Explore Shinkansen Gran Class: Welcome to Affordable Luxury

Have you ever dreamed of luxury travel in Japan without the crazy price tag? Discover how Shinkansen Gran Class makes it possible.

As a self-proclaimed train otaku (Japanese for geek), I’ve dedicated a lot of my time to researching and riding some of Japan’s amazing trains, including the Gran Class Shinkansen carriages on the Hokuriku/Joetsu and Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen.

Japan’s bullet train system, renowned for its efficiency and speed, also offers a luxurious travel experience known as the Gran Class. The Gran Class cabin on the Tohoku/Hokkaido and Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen is a testament to Japan’s commitment to excellence in rail travel. 

This article delves into the background, comparison with other classes, booking procedures, exclusive amenities, and routes where you can find the Gran Class seats, an authentic Shinkansen first-class experience.

What is Gran Class?

Since its introduction, the Shinkansen, or bullet train, has been synonymous with cutting-edge technology and customer satisfaction. 

The Gran Class debuted in 2011 with the launch of the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen (E5 and H5 trains), marking a significant shift towards luxury travel within the Shinkansen network. 

Gran Class service on the Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen (E7 series trains) was launched on March 14, 2015, coinciding with the inauguration of the Shinkansen line itself. 

JR Gran Class can transport you to many amazing destinations across Japan. You can sit back, enjoy unlimited alcohol as well as non-alcoholic beverages, and a stunning light meal created by one of Japan’s top chefs. 

Comparing the Gran Class with the standard and green class carriages reveals a stark contrast in comfort, amenities, and exclusivity. While the standard and green class offer commendable comfort and convenience, the Gran Class elevates the travel experience. 

Gran Class boasts spacious, plush electric reclining seats equipped with more than ample legroom and personal footrests. The Gran Class seats are comparable to first class on international flights, without the TV screens. 

The spacious and comfortable seating of the Hokuriku Shinkansen's GranClass car, showcasing plush cream-colored seats with quilted detailing, set against a backdrop of dark window frames and richly colored carpeting.
The spacious and comfortable seats in the Hokuriku Gran Class Shinkansen car

If you’re used to travelling in business or first class on flights, or if you’ve always dreamed of first class, Gran Class is for you. Enhanced privacy and attentive service further distinguish Gran Class from its counterparts, ensuring a tranquil environment conducive to work or leisure. 

Gran Class Routes

Two Shinkansen routes in Japan offer Gran Class carriages:

  • The Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen connects Tokyo with destinations in the northeastern region of Japan, including cities like Sendai, Morioka, and Aomori. Specific routes also extend to Hakodate, Hokkaido.
  • The Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen links Tokyo with destinations along the coast of the Sea of Japan, including Kanazawa and Toyama, and it has just recently extended to Fukui.

Tickets

While certainly not cheap, most consider the Gran Class affordable for the luxury it offers. The price difference between Gran Class tickets and standard or green car tickets on the Tohoku/Hokkaido and Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen varies depending on factors such as the time of booking, demand, and availability. 

Generally, Gran Class tickets command a significant premium over standard and green car tickets due to their enhanced amenities and exclusivity, as it’s the Shinkansen first class experience. Searching multiple routes on the different Shinkansen classes, I found that the Gran Class tickets were typically 70-80% higher than the standard class and 25-35% higher than the green class tickets.   

Buying a Gran Class ticket on the Tohoku/Hokkaido or Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen is straightforward, albeit with limited availability due to its premium status and limited number of seats. 

Tickets can be reserved online through the JR East website or purchased at designated ticket counters and ticket machines. It’s a good idea to book in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to guarantee availability. However, it is possible for tickets to be available on the day of travel. 

Please also note that not all departures will have food and beverage service. 

A popular route on the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen is Tokyo to Hakodate. Standard class tickets each way are 23,030 yen, Green Class is 32,100 yen, and Gran Class is 40,480 yen. 

Side view of Car 10 of the GranClass on the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen, showcasing the vibrant green exterior with the GranClass logo, next to the 'Treasureland Tohoku Japan' promotional design.
Gran Class (Car 10) on the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen

Another popular route is Tokyo to Kanazawa on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Standard class tickets each way are 14,180 yen, Green Class tickets are 20,640 yen, and Gran Class tickets are 29,020 yen.

Travellers can also opt for Japan Rail Passes, which offer access to certain Shinkansen services, including Gran Class, providing an economical option for exploring Japan in style. However, you’ll have to pay an additional fee to book a Gran Class seat if you have a JR Pass.

The Gran Class Experience

The Gran Class experience starts even before you board with lounge access. Once you board Gran Class, get ready for a luxurious travel experience.   

Exclusive Lounge Access

The View Gold Lounge at Tokyo Station is a luxurious retreat for Gran Class travellers amidst the bustling station. Guests can enjoy complimentary refreshments and snacks while waiting for their departure. 

This exclusive lounge is open from 8 am until 6 pm, so if you want to visit, consider the operating hours when choosing your Shinkansen departure time. 

The View Gold Lounge is on the 1st floor, just inside the Yaesu Central Exit of Tokyo Station. 

In addition to complimentary beverages and snacks, the lounge offers newspapers, travel magazines, Free Wi-Fi, and luggage storage. 

An elegantly dressed waitress in the View Gold lounge offers a dish to a seated customer. The setting is calm with contemporary decor, ambient lighting, and patrons enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
The View Gold Lounge

Boarding Gran Class

Gran Class carriages are always the final car of the Shinkansen train. 

Typically, the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen has ten cars, and car 10 is the Gran Class carriage. The Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen is typically 12 cars; car 12 will be the Gran Class carriage. 

There are also signs on the platform stating which car is Gran Class. When the train pulls into the station, the Gran Class logo is on the side of the train next to the door. 

Open door of Car 12 on the Gran Class of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, with the luxurious service logo visible, and the train station platform reflecting a clear blue sky.
The Gran Class logo on the Hokiriku Shinkansen Car 12

Once you’ve boarded the Gran Class and taken your seat, the cabin attendant (on select routes) will hand you your amenity kit. The kit contains your food and beverage menu, salted chocolate, a bottle of water, and a wet towel. 

Slippers are also waiting for you at your seat if you’d like to use those. Finally, if you feel cold, you can ask the attendant for a blanket to use during your journey.

Interior of the Carriage

The interior of the Gran Class carriage provides the highest level of luxury, with spacious, plush seats that recline fully and offer exceptional comfort. Each seat has ample legroom, personal footrests, a reading lamp, and privacy screens, ensuring a tranquil environment for relaxation or work. 

Gran Class carriages feature red carpet, LED ceiling lights, and luxurious brown and wood accents throughout the cabin. 

Minor differences exist between the Gran Class cabins on the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen and the Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen. 

The Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen is newer and has an updated feel. The seats have a beautiful diamond stitch pattern, sleeker controls, and a more modern contrasting colour scheme throughout the cabin. The Gran Class on the Hokuriku/Joetsu Shinkansen is the peak of luxury travel on JR bullet trains.

Interior of the GranClass car on the Hokuriku Shinkansen featuring spacious, luxurious cream-colored seats with diamond-stitched patterns, complemented by soft ambient lighting and rich burgundy carpeting.
Interior of the Gran Class car on the Hokuriku Shinkansen

Shinkansen Gran Class Seating

The Gran Class carriage contains 18 seats in a 2 x 1 layout. Each seat is about 63 cm/25 inches wide, offering extreme comfort for passengers of all sizes. 

Gran Class seats are upholstered in luxurious leatherette material. It’s soft, durable, and elegant. 

There is also plenty of legroom. Even the tallest passengers can extend the footrest and stretch their legs freely. 

The seats are 6-way electronic adjustable, including back, bottom, and leg. There are also buttons to adjust the seat into and from the full recline position. The manually adjustable headrests ensure that everyone can relax comfortably, no matter their height. 

Close-up of the seat adjustment control panel on a GranClass shinkansen seat, featuring icons for reclining, leg rest, and seat rotation, with Japanese labels indicating their functions.
Seat adjustment controls

Tray tables extend from the chair’s armrest and fold open, similar to those in business and first-class airplanes. The tables are made of metal and sturdy enough to handle any bumps in your ride. 

The popout hooks are on the wall next to the window, behind the seat in front of you. 

There are power outlets in front of the armrests for charging your phone, computer, or other device. 

To ensure each passenger’s privacy, privacy screens are placed between the two seats together. 

Meal, Beverage and Other Services

The culinary experience aboard the Gran Class Shinkansen is a highlight of the journey, offering passengers a delightful array of gourmet food and beverage options. 

Gran Class is an elevated onboard dining experience, offering traditional Japanese cuisine and international delicacies. Skilled chefs prepare a diverse selection of gourmet dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients. 

An exquisite light meal served in the GranClass compartment, featuring an assortment of Japanese delicacies presented in a black bento box, accompanied by a glass bottle of sparkling beverage and a clear glass.
My light meal in Gran Class

After boarding, the attendant will ask you which light meal you’d like: the Western fare or Japanese fare. Both menus change seasonally. Dean & DeLuca social kitchen prepares the Western menu, while the Japanese menu is prepared by highly skilled Japanese chefs under the supervision of famous chef Hiromitsu Nozaki. 

The current Western menu contains bamboo shoots, fava bean Genovese, Ishikawa rice risotto with Japanese Spanish mackerel simmered in tomato sauce, beef and lily bulb shepherd’s pie, and strawberry cake. 

The current Japanese menu consists of:

  • Potato and pea tart, 
  • Salted and steamed shredded chicken & wakame stems simmered in soy sauce, 
  • Clams simmered in miso and ginger, 
  • Rapeseed buds in soy sauce, 
  • Simmered Aomori scallops, 
  • French beans, 
  • Kiwifruit layered with butter and coconut, 
  • Seafood paste wrapped in fried tofu and rapeseed buds and
  • Bamboo shoots simmered in soy sauce.
A hand holding an open menu for light meals in the GranClass Shinkansen, featuring both Western Fare and Japanese Fare options with descriptive text in Japanese and English, and images of the meal selections.
The light meal menu when I travelled on the Gran Class Shinkansen

A wide selection of beverages, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic choices, is also available. Some options are white wine, red wine, sake, cognac, beer, green tea, herbal tea, coffee, juice, and water. All beverages are unlimited, so order as many as you’d like.

A Gran Class-branded glass filled with golden-brown cognac and ice, next to an empty miniature bottle of Hennessy cognac, on a sleek tray table reflecting the sunlight.
Unlimited drinks including Cognac in Gran Class

To ensure a seamless dining experience, dedicated onboard staff attend to Gran Class passengers, who provide personalised service. From taking orders to delivering meals and beverages, the attentive service in Gran Class enhances the overall dining experience. You will definitely feel pampered and satisfied.

Overall, the food and beverage offerings aboard the Gran Class Shinkansen are a memorable experience. The onboard dining experience in Gran Class reflects Japan’s commitment to excellence in hospitality and gastronomy.

Gran Class Attendants

From the moment you step aboard, Gran Class passengers are treated to dedicated and attentive service. The onboard staff in Gran Class are committed to personalised assistance and ensuring passenger satisfaction throughout the journey. 

Their service is marked by professionalism, attention to detail, and warm hospitality. Please note that attendants are only available on routes with food and beverage service.

A diligent attendant in a purple uniform with a colorful scarf is attending to passengers in the luxurious GranClass car, amidst the cream leather seats and modern interior design.
Helpful attendant in the Gran Class car

Storage

There are plenty of storage options in Gran Class: 

  • Overhead compartments that resemble those of an airplane offer enough space for carry-on-sized luggage, bags, and other personal belongings. 
  • If you’re travelling with full-size suitcases, there is space behind the last row of seats. This luggage space is first-come, first-serve, and not reservable. 
  • Finally, dedicated luggage racks are in the car’s rear before entering the Gran Class carriage.

Other Onboard Amenities

The restrooms in the Gran Class Shinkansen are comfortable and clean and provide accessibility for passengers. The layouts are spacious, with modern fixtures and automated amenities such as bidets and heated seats.

The restroom also has a baby changing table and seat integrated into the wall. 

The carriage also has a separate men’s urinal and vanity area with bright lights for washing hands or touching up makeup. 

Tips for Making the Most of Gran Class

To maximise your experience, book your tickets in advance and arrive early to enjoy the exclusive lounge amenities. 

Choose a window seat for the best vantage point to enjoy the panoramic views. 

Enjoy the unlimited beverages and attentive service. Engage with the dedicated attendants there to cater to your needs. 

Remember to capture memories of your journey in Gran Class through photos and selfies.

Conclusion

Is it worth travelling in Gran Class at least once on the Shinkansen? Yes. It’s an affordable way to enjoy luxury train travel in Japan. Business and first-class tickets can easily cost 10x more than a Gran Class ticket.

The Gran Class experience is a testament to Japan’s commitment to excellence in travel. It blends technology with excellent hospitality, making the Gran Class journey not just a means of transportation but an opportunity to immerse oneself in Japanese hospitality and elegance.

FAQs About Gran Class on Shinkansen

Pinterest image for JapanTravelPlanning.com promoting the Shinkansen Gran Class service. The top half shows a luxurious and spacious train cabin with plush white leather seats. Below is a close-up of a premium in-train dining experience, featuring a glass of whiskey alongside a bottle of Hennessy and a tray with a selection of gourmet food. The caption reads 'EXPLORE SHINKANSEN GRAN CLASS - Welcome to Affordable Luxury.
Shinkansen Gran Class – Pinterest Image

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