Which JR Pass is better, Green or Ordinary? Worthwhile buying Japan Rail Pass Green Pass?

1024px-JRW_series283_inside-greencar.jpg
Panoramic view green car on Ocean Arrow 287 series. Green seat is like business class seat. (C) w0746203-1

I was asked many times that Japan Rail Pass Green Pass is worthwhile? Of course Green seat is better than ordinary seat. As long as you have enough budget, you can buy Green pass. But JR Groups have so many kinds of trains. They operate more than 100 limited express trains on only regular track and more trains on Shinkansen. And some limited express trains do not have Green seat. But some local trains have Green seat. And also they have many kinds of Green seat. For example, some limited express train give you 2+1 seat configuration. But the other trains give you same 2+2 seat configuration as Ordinary class. So if you have some more ideas about Green seat before you buy Japan Rail Pass, you can make a better decision which pass you buy, Green or Ordinary.

In this post, I show you some example that help you to understand more about Green seat.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

What the difference between Green and Ordinary

Basically the difference is only facility. Green class has more leg room, head rest, leg rest and recline much deeper than ordinary seat. Green class do not include any meal service except a drink service on the specific trains. Let’s compare the seat pitch.

  • Green class — 1100mm to 1160mm
  • Ordinary class — 910mm to 1000mm
  • Economy class on the most flight — 787mm to 838mm

So even Ordinary class has bigger leg space than Economy class seat. If you do not have any problem with the economy class in the flight at all, you do not need to buy Green pass.

Green class of JR Hokkaido trains

Green seat on Super Ozora by 283 series (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Green seat on Super Ozora by 283 series (C) Sonic Rail Garden

If you have a plan to travel in Hokkaido, I recommend to buy Green pass. JR Hokkaido provides you the best service in Japan Railways Group (six companies = JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR Shikoku, JR Kyushu). Green class of all JR Hokkaido limited express train give you 2+1 seat configuration. “Twincle Lady” who is an attendant just for Green class on limited express “Hokuto/Super Hokuto” (Hakodate-Sapporo), “Super Tokachi/Super Ozora” (Sapporo-Obihiro/Kushiro) provide you soft drink, new paper (maybe Japanese only), magazine (maybe Japanese only too), blanket and steam hot towel. Twincle lady do not attend on the other limited express train, but the attendant provide you very similar service. (This service was discontinued in March, 2015.)

Look at the image below. This is the easiest sample.

Hakucho by JR East 485 series (left) / Super Hakucho by JR Hokkaido 789 series (right) (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Hakucho by JR East 485 series (left) / Super Hakucho by JR Hokkaido 789 series (right). Both trains connect Shin-Aomori in Honshu (main island of Japan), JR East area and Hakodate in Hokkaido (JR Hokkaido area). (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Which one do you like it? If you don’t like to smell leather, JR Hokkaido “Super Hakucho” is not recommended. But JR Hokkaido train provide you more luxury atmosphere. And also if you take Super Hakusho from Hokkaido side (Hakodate), you will receive soft drink and steam hot towel. But if you take Super Hakucho from Honshu side (Shin-Aomori, Aomori, etc), you will not receive anything. Because the staffs are sent by JR East for Super Hakucho departing from Aomori. They do not provide JR Hokkaido service. Unfortunately most of trains by other JR companies do not give you this kind of value. There is a huge gap among JR six companies. But JR Kyushu has same type of service.

Green class of JR Kyushu trains

Green seat on 787 series gives you the best comfortability in JR trains. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Green seat on 787 series gives you the best comfortability in JR trains. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

JR Kyushu used to provide same type of service as JR Hokkaido. Before JR Hokkaido started to hire the staffs for “Twincle Lady”, JR Hokkaido asked JR Kyushu to send the staff to educate. Unfortunately JR Kyushu stopped serving soft drink and other services in March 2010. They still have an attendant on Green class of some trains to serve steam wet towel and candy. And also most of limited express trains are designed by one of the well known industrial designer, Eiji Mitooka. Every single JR Kyushu express trains have a great character.

885 series is the newest. But this seat has strong leather smell and slippery. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
885 series is the newest. But this seat has strong leather smell and slippery. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Green class of JR Kyushu trains give you 2+1 seat configuration. Especially Green seat on 787 series is one of the best seat in Japan. But newest car 885 series have the leather seat. It has very strong leather smell. And also it is slippery seat. 787 series is used for many limited express trains in Kyushu. 885 series is used for Kamome and Sonic. When you make a reservation, you can ask which series is going to be used for.

But JR Kyushu operates lots of limited express trains that do not have Green class. For example, JR Kyushu operate many cruising trains, such as “Hayato no Kaze”, “Yufuin no Mori”, “Ibusuki no Tamatebako”. These trains have a colorful character and you will enjoy Japanese authentic culture. But no Green class are on these trains. Please make sure which train you will take before you travel.

Shinkansen

Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen 700 series. These seat configuration are the standard on Shinkansen. Green (left) and Ordinary (right
Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen 700 series. These seat configuration are the standard on Shinkansen. Green (left) and Ordinary (right) (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Do you know that Shinkansen train is bigger than regular track trains? Shinkansen is completely different train from the regular train. That is why 3+2 seat configuration in Ordinary class and 2+2 seat configuration are the standard. Most of Shinkansen trains do not have any special service. I tell you the good point and the bad point.

Hayabusa (Tohoku Shinkansen) – Good

There is an attendant for Green class passengers exclusively. Welcome drink (coffee or other soft drinks) and steam hot towel are served. Hayabusa has Glan Class seat. This is much better than Green. But you need to pay the extra charges. Hayabusa is operated by the newest train E5 series. This is more comfortable to ride than E2 series for Hayate.

Max Yamabiko (Tohoku Shinkansen), Max Toki (Joetsu Shinkansen) and Max Tanigawa (Joetsu Shinkansen) – Good

Green (left)/Non Reserved Ordinary (right) Don't take Non Reserved Ordinary on Max. 3+3 seat configuration is terrible! (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Green (left)/Non Reserved Ordinary (right) Don't take Non Reserved Ordinary on Max. 3+3 seat configuration is terrible! (C) Sonic Rail Garden

These trains that have “Max” in the name are operated by the double decker E1 series or E4 series. Green seat is located on the upper level. So it gives you a better view. Especially there are very high soundproofed wall by Shinkansen rail. These three trains are operated by regular single deck train too. So if you have a choice, try to take “Max” trains. If you take Ordinary, don’t take Non Reserved. Reserved Ordinary has the standard 2+3 seat configuration. Non Reserved has 3+3! Too small!!!

Tsubasa (Yamagata Shinkansen) and Komachi (Akita Shinkansen) – Bad

Not big difference between Green and Ordinary on Komachi. Green (left) / Ordinary (right) (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Not big difference between Green and Ordinary on Komachi. Green (left) / Ordinary (right) (C) Sonic Rail Garden

These trains are smaller than other Shinkansen trains. Because these Shinkansen trans are shared with the regular track trains. So both Green and Ordinary have same seat configuration 2+2. There are not big difference between Green and Ordinary. But Komachi has same service as Hayate since Komachi combined to operate with Hayate between Tokyo and Morioka. Tsubasa does not have any special service.

Hikari Rail Star (Sanyo Shinkansen) and Tsubame (Kyushu Shinkansen) – consideration

Reserved ordinary gives you same comfortability as Green on Hikari Rail Star. Reserved(right)/Non Reserved(left) (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Reserved ordinary gives you same comfortability as Green on Hikari Rail Star. Reserved(right)/Non Reserved(left) (C) Sonic Rail Garden

These trains do not have Green class. Hikari Rail Star give you 2+2 seat configuration on the Reserved Ordinary seat and regular 2+3 seat configuration for Non Reserved seat. Japan Rail Pass user can take Reserved seat without any extra. 2+2 seat configuration is the standard on Tsubame. Even Non Reserved seat is 2+2 too. So if you take these trains a lot, Green pass is meaningless.

Mizuho/Sakura (Kyushu Shinkansen) – consideration

These trains are very similar to Hikari Rail Star. These trains are operated by same series as Nozomi, N700. N700 is newer and better than Hikari Rail Star 700 series. And Mizuho and Sakura have Green class. But both Green and Reserved Ordinary have same seat configuration 2+2, and Non Reserved is 2+3. Of course Green seat is more comfortable and has bigger leg space. But it does not have any special service. So Reserved Ordinary is good enough in my opinion.

Other Shinkansen trains

Hikari (Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen), Kodama (Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen) and Asama (Nagano Shinkansen) have 2+2 seat configuration. Ordinary class in these trains have 2+3 seat configuration. So it is okay. Hikari has an attendant for Green class and steam hot towel is served. But other trains do not have any special service. If you take Nozomi (Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, not covered by Japan Rail Pass), you have same service as Hikari.

Other recommended trains

Super View Odoriko

The first two rows are called Panoramic seat. It gives you the spectacular view. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
The first two rows are called Panoramic seat. It gives you the spectacular view. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

This train has 2+1 seat configuration Green seat on the upper level of double decker car. And also you will get some drink and steam hot towel. Odoriko is operated on same route as Super View Odoriko. Odoriko is operated by old type car. You can move to same destination, Atami and some spot on Izu peninsula. But this is complete different train. Be careful!

Urban Rapid trains

Regular car (right)/Green seat (left) (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Regular car (left)/Green seat (right) (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Rapid commute trains that are operated in Tokyo and surrounding area have non reserved Green seat. If you have a plan to explore in Kanto area, such as Kamakura Chiba, Mito or Saitama, you may take these Rapid trains a lot. These trains are commute trains. So if you ride this train, it may be crowded and may not find a seat. But if you have Green pass, you can take double decker Green car.

115 thoughts on “Which JR Pass is better, Green or Ordinary? Worthwhile buying Japan Rail Pass Green Pass?”

  1. HI,

    First time traveller to Japan, with my wife and 1 year old daughter from Aug 30 to Sep 8. Arriving/leaving from Tokyo, but we are planning to stay in Kyoto for 5 nights. We are planning to buy JR ordinary passes for our travel. Once in Kyoto, we plan to do day trips (one to Nara/Uji, second to Himeji/Kobe/Osaka). We are also planning to do a day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo. I have two questions, 1) can we fit a short trip to Odaiba in our itinerary while going back and forth to Kyoto from Tokyo? 2) Because we will be travelling with our luggage from Tokyo to Kyoto and then back, will we have more space for our luggage in the Green car as opposed to ordinary cars? 3) How can we make sure that we sit together during our commutes? Thank you!

    1. Hi Tayyab,

      1. Yes, you can, But I think you have a few days in Tokyo. Odaiba is in Tokyo. You can go there anytime when you are in Tokyo.
      2. I would say yes and no. It depends on which type of bag you will use. You can find more info about handling luggage in the train at the link below:
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/baggage/managing-luggage-how-to-carry-your-baggage-on-board-and-how-to-store-your-baggage-at-the-station.html
      3. As long as you show two JR Passes to the staff at the reservation window, they give you the seats side by side. If they cannot, they will let you know.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you Takeshi for your useful response.

        Is Aug 28 – Sep 08 included in high season? Are trains crowded during this time of the year if we avoid rush hours (7-9am)? The reason I am asking is I am torn about getting a Green Pass vs an ordinary one. I am not interested about getting more leg room, only thing I am interested is getting our seats together when we travel. Appreciate your response.

  2. Hello Takeshi,

    I am very impressed by your detailed article and knowledge about travel in Japan! May I also benefit from your travel knowledge?

    My partner and I will be in Japan across October and November for 16 days. Would it be feasible/cost-effective for us to get 1 x 7 day ordinary JR pass for the shorter distance travel in the first part of our trip, then 1 x 7 day green JR pass for the longer distance travel in the second part of our trip, and then pay the fares for local travel around Tokyo as needed?

    I have provided the rough plan of our trip below if this helps.
    Wed 19 Oct – arrive in Tokyo and explore Tokyo on Thurs 20 Oct
    Fri 21 Oct – leave Tokyo and travel to Kyoto. Explore Kyoto, Osaka and Nara between Sat 22 Oct and Tues 25 Oct
    Wed 26 Oct – leave Kyoto and travel to Okayama and explore Okayama on Thurs 27 Oct
    Fri 28 Oct – leave Okayama and travel to Nagasaki. Explore Nagasaki on Sat 29 Oct
    Sun 30 Oct – leave Nagasaki and travel to Hiroshima
    Mon 31 Oct – leave Hiroshima and travel to Miyajima
    Tues 1 Nov – leave Miyajima and travel to Tokyo. Explore Tokyo Wed 2 Nov
    Thurs 3 Nov – leave Tokyo and fly home.

    Thank you for any advice you can provide! It is our first trip to Japan (or any international country for that matter), so we are very excited but also nervous 🙂

    1. Hi GigglinKristy,

      I don’t recommend you to use JR pass for the first part of your trip. Because total fares for the first 7 days is cheaper than 7 days pass. If you use 14 days ordinary pass for the first 14 days, it will be paid off because the difference between 7 days and 14 days is about 17,000 yen. It’s much lower than 7 days pass at 29,110 yen. And also total of 7 days Ordinary + 7 days Green is 67,910 yen. It’s higher than 14 days Green Pass.

      So your option is the following:
      1. Single fare for Tokyo to Kyoto + local deal for Osaka, Kyoto and Nara
      2. 14 days Green Pass

      If you have a budget to purchase 7 days ordinary and 7 days green, you can purchase 14 days green. It’s easier and more comfortable. Especially if you arrive in Narita, you can take Narita Express to Tokyo by JR pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you very much for your advice Takeshi,
        I can’t believe how silly I was! Clearly my first time navigating the system 🙂
        We will take your advice and go with one of your two suggested options.
        I’m very excited about our trip and the more and more research I do, it sounds like the train travel will be smooth sailing 🙂
        Thank you again for your advice to me and to everyone else on this forum, you’re doing a fantastic job!

  3. I’ll be in Japan from 6-14aug. Brief itinerary: Tokyo-Hiroshima-Osaka-Tokyo.Total 8days. I’m going to buy the 7day JR rail pass. That’s mean I’ll need to pay for my transport from Tokyo to Narita airport on my last day. Pls advise how much is the bullet train ticket & what are the choice of transportation to Narita airport beside the bullet train. Thank you.

      1. Hi Takeshi,
        Thank you for your advise. I will like to visit Nara park either on my way to Hiroshima or on the way back to Tokyo. Do I need to make any detour along my Shinkansen route to get to Nara and to the park. Pls advise. Thank you.

  4. Dear Takeshi, next winter will be my second time in japan. I am not sure i did a good job with my first 14 days JR Pass, but was convenient to have a full pass without to think all the times about prices, tickets etc…
    Now this time my arrival will be 27 december 2016 at narita and after 3 days in tokyo i want try to see Hagi-ware and than kurakawa direction for few Onsen. The idea is to leave Tokyo 31 december with some stops and overnights before Hagi and Kurakawa, but maybe is possible. Do you think if i start the 31 december from tokyo is it possible to stay in kyoto 6 January and to use a 7 days JRPass ? departure will be the 8 January from Osaka 11:00am Flight. I am not sure if i can use a 7 days pass that start 31 december….and i am not sure if its safe to stay 6 Janury in Kyoto or if its better to stay at Osaka 🙂

    thanks a lot but i am confused because i would love to make an onsen itinerary

    1. Hi Manuele and Sabina,

      Before answer your inquiry, I would like to make sure “Hagi-ware” and “Kurakawa”. I couldn’t find these places. I think there are some mis-spell. Please check these location name and let me know.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello! So my friends and i are going to Japan from July 31st to August 20th. We were thinking abiut the green pass. We do not have a set itinerary but we are staying in kyoto n flying into tokyo.

    So we were plannung 3 day trips to tokyo, 1 to 2 days in osaka, a week traveling kyoto, and the rest have not been decided. Should we get the tickets?

    1. Hi Emilia,

      At this point, you cannot use the pass. JR pass 7 days is almost equal to the round trip between Osaka/Kyoto and Narita airport. But you will spend more than 7 days. Single ticket is cheaper.

      But if you travel more, like trip to Kyushu, Hiroshima, even Hokkaido, 14 days pass or even 21 days pass will work.

      Anyway I recommend you to fix your itinerary first if you want to have the best deal.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Arigatou gozaimasu, Takeshi-san.

    (I just saw that I commented off that reply chain’s topic. Let me write this new.)
    So, my trip of July 9-16 will not fall into the super peak season, right? Though it is summer time for Hokkaidō, I suppose that it shall be before school holiday and Obon, so students won’t be around yet, and people should save for the festival time, will they?
    So how do you feel, whether my trip will be worth for going Green?

    Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

    1. Hi Independencer san,

      Mid July is lower than usual actually. I’m very optimistic to book trains in this period.
      But I still love Green pass because it’s much quieter and more comfortable

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Arigatou gozaimashita, Takeshi san.
        More comfort and quietness are good for one thing. The other thing would be that will we get a lot better chance to sit together (a group of 4)?
        And sometimes if we cannot pre-book, will we be able to still sit together by booking just, say 30 minutes before departure time?

        Thank you for your kind advice. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

          1. Arigatou gozaimashita, Takeshi san.
            We will try to pre-book any time if possible. And for the cost of 30% more expensive, I think I would go Green to have more chance on sitting together, with get free bigger seats, quietness, and special lady services in Hokkaidō’s green cars.

            Could you please help me one more thing, about my itenerary, please? Will we be able to make it ok? Will we make some mistakes or get into time trouble? Will we miss something?

            [Sun] Jul 10: Arrive at NRT @ 0735 / Run to immigration w/ just Carry-on luggage (to save time) / Exchange JR Pass quickly … AND
            A.) “Try to see if we can get 0915 Narita Express to Kawaguchiko → bus to 5th Station → Catch bus back to Shinjuku & to Tokyo for the last Shinkansen for Hakodate”
            OR, B.) “Go to Hakodate”

            Jul 11: Sapporo → Otaru

            Jul 12: Furano & Biei

            Jul 13: Sapporo & Lake Tōya (& Onuma National Park, if in time) → Hakodate

            Jul 14:
            A.) If been to Fuji-san already, Sightseeing in Hakodate
            B.) If not already to Fuji-san, First Shinkansen to Tokyo → Sightseeing in Tokyo (by 2-day Tokyo Metro pass)

            Jul 15:
            A.) Hakodate → First Shinkansen to Tokyo → Sightseeing by 1-day Metro Pass
            B.) Tokyo → Kawaguchiko (may consider a 1-day Tour)

            Jul 16: Sadly, Sayonara Japan. Mata ne~

          2. Hi Independencer san,

            Your itinerary is very organized. You have a back up plan in case that you cannot make Fuji on arrival day. I don’t see any issues and you are ready to go!
            By the way, I have to tell you one thing. I forgot to update info about the service that is provided by JR Hokkaido in Green class. All extra services on Green car by Twincle lady was discontinued in last year. JR Hokkaido trains still have very nice accommodation that is 2+1 seat layout. But you cannot get any more other services. You will just have spacious seat.

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

          3. Arigatou Gozaimashita, Takeshi san, for reviewing my itenerary. You are more than Sugoi!

            Sadly that the only JR with lady service was discontinued… T-T But I will go for Green anyway…
            So.. does this mean, since March 2015, there are no more trains with special services in Green Car in the whole Japan?

            By the way, I know we can take Narita Express for free using JR Pass, I am not very sure if I can as well take the N’EX that go for Kawaguchiko for free or not? I have read the website, but I could find only the statement saying JR Kanto Pass and JR Tokyo Wide Area Pass holders can use N’EX for free to Kawaguchiko…

            Yoroshiku onegaishimasu

          4. Hi Independencer,

            Only Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen’s Green class gives us wet paper towel. As far as I know, that’s it.

            You can take Narita Express to Kawaguchiko. But JR Pass does not cover base fare from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko. Limited Express fare is not applied to this segment. Only base fare for this segment on Fuji Kyuko line is extra. It’s same rule as taking other trains to get Kawaguchiko.
            http://jprail.com/destinations/chubu-area/how-to-use-japan-rail-pass-to-go-to-mt-fuji.html

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

          5. Arigatou gozaimashita, Takeshi san,

            Maybe the extra service in Green Class has not made them much profitable… sadly.

            Well… that is what I figured for the non-JR railway part there, having to pay like 1,140 Yen, won’t I?
            So, if I will not be in time for Fuji-san on the 1st day, I think I will consider taking either a 1-day Fuji tour or take a highway bus direct from Shinjuku up to the Subaru Line’s 5th Station. Do you think my plan will work or not?

            Yoroshiku onegaishimasu

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  • Please do not ask me to make your itinerary. Because I am not your personal travel agent. I am very happy to check your itinerary. But please try to make the plan by yourself. In this website, there are lots of resources to make your plan.
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  • If you want to ask me which pass suits your plan, please tell me your detailed itinerary and location to stay. I cannot choose any deals without the detailed itinerary because I have to compare the total single fare and deals

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