Looks like we can bring the Japan Rail Pass discussion to a close now… several blogs on the internet, and a reply I received by e-mail from Kintetsu International travel, all appear to be in accord, and so I’ll share the information with you.
As I had earlier speculated, the Mizuho will NOT be valid with the Japan Rail Pass, but the Sakura will be valid. This will make it a slightly longer journey for those pass holders who want to travel between Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyushu Island during the morning and evening hours. During the rest of the day, however, Sakura trains will run over this entire route at intervals of approximately one per hour. Since the Mizuho’s fare structure is similar to that of the Nozomi, you will need to pay the entire fare to use Mizuho trains.
Regarding Hayabusa services, which will run to northern Japan (between Tokyo and Aomori and between Tokyo and Sendai) to initially complement Hayate services: The Japan Rail Pass AND the more regional JR East Rail Pass will cover it, with the exception of its new premium class service called GranClass. GranClass can be equated to a luxurious first class cabin on an airline, with 18 very large seats, a special car attendant, and first-rate meals. If you want to use GranClass and you have a rail pass, you will need to pay the GranClass seating charge AND the limited express charge (the charge normally required to use the Shinkansen).
If you have a version of the pass which is valid in Ordinary (Standard) Class, the Rail Pass will cover the Hayabusa’s ordinary class seats. If you have a Green Car version, the Pass will cover the Hayabusa’s Ordinary AND Green Cars; the Hayabusa will have one Green Car with 55 seats. But to use GranClass, regardless of the type of pass that you have, you’ll have to pay the charges I just noted. So for traveling between Tokyo and Aomori, this amounts to 16,500 yen. My opinion: If you really want to step up in travel class, the best thing to do is just purchase a Green Car version of the Rail Pass. Right now I don’t think it’s worth the expense to travel GranClass, unless you’re very curious to try it out. And remember, the new Hayabusa services will compliment the existing Hayate services that run on that particular bullet train line.
As promised I’ll be writing more about the Kyushu Shinkansen in my next post.