Tag Archives: E5 hayabusa

Densha de Dan #6: E5 Hayabusa GranClass Ride Report!

Luxurious seats, ample room, state-of-the-art technology, beautiful interior, and high-class service.

All of that is promised to passengers who ride the GranClass section of the recently debuted E5 Hayabusa Super-Express Shinkansen.

JR East holds these promises with such high regard, that they’ve even incorporated it into the GranClass logo itself.

But first, what is GranClass?

Most Shinkansen trains in Japan offer two levels of service: Standard Class (much like economy class in an airplane), and Green Class, which offers more legroom, better seats, and a bit more attention by service attendants selling bento boxes, drinks, and other items.

When the E5 Hayabusa Shinkansen was introduced, it hailed a new generation of high-speed transportation in Japan. Not only was speed an important factor in the development process, but design, comfort, and service was considered as well. I’m guessing that JR East wanted a train that could easily be differentiated from other Shinkansen in Japan. A new body design was created, including a color scheme related to the Tohoku region, and the creation of an even higher level of service beyond Green Class.

The result was GranClass (formally known in the development stage as Super Green Class).

On July 9th, 2011, I was given the opportunity to ride the GranClass carriage from Omiya Station in Saitama Prefecture, to Shin-Aomori Station in Aomori Prefecture along the Tohoku Shinkansen Line.

It was already a busy morning at Omiya Station, a major junction just outside of Metropolitan Tokyo. With all the lines going through Omiya, it took a bit of searching to find which platform I should wait at. I then turned the corner and found what I was looking for.

On the platform, there’s a sign on the floor which shows which train stops where, and what carriage number it is. But since there’s only one GranClass carriage on the entire 10-car train, it makes it pretty easy to find where I’m supposed to go.

plus, it's the only one with the GranClass symbol!

additional signage, written in both English and Japanese

All of the sudden, lots of railfans, small children, well, just about everyone started to gather around the platforms edge and began to start taking pictures.

That’s when I knew that Hayabusa was making its grand entrance.

It was like watching a celebrity walk down the red carpet. Hundreds of little flashes reflected off the nose of the Shinkansen as it was pulling into platform 17. There were people of all ages running along the platform as it was slowing down and when it finally stopped, people were taking pictures with it as if it were Mickey Mouse himself.

With pinpoint precision and not a centimeter over, the door for Car #10 stopped right in front of me.

every JR East Shinkansen currently has a huge red seal on it showing an outline of the Tohoku region, with it saying "Don't give up, Japan! Don't give up, Tohoku!"

As soon as you step on board, there’s a friendly attendant escorting you to your seat.

this seat will be mine and no one else's for the next 3 hours.

There’s a fresh scent of leather as you enter the 18-seat carriage, and the seats were definitely as comfortable as they looked. It was almost like someone was giving you a soft hug from behind.

Under the armrest was a menu.

written on the inner flap of the menu, both in English and Japanese, surprisingly.

On the menu was a variety of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, snacks, and a choice of a Japanese-style or Western-style lunch.

All of which are FREE. Only in the GranClass carriage are food and beverages provided at no additional cost. As far as I know, this is the ONLY carriage in the entire Shinkansen system throughout Japan to offer this type of service.

As soon as the train leaves the station, you’re handed a warm towel and an announcement begins. You’re briefly explained what kind of amenities are available and then beverage service starts immediately afterwards.

I was torn between ordering a glass of wine, or premium beer until something else caught my eye on the menu.

fresh Aomori apple juice. just like biting into an apple...but in liquid form.

Aomori Prefecture is famous for apples, so it only made sense that I try a glass of their famous apple juice. The juice itself is a bit thicker than what we’re used to, but it was the closest thing to eating an actual apple. It was better than any apple pie, any apple sauce, any apple jam, hell, any APPLE that I’ve had before it. How could a drink this non-alcoholic, taste so good?, I thought.

Soon after, lunch came.

what's in the box?

Inside were many different items grown or found in Aomori Prefecture, including scallops, regional pickles, and of course, apples. Sometimes I find it difficult to eat every item in a traditional (hardcore) Japanese bento box, but ALL of it was delicious.

not even a grain of rice left behind.

After lunch, I felt it was time to relax, put on the slippers provided under the seat, order a beer, and watch the scenery fly by at 300 km/h.

free to take home as well! i have mine sitting next to the front door at the moment.

the endless rice fields of tohoku

After watching the countryside fly by for about 15 minutes, I finished my beer, which left me contemplating what to have next. When you’re in an all-you-can-drink kind of situation, I really try to milk it for all I can.

On the opposite armrest, there is a control panel that allows you to recline the seat and raise the foot rest if you’d like. But there’s one more button that caught my eye.

see the button with the attendant on it?

The GranClass carriage has two attendants that only pay attention to that particular carriage. Not even the Green Car gets any love from them. ANY TIME you want something, you simply push the button. Within seconds, they’ll be at your side asking if you need something. I’ve ridden in Business Class on an airplane before, and I thought that service was really good, but the hospitality provided by the GranClass attendants was outstanding.

am i on an airplane?

See that picture above? The Asahi Newspaper wrote a news story about the training attendants have to go through. Coincidentally, the attendant who served me was also featured in that news article. You can see that here:

Around the same time we were making our first stop at Sendai Station in Miyagi Prefecture, I was handed a small envelope by the attendant and she informed me that it was a survey that rates the overall quality of the trip…but what she DIDN’T tell me was that there was a gift inside!

As a thank you for filling out the survey, I received a train pass holder with the GranClass logo on it. Nice, I thought until I read the note enclosed with it. It said that this train pass holder is made out of the same leather the seats in GranClass are made out of. So you’re literally taking a piece of the train home with you. This pass holder cannot be purchased anywhere and only passengers in GranClass can receive it. Awesome, huh?

With about an hour left before arriving into Shin-Aomori, I took the time to have another couple glasses of apple juice, an apple pie, a coffee and a newspaper (I cannot read Japanese newspapers…but I like the pictures!).

oh kanji, you devil

Finally, in what must have been the fastest 3 hours of my life, I arrived at Shin-Aomori Station.

And then, it was finished.

By the time I got off the train, there was already a crowd of people taking pictures.

So, that ends my ride on the E5 Hayabusa. After arriving into Aomori City, I spent the day walking around town, eating even more apples, and then made it back to the station that evening to ride the Hayate series Shinkansen back to Tokyo…via Standard Class. HUGE difference!

So, how much does it cost to ride GranClass?

From Tokyo to Shin-Aomori, it costs ¥26,360 (about US$330) one-way. That includes ¥9,870 for the fare, and ¥16,490 for the GranClass seat.

If traveling by Standard Class, the price comes down to ¥16,870, again including ¥9,870 for the fare, and ¥7,000 for the seat.

Would I do it again?? Of course! It’s a lot of cash to drop for a ride in GranClass, but I think whether you’re a rail fan or not, with everything that’s included in the trip, it makes it worth the cost.

So, let’s hope I can do it again. But until then, I’ll just have to take whiffs of the leather-made pass holder to put me back in a place when I was riding the most luxurious train in Japan.


Media Day for the E5!

More information regarding the E5 Hayabusa Shinkansen. Up in Miyagi Prefecture, the first mass-production unit was rolled out to the press. Lucky for us, that provides us with additional pictures of the inside of the train.

By the way, click the picture to enlarge.

Ready when you are.

Since it’s the first mass-produced E5, what we see is what we can expect when service begins from March.

Another shot of GranClass

I’ve also found not only pictures of the GranClass carriage, but also the Green and Standard Classes. A nice step up from what I’m riding now get in and out of Tokyo via the Joetsu Shinkansen.

The Green Car

Standard Class...for the peasants. Like myself.

From my last post, we saw what the symbol for the Green Car looks like. Here is the symbol they’ll slap on the side of the GranClass carriages:

A step up from the Green Car clover, imo.

Can you see that the hexagon makes the letter ”G”? Also, the 5 trapezoids represent the 5 different luxuries the GranClass provides to the customer, which are: State-of-the-art technology, Increased Seating Space, Seat Comfort, Beautiful Interior Design, and High-Quality Service. The triangle represents these 5 luxuries being provided to you, the customer (yeah, you in the middle).

You can also rest assured that the driver will be riding in style too as the Driver’s Room is decked out just as nice.

Best view in the house.

Controls seem to be simplified overall as there’s a lot of reliance on the touch-panel displays throughout the cockpit. Also, on the far right you can see the spot for where the driver puts his official train conductors watch. Kind of an odd place for it though.

Come to Niigata!!

Unfortunately, the E5 doesn’t run along the Joetsu Shinkansen line, and I have no future plans to visit Aomori, nor ride along the Tohoku Shinkansen any time soon…so a first-hand account of the E5 is out of the question. If I can find a good reason to visit Aomori, then maybe I’ll give it a shot. We’ll see!

Thanks to this site for providing the pictures!


Super Green Class, Baby

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.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t smell as it looks.

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:

It's the color green, so it must be good.

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.

Here's your seat, Mr. Big Shot.

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.

 

Sir, no drooling on the seats, please.

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.


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