I have received the question about luggage very often. I understand that you worry about the luggage when you travel by trains. However I do not have any experience about managing a big luggage, such as hard shell suitcase, large backpack, on board. Because I am from Japan. I have my family member and many friends there. I am a domestic traveller with a small bag.
When I was thinking about this issue, one of my frequent reader, Mr. Jonathan Ayre offered me to share his experience and sent me very detailed information. As probably you know, since he has been to Japan many times and has been to most of places in Japan, he is very knowledgeable.
I would like to share this information with you. And I would like to thank you, Jonathan for your effort.
Managing your luggage on trains and other transport around Japan can be tricky at times. Very few trains in Japan have space for big luggage, and local buses do not have any space at all. I have always been able to manage my luggage fairly well, but sometimes my travelling companions have had some difficulty. I will share some of my experiences.
Large Backpacks: I usually use a large backpack. It can fit everything I need, but isn’t as sturdy or safe for fragile things as a suitcase. However, because it is malleable I can make it fit to a variety of spaces.
Suitcases: Many people I have travelled with use these. Generally easier to pack into, but the fact that they are rigid means you have to find a space to fit them as they are.
All trains in Japan do not have any baggage cars either. So you don’t need to check in and you cannot if you want. You need to carry your luggage into the cabin space. The rules of Japan Railways says, “You can carry two pieces of baggage. The total length of height, width and depth must be under 250cm and the weight must be under 30kg per baggage.” But no one check your baggage before on board. This rule is actually not very strict. Even most of Japanese do not know this rule. Even though you are allowed these big baggage into the cabin, you may not be able to find the space.
Most of trains have overhead luggage rack.
It usually has about 40cm depth. We can store the size of “Carry on Baggage” to the flight at this rack. One of my suitcases is a bit bigger than carry on size. But it can be stored at overhead.
In Japan, many kinds of train run. Jonathan explains train types at the below.
Next, I’ll share what I’ve learned from different train types.
Local trains: Often it is pretty easy to get your large luggage onto local trains. You can stand with your luggage, or if you are sitting, just put it right in front of you. Many local services have small luggage racks for your small luggage as well. The only challenge is during peak times; however people usually understand if you have large bags. It shouldn’t be a problem to take your large luggage onto local trains unless you are uneasy being cramped.
Rapid trains: Like local trains, it shouldn’t be very much of a problem. Just try not to take up more space than you need to.
Limited Express trains: Space on limited express trains can vary wildly between different train types. Airport trains and a few select services have luggage space, either by design or because trains that were previously airport services are now used for other services. Trains that I have found to feature luggage space include:
Ltd Exp Narita Express (JR East, Narita Airport to Tokyo/Yokohama/Shinjuku/Omiya/Takao)
Ltd Exp Haruka (JR West, Kyoto/Osaka to Kansai Airport)
Ltd Exp Nikko/Kinugawa (JR East/Tobu Railway, Shinjuku to Nikko/Kinugawa) *Note: only services operated by 253 Series
Ltd Exp Hokuto/Super Hokuto (JR Hokkaido, Hakodate to Sapporo), some cars have small luggage space at the front of the car. May be applicable for other JR Hokkaido trains as they have similar trains on many lines
**Ltd Exp Snow Rabbit (Ltd Exp Type A) on Nagano Electric Railway
It is likely that there are few more scattered around the country.
For all other limited express trains, there are a few options at your disposal. These include:
In your seat space: Some people (my wife included), like to try to store their luggage inside their foot space, and against the side of the train. This works adequately if you have a relatively small bag. I have never seen this done comfortably by someone with a large suitcase. This can work if you have a medium sized suitcase, and if you are sitting with someone you know, as you may have to share leg space.
In the overhead luggage racks: As with using your seat space, if you have a malleable bag, you may be able to squeeze it into the overhead luggage space. I have done this successfully on many occasions. Getting down a heavy bag can be tricky and take more than one person. Not recommended for people with large suitcases because the racks are not large enough, and your bag will probably fall. Small and medium suitcases should be ok.
Behind the last row of the train car: This is probably the best and most comfortable option. It is entirely permissible to put your large luggage behind the last row in each car. However you are supposed to tell the conductor that you are doing so, as they say they may remove unattended baggage at stations along the way if they don’t know who it belongs to! This has never happened to anyone I know, however. You may find though, that there is a great deal of competition for this space. In limited express trains there is only 3-4 rows of seats, and therefore only space for 3-4 large pieces of luggage, and often (especially during holiday periods), many Japanese people are also travelling with large luggage. Please be mindful of this, and use only the space you absolutely need. If this option fails and you can’t fit your luggage in the overhead racks, you may be left with little option but to have your luggage in your foot space, which may make for an uncomfortable trip
Shinkansen: Similar to limited express trains, but you might have slightly more foot space, or an extra row of seats, and therefore an extra space in the back. The same challenges exist. One Shinkansen service has a small luggage space.
Shinkansen Asama (JR East, Tokyo to Nagano)
Sleeper Services: Storage of your large luggage shouldn’t be a problem, except on a few services. I will share my experiences with the trains I’ve used:
Ltd Exp Hokutosei (B-Type Berth, Sapporo to Ueno) : We had 4 spaces booked for our group on Hokutosei, so there wasn’t any competition with other people. We had to put some of our bags on the floor. Some others went up into an alcove space next to the top bunks. It was a bit cramped if you wanted to stand up in the space, but comfortable.
Ltd Exp Nihonkai (B-Type Berth, Kyoto to Aomori): Similar situation to Hokutosei. We booked out all four berths, and the luggage space was identical.
Ltd Exp Sunrise Izumo (Single and Solo, Matsue to Tokyo): The most challenging of all. While you can get your own space, there was no space for large luggage. I had the solo compartment (lower), and I could fit my backpack into the entry space because it was soft. I still had enough room to enter and leave the compartment. I was comfortable, but it was a tight fit. I don’t think you could put a suitcase in the solo compartment and still be able to get in and out. My travelling companions all had single compartments. They couldn’t fit their luggage anywhere. They had large suitcases, and had to angle them over their beds. Sometimes when the train stopped at night, their suitcases fell on them. They said it was quite painful 🙁 .
Ltd Exp Twilight Express (Twin, Toya to Kyoto): There was ample space for two large bags and anything else you could want. The Twin compartment is very comfortable. If you take Twilight Express, try to get any type of compartment over B-Type. Make the most of the opportunity!
Ltd Exp Nichirin (787 series): When I got on Limited Express Nichirin in Kyushu, I found a luggage space. This train set 787 series is used for most of Kyushu trains except Sonic. I don’t think all 787 series have this space. But if you take this type train set, you may be able to find it. Please see the image gallery on my facebook page.
Ltd Exp Hokutosei (B solo compartment): This is a basic single compartment. It is very tiny. But it can accommodate a suitcase. Please see the image gallery on my facebook page.
Exp Hamanasu (Carpet car): It is very challenging. If you have a backpack, you can keep your baggage on your space. But if you have a suitcase, it is very hard to keep it on your space. the width is only 70cm. There is no extra space. Please refer the image gallery on my facebook page.
Now we would like to talk about lockers and storage service at the station.
Coin Lockers: These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be quite useful if you are heading back in the same direction on the same day. For example, I went from Ikebukuro to Sendai and Yamadera (via Omiya), and back through to Echigo-Yuzawa in one day. I was able to put my luggage in a locker at Omiya station, and it was very convenient.
Coin lockers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but can generally be categorised into small, medium and large (with a few variations around the country). It can be very hard to find medium and large lockers, even at large stations however – they are very popular, and there are often very few. Coin locker areas can also be hard to find. Some large stations, like Tokyo, have them in several places, but not always where one may usually walk. Many are in the basement where there are a variety of shops. At Shin-Osaka, they are at the ground floor, right near the ground level entrance. If you are short on time, you should confirm the location of lockers before you arrive at the station.
Lockers are usually paid for exclusively with 100 yen coins (usually, 400, 500 and 600 yen for small, medium and large lockers), so be sure to keep lots of 100 yen coins on hand! Some are also able to be paid for by JR smart cards. Many stations in the “Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Network” – Tokyo, out to Chiba/Narita in the East, Omiya, Utsunomiya and Nasushiobara in the North, Hachioji in the West and Odawara in the South, as well as Niigata and Sendai have lockers that can be paid for using your Suica card.
I was in Japan on this past March. I spent 5 minutes to find coin lockers in Tokyo station. But the first one that I found was full. I needed to spend another 5 minutes to find even regular size locker. Most of coin lockers are very popular in major stations, like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto. It’s better to give yourselves a little extra time to find it．
And one of reader, Yong have shared the experience. I believe this comment is very useful so that you can imagine easier.
Might I share my accumulated experience about luggage lockers from my Japan trips over the years.
Main stations of cities (Shinjuku, Osaka Namba/Umeda etc) will have a plethora of lockers, in various sizes. That said, they can run out. Especially the largest ones. I’ve encountered two nasty experiences:
1) A tourist couple at Shinjuku actually shoved me aside to “snatch” the locker I was preparing to put my bags into. There was just that one last large locker left.
2) On 30 Dec 2007, the whole of Nagoya station, believe it or not, had not one unused locker. I ended up lugging my bags all the way with me to Meiji Mura. 🙁
So my suggestion is, Shrink your luggage. If really necessary, split it. I feel it’s actually easier to find two 300 Yen lockers than one 600 Yen max size locker. Moreover the smaller stations, even places like Ise, are unlikely to have lockers for 30″ tall bags.
As a last, desperate resort, you could try to deposit your bags at a nearby departmental store. I’ve seen tourists do this at Takashimaya Times Square. I’m not sure at all whether it’s usual service or exceptional. Best IMO not to bet on it.
Thank you very much for sharing your experience, Yong.
I also have received another useful information from Boris.
1. If you are travelling in and out of Narita Airport, you can pay to leave luggage there. It has been useful for us travelling from USA home to Australia via Japan and we have left 1 or 2 bags of shopping and non-essential items. Other airports probably have the same service.
2. All hotels will store luggage for you if you are a guest. Several times, we have left most of our luggage at no charge and just taken a small bag for up to a week. We often store all of our luggage for a day when leaving on a late flight or train.
3. There are several strategies for taking large luggage on a train. Firstly, if you can afford it, buy a green class rail pass (we always do) as there are usually less people in the car and more likely to be space at the rear to store cases. (Also, you are more likely to get a reserved seat in busy periods). If possible, take the train from the terminal station and get there early so you are first in line. On some Shinkansens, check where the doors are so you get on near the rear of your car. In some cases you need to get on at the front of the next car and walk through to your car. Also, we have found that most overhead racks will take a quite large case. The problem is getting a heavy bag/case up and down without injuring yourself or others! If there is already luggage at the rear of the car, you can rearrange it to fit your in. Generally you can fit 3-4 cases behind each set of seats.
Thank you very much for sharing very useful information, Boris.
It is true that in even major stations, all lockers are occupied soon.
When I really need to store my luggage, I go to the station early morning. In my experience, after 9:00 am, it is much harder to find the locker.
By the way, there are mostly four types of lockers in Japan.
Small: (H)257mm X (W)355mm X (D)575mm or (H)317mm X (W)355mm X (D)575mm
Medium: (H)550mm X (W)355mm X (D)575mm
Large: (H)880mm X (W)355mm X (D)575mm
Extra large: (H)1153mm X (W)355mm X (D)575mm
I put several images of coin lockers. I took these pictures at Otaru station. These are kinds of old type lockers. As Jonathan said above, in Tokyo area, lockers can be paid by Suica (rechargeable smart card). It looks different and a bit complicated to use.