JR Pass: Ordinary VS Green (class)

JR Pass: Ordinary VS Green (class)

You may have already worked out if you should travel Japan with a JR Pass. If you haven’t, we’ve already prepared some information to find out – Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?.

Did you know that there’s two types of pass? Ordinary Class and Green Class.

What is green class? Which class should I get? Is a green class pass worth it? Good questions! Below, we will explain what the difference is between ordinary and green classes, as well as its value.

Just for some quick information, a bullet train is composed of a total of between 8-17 carriages, depending on the route you are travelling.

Ordinary class: By far, the majority of carriages on the bullet trains are ordinary class. Non-reserved seats are usually located on carriages 1-3, with the rest of the ordinary cars being Reserved seats.

Green class: The bullet train will also have 1 or 2 carriages for green class passengers (all seats in the green cars are reserved, there are no non-reserved seat for green class)

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

What is the difference between ordinary class and green class?

It would be a primary question, I assume… “What is Green class?”. Green class is like the premium economy section of an airplane. This explanation should help you to easily imagine what the green class would be like. Put simply, green class gives you more leg room and comfier seats than ordinary class. But, it’s not quite at the same level as business class.

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Ordinary class (cars) VS Green class (cars)

Feature differences:


Green class cars are a little bit darker than ordinary class cars. Therefore, there are reading lights attached to each seat which ordinary class cars don’t have. Green class cars will generally have less kids and they are much quieter than ordinary class cars. A little bit of darkness and the quietness could provide you with an atmosphere in which you could be relaxing or sleeping…

Power points:

Green class cars have power points on each seat, while in ordinary class cars, power points are only located on the window seats. You could charge your phone or use your computer without worrying about draining your battery on the train journey. (*Some older models don’t have power points.)

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Green Class

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Ordinary Class

Seating and seat pitch:

Green class cars are generally arranged with 4 seats in each row, eg. 2 seats –aisle – 2 seats (depending on the bullet trains, there are some configured as 1 seat – aisle – 2 seats). There are between 13 and 17 rows of seats.

Ordinary class cars commonly have 5 seats per row (2 seats –aisle – 3 seats) and there are 16 – 20 rows.

In green cars, the seat pitch is 116cm on average and the seat width is approximately 50cm. For ordinary cars, the seat pitch is around 104cm and the seat width is approximately 40cm.

The seat pitch is the amount of room between one point on one seat and the same point on the next seat.

*Comparison of an airplane (Qantas B747):

Economy class;
seat pitch – 78.7cm, seat width – 44.9cm (reclining 15.2cm)

Premium economy class;
seat pitch – 96.5cm, seat width – 49.5cm (reclining 22.8cm)

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class
JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Green Class

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Ordinary Class

Seat recline and foot rest:

The average recline of the green class seats is 31 degrees while ordinary class seats average 20-30 degrees (depending on the type of bullet train). So, there might not be much difference in the degree of seat recline between green and ordinary.

There are foot rests in most green class cars, but not for the ordinary class cars.

Service difference:

There are some services which are available only in green class on a bullet train. For example,  there will be blankets on the overhead rack which are free to use, some magazines to read and a wet towel to wipe your hands with (provided by an attendant on some trains. Some trains will not have an attendant to hand out the towels, but it will still be provided as a part of the service).

Some time ago, passengers were provided with a welcome drink and wet towel service on some green class cars, but this is no longer available (bummer!).

The attendant will come to collect any rubbish. (It will never happen on the ordinary cars.)

There’s not much service in ordinary class cars, other than the trolley from which you can buy your drinks and/or snacks.

Advantage of green class:

The catering trolley service for food and beverages in the green class cars is much more frequent than ordinary class cars. This may not sound much like an advantage, but you will definitely realise that it is when you are on board the ordinary class car and others are enjoying the train journey with some drinks and food, and you have none! Or, once you’ve finished your can of beer, you may want another beer or two… You might be waiting a while for the catering trolley to come back to your carriage. You wait and wait… still not coming! Before you can get another drink, or another snack, your train arrives at your destination – what a pity!! If you are on a green class car, it would not have happened!

Because the cost of green class is not as cheap as ordinary, the seats are usually not booked out as quickly. And even during a busy period, some seats are still available until the last minute. If you’re travelling during Golden week (around the end of April to the first week of May), Obon (mid-August), the New Year’s holiday period or Cherry blossom season, it may be a good idea to consider using the green pass/using green class. This could maximise your chances of booking a seat on the days that you have to/want to catch a bullet train.

Green class will give you a quiet and comfortable space with a luxurious travel experience.

Advantage of ordinary class:

As green class cars are all reserved seats, you need to reserve a seat. If you have an ordinary class pass, you can ride in either a reserved car or a non-reserved car. This means that if you prefer to be flexible, you could have an ordinary class pass and just jump on a train when it comes, without reservation. Mind you, you can also do this with a green class pass, but you’re not really making the most of the green pass if you do!

Having said that, for both green car and ordinary reserved-cars, you can only make a reservation for bullet/express trains while in Japan (you can’t book seats outside Japan). When you are in Japan, you can make all your reservations in advance. For example, once you have activated your Japan Rail Pass, you could book your seats for your entire itinerary in advance. You can even book seats on the next available train anytime when the service desks are open (even if the train departs in 10 minutes and a seat is available – if you can make it!).

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

The answer to the questions “which class should I get?” and “is the green class pass worth it?” are totally up to you and what you are after for your travel experience of Japan. If you are looking for less crowds, more comfort with more space, quietness, or a luxurious experience (and you are not concerned about the extra cost), then the answer is definitely green class and it’s worth it for you. In my opinion, if you have some long train journeys, let’s say more than 4 hours ride, it might be a good idea to have a green class pass and enjoy the long train ride in comfort.

As noted above, the amount of seat-room on a bullet train, green or ordinary car, is not really comparable to an economy class seat on an airplane. Even the seats in an ordinary class car provide you with enough space. If you prefer to be flexible (i.e. jump on a train which is just coming/when you’ve just arrived at the train station) and prefer to travel on more of a budget, then the ordinary class will be your travel buddy.

Whichever you take, travelling with a JR pass will provide you with such a fun, unique and fantastic experience for your Japan train journey!

We hope you have a wonderful rail journey in Japan!!

JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class
JR Pass Ordinary Class VS Green Class

Organise your JR Pass:

To be accurate, nowadays, you can purchase a JR Pass in Japan (and soon through JR online, however the cost is around 15% more than if you purchase one outside of Japan. It would be a good idea to purchase a JR Pass exchange order (voucher) from an authorised agent (we are one of them!) before you go to Japan. You must bring the voucher and exchange it for your JR Pass at certain JR train stations in Japan.
The pass must be activated within 3 months from the issuing date – so make sure you purchase your pass less than 3 month before you plan to start using it.

Check our Japan Rail Pass prices.

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