We take a ride in the Nozomi’s “first-class” carriage.

Our intrepid Japanese-language field reporter Ahiru Neko has a pretty tough job. Some of his past assignments include taking multiple hot crepes to the face in the name of scientific discovery, being crapped on by pigeons to test our theory that it would make us rich, and being burnt by the hellfire-hot heat of Pac-Man curry.

So when he was booking his Shinkansen bullet train ticket from Tokyo to Nagoya as part of a recent assignment, he figured he’d earned the right to charge a little extra luxury to the company expense account. So not only did he splurge on an assigned seat instead of the cheaper open-seating ticket, he even upgraded to a seat in the premium Green Car, the Shinkansen’s equivalent to first class.

Hopping on a Sunday evening Nozomi super express bound for Shin Osaka, Ahiru Neko felt a twinge of excitement. He’d never ridden in the Shinkansen Green car before, and the door to the carriage had always seemed like a magical barrier he’d never pass through.

Right away, he noticed that the seats in the Green Car are all extra-wide, with only two on each side of the aisle, as opposed to the three in other Shinkansen cars. As he walked towards his seat, though, it was what he didn’t hear that surprised him. Instead of the hard plastic floors in other parts of the bullet train, the Green Car features soft carpeting that absorbed the sound of Ahiru Neko’s footsteps, and he almost felt like he should remove his shoes, like he would when entering a Japanese home.

When he got to his window seat, he noticed the double-wide armrest between it and its neighbor, as well as a fold-out footrest that accentuated just how much legroom he had.

▼ For the footrest, he did remove his shoes.

Embedded in the arm rest are power outlets, as opposed to the floor-mounted plugs in other Shinkansen cars. There’s also a reading light near the top corner of your personal throne, if you’re going old-school and perusing paper-based, non-backlit media.

Another difference from normal Shinkansen seating is that there’s no dining tray built into the back of Green Car seats. Instead, the tray folds out from the outside armrest.

Well, actually, the trays fold out, because you get two, which deploy in a tiered layout and offer you a pair of cupholders.

▼ “This would be perfect if you’re having a cocktail and want a chaser,” thought the always-thirsty-for-booze Ahiru Neko.

The doors closed and the train pulled away from the platform, and soon after a polite attendant came by and offered him a wrapped and surprisingly thick moist towelette, which he used to clean his hands before cracking open the can of beer he’d bought at the station just before getting on the train.

▼ Apparently not all Shikansen Green Cars offer moist towelettes, but the westbound Nozomi from Tokyo does.

Taking a long sip, Ahiru Neko noticed that on this particular train, he was the only passenger in the Green Car. He chalked that up to the time and direction he was travelling. On Sunday night, most of the Shinkansen traffic is headed back into the Tokyo area, not away from it. With no one behind him to worry about, Ahiru Neko reclined his seat as far as it would go, watched the scenery of east Japan stream by outside the window as he polished off his beer, and dozed off in extreme comfort, sleeping soundly for the final 60 minutes of his 90-minute ride, waking up as the Green Car speakers announced that the train would soon be making its brief stop at Nagoya.

So is the Green Car worth the extra expense, which for Ahiru Neko’s ride turned out to be about an addition 4,000 yen (US$37)? It depends what you’re looking for. If you want luxurious, pampering service, you might be better off passing on the Green Car, since it doesn’t come with fancy free food, expanded entertainment options, or the other perks associated with upgraded air travel. On the other hand, if what you want is comfort, the seats are definitely plusher and more relaxing, especially if you find the regular Shinkansen seats to be too cramped for your frame. Another thing worth factoring in is that if that starting in May, if you’re traveling on the Shinkansen with a large suitcase you’ll be barred from using the bullet train’s most affordable-open seating tickets, making the upgrade to a Green Car seat less of an addition than it would have been in the past.

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