Upgrade to the Green Car | How to Travel in Japan in Style

The green car of JR East's Tokaido Line

This week’s article is going to be a comparatively shorter piece than those I usually put out. Rather than delve into the weeds on some remote area, we’re going to be taking a look at a handy hack that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now. As evidenced in the title, the following exposé will detail how to take advantage of the so-called “Green Car” when riding on JR train lines. Never heard of this rarely utilized means of travel before? Well, read on to discover how to travel with the rest of your discretionary income holding cohort.

Put simply, the Green Car is JR’s premium class. Though not available on all lines, the Green Car can be found on lines that run great distances and have limited express trains. For example, the upgrade option is absent from Tokyo’s popular Yamanote Loop Line. However, it can most definitely be found on the Tokaido Line and Yokosuka Line as these cover sweeping swaths of Japan. In addition to these lines, you’ll also encounter Green Car options on the bullet trains as well as a more luxurious class of car called the GranClass. As you might imagine, this one is only for the true ballers out there.

Now, you’re probably wondering what amenities you gain by upgrading to the Green Car. Here, it really depends on whether or not you’re talking about regular lines like the Tokaido Line or the bullet trains. In the case of the latter, I actually don’t think it’s worth shelling out for the minor perks. You see, the regular reserved seats on the bullet trains are reasonably sufficient for most of us plebs out there. Unless you’re some sort of oil sheik with bottomless pockets, there’s simply no need to waste hard earned capital on the Green Car when riding the bullet train.

A map for JR East’s green car service

Where the Green Car is really a godsend though is on local lines such as the aforementioned Yokosuka Line that runs to Kamakura (see the above for other lines that offer Green Car service). By paying a minor additional fee, you can grab yourself a guaranteed seat. What’s more, unlike with the peons in the normal train carriages, you will have a seat with a table much like you would with a bullet train seat. Hell, there’s even a handy on-board beverage and snack vendor that will make the rounds should you feel the need for refreshments.

As these additional benefits weren’t enough to get you pulling your wallets out, know also that, unlike with the bullet train, normal Green Car upgrades are quite affordable. Recently, I spent the entire weekend with friends down on the Shonan Coast (basically near Kamakura and Enoshima). On the way down, I opted to upgrade to the Green Car and it ran me a little over five-hundred yen. Given that I had a dedicated space to get some work done, the minor additional fee was worth its weight in gold.

One of the best features about going green so to speak is that there is almost always an available seat. This means that while the rest of the peasants are cramming into the other cars like sardines, you can be riding nice and comfy up in the Green Car. Given the potentially taxing commutes in Japan, is it any wonder why a good buddy of mine always elects to take the Green Car when coming into Tokyo for business meetings? Not only can he avoid hell on earth, the savvy digital marketer can also reclaim that lost time and get something done too!

If you’re interested in giving the Green Car a go on your next visit, understand that the reservation process depends on the type of train you’re looking to book. While the bullet train Green Car is handled when purchasing your ticket, the regular lines are a bit different. Generally speaking, you’re going to want to have a Suica IC Card when making use of the Green Car. On equipped lines, look for a computer terminal on the platform. Here, you’ll input where you’re going to and the system will make a note of your card.

Once you’re on the train, pick a seat and then tap your Suica card on the sensor above. When you first pop a squat, the overhead light will be red but after scanning your Suica, it will turn green indicating that the seat is now taken. While this might seem a bit complicated for someone not all too familiar with the Japanese train system, it’s actually a breeze once you get the hang of it. Note that you can also pay the Green Car fare once you’ve boarded the train however this transaction ends up being a bit more pricey.

While the normal train cars are more than sufficient outside of peak hours, the Green Car is a welcomed reprieve for those who can afford it. Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to reveal this well kept secret but I reasoned my faithful readers would want to know how to avoid one of the worst challenges about living in Japan. Consider giving the Green Car a try next time and especially so if you find little comfort in traveling as a human sardine or need to wrap up some work.

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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