Within Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen bullet train network, Gran Class stands as the ultra-luxe cabin.
In general, a Shinkansen train consists of a sole Gran Class car, alongside the many standard and Green Class cars. Gran Class in particular goes beyond the Green Class cabins, offering a luxurious setting akin to First Class on an airplane.
On this trip to Japan, I was keen to experience the premier First Class Shinkansen service on a trip from Hokkaido to Tokyo.
In This Post
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Booking
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Cabin
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Seat
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Amenities
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Meal Service
- JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Other Facilities
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Booking
I locked in a reservation on the Tohoku Shinkansen for a total of ¥40,680 ($280 USD, $380 CAD), covering the travel between Hakodate – the southernmost city on the island of Hokkaido – to Tokyo.
This fare is in line with the standard rate for the Gran Class experience on this particular route. In the future, this line will be extended north from Hakodate to connect to Niseko and Sapporo directly.
In the meantime, I took a series of local trains from Niseko Station across the Hokkaido countryside to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station to begin my journey.
In addition to the Tohoku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to Hokkaido, Gran Class is also available on the Hokuriku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines, which connect Tokyo to Kanazawa and Niigata, respectively.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Cabin
Upon my arrival at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, a spacious and contemporary turquoise-coloured train – the schemes associated with Japan’s Tohoku region – gradually came to a stop before me.
Indicators visibly marking the Gran Class were present on both the platform floor and train doors, with the Gran Class section located in Car 10.
As I stepped inside the train, a courteous attendant promptly led me to my designated seat.
There are 18 seats spread across six rows in a 1-2 configuration in JR Shinkansen Gran Class. The cabin is lavishly appointed, characterized by a colour palette of gold, brown, and neutral tones that exude luxury while subtly embracing Japanese tradition.
Softly illuminated, the cabin features guiding lights along the ceiling and windows to lead you gracefully through the walkway, paired beautifully with a deep red carpet.
For solo travellers, the optimal choice would be one of the single seats located on the right-hand side, as it offers both privacy and a window view.
Conversely, those journeying in pairs will benefit from the dual seats on the left-hand side, allowing them to enjoy the experience together.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Seat
The Gran Class car boasts plush, well-padded leather seats with a monochrome beige appearance. The seats are housed within a hardshell, and are upholstered in real leather.
The seats are very comfortable, can recline up to 45 degrees, and are engineered with an active suspension system for a buttery smooth ride.
There’s ample leg room, so you won’t be affected by other passengers in front of you reclining, and you won’t affect other passengers when you recline. Additionally, you can easily stretch out your legs and stow your personal belongings at your feet.
To your left, the armrest plays host to a set of intuitive seat controls which allow for fine-tuning your seat. There are two preset controls for added ease, and should you require assistance, an attendant is available at the push of a button.
A conveniently placed charging port can also be found at the front of the left armrest, to plug in and charge your laptop, phone, or other electronic device
On the right armrest, there’s a small console which can be folded open, and is large enough to hold a drink.
Additionally, an adjustable reading light can be found near your shoulder.
Directly behind the seat in front of you, there’s a literature pocket.
A table tray can be folded out from the armrest over your lap, doubling in size for sufficient dining space. However, it’s worth noting that leaving your seat can be challenging when the tray table is fully extended.
I was quite impressed with these Gran Class seats. Not only did the seat offer supportive cushioning, but the reclining feature that extends generously is perfect for napping.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Amenities
As the train pulled away from the station, the attendant promptly handed me a damp towel along with the service menu.
Shortly after, I received a white fabric bag containing an amenity kit, thoughtfully stocked with bottled water, salted chocolate, and a soft hand towel.
Lastly, I was also presented with a blanket, slippers, and an eye mask.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Meal Service
As soon as the train began its journey, the meal service began. The menu on Gran Class changes every season, but will typically consist of a bento box, filled with an array of locally-sourced tidbits.
Nestled within the bento box were bite-sized portions of fish, boiled vegetables, and a few other morsels.
Following this, a selection of crisp rice crackers, peanuts, and a delectably moist slice of pound cake were served as a snack.
For drinks, there’s a good variety available, including coffees, teas, fruit drinks, and an assortment of alcohol, including exclusive local spirits.
The presentation was quite novel, and the meal was akin to what one might expect in, say, Japan Airlines First Class as the preamble to a meal. However, in terms of portion size, it was just that – a delightful teaser, and not much more.
When I inquired about a potential second serving, the attendant gently refused, saying that each passenger was only entitled to one portion of the meal, but the staff did offer an extra slice of pound cake and a warm cup of green tea.
I contemplated getting another pour of sake to get the most bang for my buck, but I didn’t feel like drinking too much this time around, so I contented myself with the extra pound cake and tea.
In terms of service, the attendant was well-intentioned throughout our interactions, but could only offer so much given that she didn’t have the strongest grasp of English. Still, I took note of the customary bow every time she departed the cabin.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class – Other Facilities
Night fell outside as we made our way towards Tokyo, and I headed to the restroom to freshen up.
There’s shared bathrooms between the JR Shinkansen Gran Class and Green Class, with communal sinks. Behind a circular sliding door lies a spacious, well-maintained bathroom, which is equipped with a high-tech toilet and railings for stability.
Lastly, in the JR Shinkansen Gran Class, complimentary Wi-Fi is provided, so whether you’re working or just relaxing, you can easily get online with your devices.
I browsed on my phone for a little while before reclining my seat and napping for the rest of the journey before we pulled up in Tokyo Station.
JR Shinkansen Gran Class provided me with a smooth ride from Hakodate to Tokyo. The highlight of the experience is the beautiful Gran Class cabin, which made for a luxurious and tranquil setting for this four-hour journey.
However, given the premium price, I found that there’s certainly room for elevating the experience further, and to be honest, I had anticipated a tad more from this high-end train. In particular, the portion size of the onboard meal left a lot to be desired.
It was a unique experience nonetheless, but in the future, I’ll probably consider opting for the Green Class or regular economy instead, and then complementing it with some treats from a nearby convenience store.