If you’re planning on travelling on the bullet train during your Japan trip, it’s important to know the rules about where that luggage is allowed to go on the train as it might change how you need to plan your trip. Here’s what you need to know…
The tape measure is out in our house.
While I’m now used to going to Japan carrying as little as humanely possible, and can therefore get a month’s worth of packing into a tiny case, Mr Japlanease is also coming on our next trip and he is not a super light packer.
And so I need to make sure the suitcase he has in mind conforms to the suitcase rules on the Shinkansen (bullet train).
If you want to do the same – or are reading this because you saw the headline and suddenly thought, erm what rules? Here’s what you need to know…
- Where Can You Put Luggage on the Shinkansen?
- What Lines Do Luggage Rules Apply On?
- What Are the Luggage Size Rules on These Shinkansen?
- What To Do if You Need a Luggage Reservation?
- What If The Behind the Seat Area is Empty?
- Why Is It Better to Just Bring a Smaller Bag?
- Other Questions
- What’s a Luggage Forwarding Service?
- What Else to Read
Where Can You Put Luggage on the Shinkansen?
Technically there are four different places on the Shinkansen where you can put luggage.
In front of your legs
On the overhead rack that runs along the top of the carriage
In a gap behind the two last seats in every carriage.
And, on some lines but not all, and probably not the ones you are most likely to be going on, in the luggage racks by the door.
Which of these you can actually use depends on two things – what lines you are travelling on and the size of your suitcase – and this is where people get confused.
What Lines Do Luggage Rules Apply On?
They are only for three Shinkansen routes – but, they are the ones the average tourist is most likely to travel on. They are…
The Tokaido Shinkansen
This is the busiest line in Japan and it runs between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka. If you’re travelling to Shin-Yokohama, Odawara, Shin-Fuji, Nagoya, Shizuoka, Shin-Osaka, Kyoto or, any of the stops on this line in-between, by bullet train, then you’re travelling on the Tokaido
The San’yo Shinkansen
This runs west between Osaka and Fukuoka and includes stops like Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Hiroshima, Okayama, Fukuyama, Mihara, Kokura and Hakata.
If you’re visiting Hiroshima, Bunny Island (Okunoshima), Naoshima, Himeji Castle and are taking the bullet train, you’re probably using the San’yo Shinkansen.
The Kyushu Shinkansen
This runs between Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka to Kagoshima in the south and includes stops like Kurume, Kumamoto, Izumi and Kogashima-Chuo.
On these lines the luggage racks are no longer used and, where you can put your luggage depends on how big your case is.
What Are the Luggage Size Rules on These Shinkansen?
As we said, on the above Shinkansen the size of your luggage determines where you can put it while you travel – or even if it can go on the train with you.
How to Measure Your Luggage
Grab a tape measure and measure the following three places
How tall is it (including the wheels).
How wide it is across the front.
How deep it is from front to back.
Now add all those numbers together.
If the three numbers add up to under 160cm (64 inches) you are all good. You can either place your luggage on the overhead rack or, in the gap in front of your legs.
If it adds up to between 161-250cm (64-100 inches), then you have to place your bags in a special area in the carriage located behind the last two seats. And, you have to book a luggage reservation to get the spot.
If your bag adds up to over 251cm (100 inches) it can’t go on the train with you. It’s unlikely you’ll be carrying a case that big, but just in case, we’ll explain what you have to do in a minute.
What To Do if You Need a Luggage Reservation?
You make a luggage reservation at the JR Ticket Office when you make your seat reservations.
You need to tell the staff that you need to use the oversize baggage area and they will book you on a train where this is free and in the correct seats. The earlier you can do this the better as these seats are limited.
If you’re using the ticket machines, either to book your whole journey, or just to make a seat reservation, then make sure you select a seat with the oversize baggage area so you get in the right seats.
If you’re confused about using the Shinkansen, or just want a handy way of planning your journey, have a look at the Bullet Train Planner in our Etsy shop. It contains tips and tricks, but also printable planning sheets to help you track your costs and to list your train plans and reservations so you’re super organised. It could be the best couple of bucks you spend!
What If The Behind the Seat Area is Empty?
Can’t you just stash your luggage there anyway?
Please don’t be that person! For starters, someone else might have booked the luggage space who is getting on further along the line and then they don’t know what to do with their own bag.
Luggage can also stop the seats reclining which is inconvenient to anyone who has booked those seats.
Plus, you’re going to put the conductor in a difficult position as they will have to deal with it.
The fine for putting your luggage in the gap without a reservation is 1000 yen, and the conductor can move your luggage to somewhere more suitable (which might not be convenient for you!).
Ditto using the luggage racks. If they’re closed or taped off it means you can’t use them.
Why Is It Better to Just Bring a Smaller Bag?
Generally we’d suggest bringing a case that measures under 160cm. This is actually a pretty hefty sized case. But if you need further convincing here are why we’d say to downsize if you can.
Baggage Seats are Limited
You might find your options for when you can travel are more limited as you have fewer seats to pick from.
On a Hikari train (one of the ones you can use with Japan Rail Pass), for example, only 35 seats are available in the Ordinary Class cars for those travelling with oversize baggage – about a third of the reserved seats available.
This might not matter on a normal day, but if you’re travelling in a busy period this could delay your departure by quite a bit if everyone else has already booked the slots before you.
It Might Cost More
You have to pay for a seat reservation. This won’t matter if you’re using the Japan Rail Pass as these are included for free as part of the service, but, if you’ve worked out it’s not the cost effective option for you, then you’ll be cancelling out some of the savings by having to use reserved seats.
You may not be able to recline your seat with the luggage behind it.
If you miss your train and have to get another one, or you want to take an earlier train (which you can normally easily do with the Japan Rail Pass by either sitting in an unreserved seat or going to the office and reserving a seat on the next service), you might not be able to get on if you need a luggage seat and they are all booked.
Potential for Putting Your Back Out!
A bag close to 160cm is actually pretty large, which means it can also get heavy – but, don’t forget, you’ve either got to put this in front of your legs which limits your leg room (although, as you can see in the picture above, it’s okay with a smaller case), or lift it up, over your head to get it onto the overhead rack – and get it back down again when you reach your stop. If your bag is heavy, that’s going to be a chore.
If you don’t think you can lift your bag, and it won’t fit in front of your legs, you can book a seat using the oversized luggage area.
Other reasons you might want to pack light include lugging your cases around stations which can add up to a few thousand steps and don’t always have convenient lifts or escalators.
Also, Japanese hotel rooms can be pretty small – and two big cases and two people in a 16 sq-metre hotel room is a squeeze.
Ideally, try and choose a bag that measures under 160cm – as I said, this is still a pretty large case. If you’re going nuts with the shopping, then you could always add this to a second smaller bag and carry both. The Shinkansen allow two bags per person.
If you are a big packer, you might also want to look for a larger hotel room. Have a look at our guides to hotels with larger rooms in Tokyo, and our other guide to rooms that are bigger than average in Osaka.
Here are some of the other questions you might have about carrying your bags into a shinkansen.
What If I Have Two Bags?
That’s fine, you can take two pieces of luggage per person onto the Shinkansen.
So, if you have two bags both under 160cm that’s fine to carry them both on with you.
But if one of them is bigger than 161cm you’ll need to book a reservation for it.
What About Strollers?
You can fold these up and stash them in the overhead rack without a reservation even if they are over 160cm.
What to Do if Your Bag is Too Big?
If your bag is over 251cm it can’t go on the train with you and you will have to use a luggage forwarding service (see below).
What to Do if All the Luggage Seats are Booked?
If you need to travel at a certain time, but the luggage spaces are already booked, then your best option is also to use a luggage forwarding service.
What About Other Trains?
The rules only apply on the three Shinkansen lines named above.
If you’re travelling by bullet train elsewhere in Japan, or on another type of train like the Narita Express, Limited Express trains or local trains, then you can put your luggage anywhere there is storage space without a reservation.
It’s generally a good idea to avoid travelling in rush hour on commuter trains with lots of luggage though as space is going to be tight.
What’s a Luggage Forwarding Service?
A luggage forwarding service is a service that will send your luggage to your next hotel for you.
Your hotel can usually organise this for you, or you can book it yourself. Yamato is one of the main companies (see their webpage here).
If you want your luggage to arrive the same day you’ll need to check that this is available and take it to a special counter (usually in train stations or airports, a full list from Yamato is here).
If you have it picked up at your hotel, or you drop it off at one of the collection points (usually a convenience store), then it will usually arrive the next day, maybe the day after if it’s going from one end of Japan to the other, so you should have a small bag of essentials with you.
The cost varies by size of the case, but, going direct to a hotel, a case that measures around 160cm will cost around 4000 yen, a 180cm case will cost around 4600 yen, one of 200cm will cost around 5500.
A case of over 200cm can’t be sent at all. To be fair, I just checked the listing for extra large luggage in Walmart and it’s unlikely you’ll be carrying a suitcase that big anyway.
I’ll be doing a full post on how to book a luggage delivery service after my next trip as, I’m going to be sending my case on a day I have a lot of train changes, and, while I have used the service I haven’t booked it myself (my host did it). But on that trip everyone’s luggage arrived okay.
It’s how most Japanese people travel and the system is safe and very organised.
So, there you go. An explanation of the current rules about taking your bags on the bullet train. If you do have any questions, why not join our Facebook Group and ask them there.
What Else to Read
If you’re still a bit confused about the Japan Rail Pass we have a couple of posts that might help you out.
One of the most common questions asked is if you need a Japan Rail Pass when you’re basing yourself in Tokyo – and so, we tried to explain it simply.
If you’re travelling further afield, here’s our post on how to tell whether the Japan Rail Pass is worth it for your trip – including comparing it to things like flying or driving a car. See that one here.
And if you already have a Rail Pass but are a bit confused about how exactly you use it, then have a look at this post which goes through the logisitics of using a Japan Rail Pass.
Who Writes This Blog?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author. My travel articles have appeared in publications including The Australian, RAC Horizons, Jetstar Magazine, Sainsbury’s Magazine and more.
I’ve travelled to Japan seven times before, both solo and with my partner – and am just planning trip number eight