Whenever you ride the bullet train throughout Japan, you have 3 choices as far as where you’d like to sit.
The first one is Non-Reserved seating.
Non-Reserved Seats simply mean that there is no assigned seating within that car, so where you sit is first-come, first-serve. If you can’t get a seat however, it doesn’t mean that you can’t board. You can stand in the aisle, or in between the carriages, which is undesirable, but still gets you to your destination. Usually occurs during peak holiday times. Just for comparison, it’s worth knowing that the seats are a lot more comfortable than those in an airplane. They recline a good deal and have no armrest in between seats, meaning if there’s no one sitting next to you, you’re free to sprawl across the entire row if you’d like.
The other type of seating you can get is Reserved. It looks and smells the same as Non-Reserved, but at least you’re guaranteed a seat, since it’s printed on your ticket. Reserved seats cost just ¥510 more than Non-Reserved, a small price to pay to put your worries aside of not snagging a seat.
The third type of seating is within the Green Car. Carriages with green cars are marked with this symbol on the side:
I’ve only ridden the Green Car once, but I do recall it being quite comfortable. A lot more leg room than the previously mentioned seating, and the quality of the seats are a lot better. The lighting is also slightly dimmer than Reserved seating, allowing passengers to rest a bit easier. In my option, I’ve always found the lighting in (Non)-Reserved to have the same kind of glow like those in an office building, so the ones in the Green Car is a welcomed change.
But is it worth the price? On average (based on trips to/from Shin-Aomori and Tokyo, as well as Niigata and Tokyo), Green Car costs an additional ¥3000-5000 more than Reserved Seating, depending on the distance you happen to be traveling. Amenities don’t chance too much, except for slippers, I believe. You’re paying for the extended leg room than anything else. However, it’s still a nice way to travel.
What’s that, you say? Money isn’t an issue? Well, new information today. From March 5th, 2011, JR East will be introducing a new passenger class called GranClass.
They’re rolling it out with the new E5 Series Hayabusa, the same time the train is planned to begin operation on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. The Nihon Keizai Newspaper has a good video on the GranClass (no Japanese skill needed to view) which you can find here. Just look for the play button and it’ll open a new window and start going on it’s own.
The main reason I’m impressed with this new class (despite me never shelling out the dough to ride it) is because for the last couple years, new Shinkansen models have rolled out, but have focused on speed and exterior design rather than comfort and quality from the inside. I believe that Japan has stiff competition from China, Europe, and other nations that have developed high-speed rail, as their trains have embraced what 21st Century transportation should look like. Within Japan, I think JR Kyushu took that first step with their 800 Series Shinkansen, and I’m glad to see that JR East has taken notice. With the Hokkaido Shinkansen and the expansion of the Nagano (Hokuriku) Shinkansen set to being, I’m excited to see what’s next.