Tag Archives: shinkansen

E7 Series Shinkansen Announced

It was brought to my attention by a reader (thanks J.G!), that JR East will introduce the E7 Series Shinkansen on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line (currently named the Nagano Shinkansen Line) starting from 2015.

This follows the E5 Series, currently running along the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, and the E6 Series, which will run on the Akita Shinkansen Line from next year.

From a Mainichi Newspaper article:

According to JR East, the company is already working on a blueprint for the new model and will launch a prototype train by summer 2012.

…which means we’re just a few months away from seeing what kind of design it will have. Will it inherit anything from the E5 or E6? Or will it have a complete resdesign altogether? We’ll see.

With the formal announcement of the E7, I’m hoping that they’ll finally announce something for the Joetsu Shinkansen Line since they’re planning to retire the trains throughout the next few years.

Complete article about the announcement of the E7 can be read here.


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.


Snakes on a…train?

From The Daily Yomiuri:

A red-and-black snake about one meter long was found Monday on a Shinkansen train running between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, police said.

A conductor found the snake on a seat in the No. 3 car of the Kodama No. 642 train at about 9 a.m. Monday. The train originated in Shin-Osaka and was bound for Tokyo.

The conductor asked the sole passenger in the car to evacuate to another coach and closed doors to confine the snake. Staff from the prefectural Animal Shelter in Konan, Shiga Prefecture, captured the snake and turned it over to local police. No one was injured.

The snake is believed to be a Honduran milk snake, according to the Japan Snake Institute in Ota, Gunma Prefecture. The species is not poisonous and is often imported to Japan as pets. Dogs and cats can travel on Shinkansen trains for an additional charge, but snakes are prohibited.

What this article doesn’t address however, is how the snake got there in the first place? And was it intentional? Obviously, who ever brought the snake on board didn’t intend on harming anyone, but still…weird.

Anyways, here’s a video that provides some pictures of the snake:

trying…so…hard….not…to…..throw…in……a…..Samuel…L…..Jackson….reference…………………….


Lunch Break

Thought it was too nice of a day to stay inside for lunch, so I ventured a bit outside of the office to a nearby ice cream shop. Hopped to the park across the street and watched the trains go by. I was gonna take a picture of the ice cream as the Shinkansen was rolling by, but it was starting to melt. Can’t ignore a melting ice cream cone, right?

Later in the week, expect a write-up about the Echigo 2-Day Pass, a regional rail pass for Niigata Prefecture. Also, I’ll be taking a trip this weekend (using said pass), so keep on the lookout for that too. Hopefully the weather can be as well-behaved as it was today. –fingers crossed–


The JR East Japan Pass

The JR East Japan Pass (JR東日本パス – JR Higashi-Nihon Pasu), is a one-day all-you-can-ride rail pass.

For ¥10,000 (¥5,000/children), it allows pass holders to use ALL lines within the JR East system, including Shinkansen and Limited Express trains.

All this is yours. For one day. Photo - JR East

This pass shouldn’t be confused with the JR East Pass, which is a multi-day rail pass which can only be bought by overseas visitors to Japan. The JR East Japan Pass can be bought and used by anyone living in or visiting Japan.

Although it can only used for one day, there’s a lot of ground that can be covered in that period of time because of the ability to use Shinkansen trains.

For example, let’s say you live in Tokyo, and you want to do a day trip to Aomori, the ”crown” of Honshu. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori Station is ¥16,370 (already more than the price of the Pass). You take the first train from Tokyo at 6:28am, arriving at Shin-Aomori at 10:01am. From there, you visit some hot springs, sightsee around Aomori City, and eat some famous Aomori apples and scallops (hopefully not together). Finally, it’s time to go home. Pay another ¥16,370, board the last train bound for Tokyo at 7:33pm and arrive at 11:08pm. A long day, indeed…but doable.

Normally, this trip would cost you ¥32,740. But with the pass, just ¥10,000. A whopping 69% discount.

It’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of pass offered, and I definitely view it as way to boost tourism to most parts of Tohoku. Not only does it allow many people to see so many different places in Eastern Japan, but the price definitely can’t be beat. Even it you wanted to make it an overnight trip by buying 2 one-day passes for consecutive days, it’s still a great deal.

This pass is only available for a certain period and rules do apply. I’ll help break it down below:

  • Price: ¥10,000 for adults, ¥5,000 for elementary school students and younger
  • Type: One-Day Free Pass
  • Purchase Locations
    • Most major JR Stations
    • Automated Ticket Machines that sell ticket reservations
  • Usage Period
    • June 11-20, 2011
    • July 7-18, 2011
  • Purchase Period
    • May 11 – July 17, 2011
    • NOTE: Tickets MUST be purchased at least one day in advance!
  • Usable Areas
    • All lines within the JR East network, including Shinkansen lines
    • Aoimori Railway Line (Aomori Prefecture)
    • IGR (Iwate Galaxy Railway) Line (Iwate Prefecture)
    • Hokuetsu Express – Hokuhoku Line (Niigata Prefecture)
  • Reserved and Unreserved Seating
    • Most trains, like those that run on local lines are unreserved seating, meaning you can sit anywhere you please. With this pass, no additional ticket is needed. Some Shinkansen trains also have unreserved seating, so all you need is your pass.
    • Limited Express and most Shinkansen trains are reserved seating, meaning a reservation has to be made in advance to obtain a seat. Usually, a separate ticket and an additional cost. However, with this pass, it allows users to obtain up to TWO reserved seating tickets at no additional cost.
      • Example 1: Using the Tokyo to Shin-Aomori scenario above, the all trains running on the Tohoku Shinkansen are reserved, meaning there is no unreserved seating available. If I wish to ride this train, I’ll need a reserved seating ticket for the trip up to Aomori, and then an additional one for the trip back to Tokyo, thus using the two times permitted to obtain reserved seating. If I want to ride an additional train with reserved seating, I would have to purchase one this time.
      • Example 2: I want to go from Tokyo to Niigata using the Joetsu Shinkansen. Most trains on this line have both unreserved and reserved seating. I decided to board the unreserved seating section, meaning I don’t need an additional seating ticket and I can sit where ever I’d like.
  • Green Car and GranClass
    • Green Car (First Class seats) is an additional charge…and can be quite expensive.
    • GranClass (Super First Class) is only available on the Hayabusa (E5 Series), and also requires an additional, and expensive charge.
  • Changes, Cancellations, and Refunds
    • Changes to reserved tickets can be made one time at no additional cost
    • Unused tickets can be refunded, minus a ¥630 handling fee

Don’t let all the rules scare you, as it’s all a lot easier than it seems. All in all, its a great way to see a lot without having to dish out a bunch of money. So, what do you say? How does a trip sound?

Any questions about this pass? Need some sample itineraries? Time tables? Please let me know!
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JR東日本パス – (Japanese) The official page about the pass on the JR Company website.


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