When you are travelling in Japan, particularly on a longer trip, you may have a large suitcase or even two. There are some useful points to note about dealing with your luggage – and how to use services in Japan which can make your travel much more convenient.
On the Shinkansen (bullet train)
According to Japan Rail’s official rule, you can carry 2 pieces of baggage on JR trains, the total of height+width+depth of each item must be under 250cm and the weight less than 30kg per bag. But in practice, the Shinkansen (Bullet train) is designed with quite limited space for luggage. If you only have one suitcase you shouldn’t have too much of a problem. If it’s not much bigger than aircraft “hand-luggage” size, it should fit on the storage rack above the seats. If you can get a seat at the end of the carriage, there is a space behind the last row of seats where a suitcase will fit. If you have a reserved seat, it’s quite possible that the carriage won’t be too full, and you can fit your suitcase on a spare seat next to you or nearby. (Non-reserved ordinary-class carriages are usually too full for you to be able to do this). If you use the Japan Rail Pass, it is very easy to get a reserved seat: just go to the ticket counter and ask for seat reservation. If you travel in Green car (First class), there should be space between you and the seat in front for your suitcase to stand on the floor.
Local trains, Rapid trains:
If your bag won’t go onto the small overhead luggage racks, the best solution is to stand with it, and try to take up no more space than you need. People are very understanding, and your journey won’t be too long!
Limited Express trains:
Some have dedicated luggage space, usually because they are airport services, or because the train carriages were used as such in the past. Examples: Narita Express Haruka (Kyoto/Osaka to Kansai airport) Nikko/Kinugawa (JR East/Tobu Railway, Shinjuku to Nikko/Kinugawa) Hokuto/Super Hokuto (JR Hokkaido, Hakodate to Sapporo) Snow Rabbit (Nagano Electric Railway) On other Limited Express services, the options are the same as the Bullet train
- the space behind the end set of seats in the coach. You are supposed to inform the train staff of this, as they can offload unidentified luggage from this area at the next station, but in practice this doesn’t happen. But if the train is busy, you may find this area is already full.
- on the overhead racks (but they won’t take much in terms of weight or size)
- in the legroom in front of you or in your footspace.
Baggage delivery service
Because of the recognised difficulty of taking full-size suitcases on the Bullet train, there is a well-developed and efficient baggage delivery service in Japan (takuhaibin in Japanese). You can arrange this at Narita airport (see www.narita-airport.jp), or from/to major hotels. It seems amazing, but your suitcase does turn up efficiently at your chosen destination address. If going from a hotel in one city to a hotel in another city, you might send your case off in advance, because it travels by road and doesn’t go as fast as you will in the Bullet train! The concierge at your hotel will be able to arrange transportation of your bags. Book the service in advance with the concierge of your hotel, giving details of the destination address (usually a hotel). The service will be confirmed with cost. Hand in your suitcase to the concierge the night before you depart. On the day, simply check out and make your way to your destination taking only the hand luggage you will need for the journey. Your bag will be at your destination hotel when you arrive there. Cost: As an example, the cost of transporting a large suitcase (up to 25kg) from a hotel in Tokyo to a hotel in Kyoto is around Yen 1,890 (approx £ 15).
If you are doing a short return trip, you might consider going with a small bag and leaving your main luggage in a coin locker at the station. There are automatic coin lockers in all JR stations. See our Travel Tips page on coin lockers for more details.