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Is the JR Green Car worth it on the Shinkansen or Thunderbird?

In the interest of learning, your Guide recently took two train trips in JR Green Cars, assuming they might be better for getting work done while zipping across the Japanese countryside. Is the Green Car ticket on the Shinkansen worth the extra cost? No. Let’s cover a few reasons why I would not book a Green Car seat on any JR train again. I’d say they’re a worse product compared to the regular cars.

Is a JR Green Car like business class for trains?

To JR’s credit, naming it the Green Car is not trying to fool anybody. They didn’t call it First or Business Class. There’s no Diamond or Platinum or Gold or anything like that. It’s the “Green Car”. What does that mean? It means it has a distinctive green symbol on the exterior of the train car.

There are wider seats in the Green Cars. But they’re not necessarily better seats than the regular car.

There’s a lot of carpet. I could feel the carpet up my nose when I stepped on the Thunderbird’s Green Car.

With the Thunderbird Limited Express from Osaka to Fukui, and on the Shinkansen Nozomi from Osaka to Tokyo, a defining characteristic of the Green Cars was that carpet. Lots of carpet and lots of upholstery. 

They also have footrests. And because I’m over 6ft tall, the foot rests in the Green Cars actually meant they were much smaller seats for me than seats in the regular reserved cars.

There was a noticeable nostalgia to riding the Green Cars. They feel like the booming Japan of the 90s. In the upholstery and the carpets and even why you’d have a train car that’s just paying extra for no particular reason. They also felt like a Tanizaki Junichiro novel. He was writing at the turn of the previous century, but if he’d been writing in the late 90s, I’m sure he would’ve had a character ride a Green Car with their mistress to an onsen. In fact, the final destination of the Thunderbird is the 1200 year old Wakura Onsen resort.

Do you get food and drinks with a JR Green Car ticket?

Nope. Nothing. You get carpet.

It’s ok there’s no food because a joy of train travel in Japan is purchasing a train station bento box and some beers to bring with you on the train. The food in the stations is usually excellent. Don’t hop on a train empty-handed or you’ll be empty-stomached.

But relevant to food, and since we’re talking about the Green Cars, is that both Green Cars I was on had worse tray tables than the regular cars. They were positioned so it was difficult to work or read from them comfortably. I had to put my chopstick wrapper between the table and the chair on the Thunderbird because the metal edge of the table was rattling loudly on the armrest’s metal plate.

The Nozomi Shinkansen’s Green Car seats pictured above. Those footrests take up a frustrating amount of space. Because the tray table was low, it also wasn’t possible to have the tray table down while my feet were on the foot rest. The regular cars were much more spacious and didn’t have carpet underneath.

Is there any reason to reserve a Green Car seat on a JR train?

With the new luggage rules around riding the Shinkansen, I wondered if there might be a cost advantage to just booking a Green Car seat if you have tons of baggage. But those footrests make it uncomfortable to have any luggage at your feet, so I’d say it’s still better to reserve the over-sized luggage seats in the regular cars.

Instead of opting up for that Green Car, take the extra yen and buy yourself a second karaage bento. 

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