the trip more comfortable. The controls are next to the reclining controls. 

Close-up of an adjustable footrest in a Green Class seat on the Shinkansen train. The footrest is part of a seat upholstered in a textured brown fabric, showcasing a herringbone pattern. The design provides ergonomic support and enhanced comfort for long-distance travel
The seats in the Green Class have an adjustable footrest.

 However, there is no luggage rack in the cabin, so if you have large luggage, you have to store it in the corridor luggage rack. 

Open luggage compartment on a Shinkansen train, designed with a secure locking mechanism. The interior features a textured grey rubber mat and sleek metallic bars to hold bags in place, ensuring safety and stability for stored items during travel.
The luggage racks in the hall are intended for both the Green and Ordinary classes.

Gran Class Car Overview

The introduction of Gran Class coincided with the introduction of the E5 Shinkansen trains. While the separation of travellers is normal on Japan Railways, this was the first time the railway company decided to create an all-out luxury experience. Not only are the Gran Class E5 Shinkansen cars a step more comfortable than the Green Class, but there is also an attendant providing drinks and refreshments without extra charge. 

The cabin layout, with six rows of three seats, is even more spacious than Green Class, and the white leather-upholstered seats are sumptuously comfortable – enough to make you wish you had one in front of your TV at home. 

Interior of a Gran Class cabin on a Shinkansen train, featuring luxurious cream-colored leather seats with high backs and adjustable headrests. The cabin has a plush red carpet, subtle ambient lighting, and a quiet, refined atmosphere, emphasizing comfort and privacy.
The Gran Class seats make you wish you had one at home.

The tables, which fold out of the armrests, are large enough to fit a full-course meal on them. The individual reading lights, adjustable telescopic arms, and the privacy screen between the seats make for another level of snugness. 

Close-up view of a luxurious cream-colored leather seat in the Gran Class of a Shinkansen train. The seat features a high, adjustable headrest, personal lighting, and a side panel with integrated seat controls. The background shows other seats and windows, emphasizing the spacious and comfortable interior.
Individual reading lights, integrated seat controls, and the privacy screen between the Gran Class seats on the E5 Shinkansen trains contribute to the comfort level.

If Green Class is focused on business travellers, the Gran Class would be intended for their upper management when they go on golf trips. Japan has more than its fair share of wealthy people. It is clear from how the service is marketed that this is the primary target group. 

Gran Class is not recommended for family travellers, even if they can afford it. It is not particularly family-friendly, and a normally noisy toddler would likely raise so many complaints that the family would be asked to change to an Ordinary Class car. 

Onboard Amenities

The Shinkansen E5 trains were introduced in 2011, but they are not yet showing their age. Since then, the trains have been renovated, with the interior freshened up and new features added, like the toddler chairs in the bathrooms. 

This image displays an information board inside a train. The board offers a comprehensive guide to the train's layout and amenities, listing different cars numbered from 1 to 10 and detailing features like restrooms, smoking areas, and priority seating. The text is presented in multiple languages including English, Japanese, and Korean, emphasizing the international accessibility of the services. There are symbols for various facilities like wheelchairs, bathrooms, and luggage spaces, ensuring travelers can easily understand the available conveniences.
Information board displaying the train amenities.

The toilets have been accessible and thoroughly modern since the E5 Shinkansen trains were introduced as late as 2011. There is a washlet (the Japanese appliance for washing yourself in your private parts after toilet visits), and a chair for toddlers, which is handy if you are travelling alone with small children.

Interior of a restroom on the E5 Shinkansen train, equipped with a toddler seat. The seat is foldable, attached to the wall next to the small washbasin, and includes safety labels and instructions. There is a nonslip floor mat for added safety.
Toddler seat on the E5 Shinkansen.

There is also a change table to use when changing your child’s nappies (or diapers). 

Interior of a restroom in the E5 Shinkansen featuring a fold-down changing table. The table is deployed, showing a safety strap and adjacent warning labels in multiple languages about safety precautions such as drop hazards and never leaving a child unattended.
Change table on the E5 Shinkansen.

In addition to the family toilet, there is a men’s toilet (with a urinal only), a ladies-only toilet, and a separate washbasin in the corridor between the cabins. The garbage bin is also there. 

Interior view of a women's restroom on the E5 Shinkansen train, featuring a spacious design with a large toilet, a sink with a large mirror above, and various safety and information signs. A metallic handrail and an SOS emergency button panel are also visible for accessibility and safety.
The lady’s toilet on the E5 Shinkansen Hayabusa trains.

There are no public trash cans in Japan, but on the E5 Shinkansen trains, there is a trash bin in the corridor between cabins. In Japan, you are responsible for your garbage, and most people either use a bag from the convenience store or a separate bag to collect their garbage. Then, upon leaving the train, they throw it away in the garbage bin. 

A tip if you are travelling with children who need to move around and want just enough adventure is to let them throw away the garbage piece by piece. 

Close-up view of a garbage disposal area on an E5 Shinkansen train, featuring sleek wood paneling and stainless steel accents. Labels indicate specific disposal slots for cans and PET bottles, along with a push-flap access for other waste, ensuring easy sorting and disposal for passengers.
Garbage bin in the corridor between cars on the E5 Shinkansen trains.

JR East, which operates the Hayabusa service using the E8, E6, H5, and E5 Shinkansen trains, provides free wifi in all their Shinkansen and express trains. The service is very reliable and fast on the Shinkansen, although there are places where the service can not keep up the connection to the Internet because the train is too fast.

If you have ridden on a JR East train before, for instance, the Narita Express from Narita Airport, you will have gone through the procedure before, and you will be able to re-use your registered login. 

But if this is the first time you use the JR wifi service, you must go through a three-step registration process. First, you select the JR East Free Wifi SSID in your network settings, then you choose English in the following menu. After that, you have to register your email address or use a service provider like Facebook or Google to verify your identity. 

If you use your email address to verify your identity, you will get an email containing a URL, which you have to click within 10 minutes; after you have done this, you will be allocated an IP address and can start using the service. 

Final Thoughts

The Hayabusa E5 Shinkansen offers an exceptional travel experience for tourists exploring Japan. With its remarkable speed and comfort, it makes journeys between Tokyo and the northern regions seamless and enjoyable.

The train’s sleek design, spacious seating, and excellent onboard amenities ensure that even the longest trips are pleasant. Whether you choose Ordinary, Green, or Gran Class, you’ll appreciate the efficiency and elegance of this iconic train.

Promotional Pinterest Image titled "Japan's E5 Shinkansen: The Sleekest Thing on Rails". The photo in the centre of the Pinterest Image shows a sleek E5 Series Shinkansen train parked at a station, showcasing its distinctive green and pink livery. The train's nose is aerodynamically designed, emphasizing speed and efficiency.
E5 Shinkansen – Pinterest Image

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