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Can I use a first class Japan Rail pass to board trains that don't have a first class carriage?

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Yes. japanrailpass.net:

Most JR trains have Ordinary Cars (coach class) while many long-distance trains also offer Green Cars (superior class). With a Green-type JAPAN RAIL PASS you can use either class.

Note that there's only a Green Japan Rail Pass, not a "first class" one. This means you can use Green Cars (roughly, business class), but you cannot use the recently launched Gran Class (roughly, first class) cars without paying additional surcharges.

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