New Rules to Require Reservations for Large Suitcases on the Shinkansen From May 2020
In preparation for the Summer Olympics, shinkansen (bullet train) passengers will now be required to reserve storage space for their extra-large luggage starting late May of 2020. Failure to do so will result in a penalty fee. Here's everything you need to know on this new baggage policy, including what exactly counts as "extra-large luggage", how you can make a reservation for the storage space, and how much it will cost. [Edit 5/22/2020: As of May 20, 2020, this policy is now in effect for the JR Tokaido, Kyushu, and Sanyo shinkansen. People going to Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, or anywhere in their vicinity - beware!]
Sep 03 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
A Brief Overview of the New Policy
A common complaint with shinkansen is that they don't have much in terms of luggage storage options. There's a limit to what can fit on the overhead storage compartment, so if your baggage happens to be a bit too big or if the storage area is full, you have no choice but to sit with your luggage or have it taking up aisle space, making it difficult for others to pass through.
Realizing that this would become an even bigger problem with the sudden influx of international visitors for the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, shinkansen line operators have decided to introduce a new luggage policy.
As of May 20, 2020, all passengers boarding the JR Tokaido, Kyushu, and Sanyo shinkansen are required to reserve luggage space for any extra-large baggage in advance. In other words, if you plan to travel to cities like Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, this new policy affects you. It does not apply for anyone traveling on JR-EAST shinkansen (Tohoku, Joetsu, Hokuriku, Yamagata, Akita) or the JR Hokkaido shinkansen.
It is believed that this new reservation system will help prevent the overcrowding of carriages as well as provide extra safety measures for any luggage that gets brought onto the bullet trains.
What Is Considered "Extra-Large Luggage"?
Any item whose length, width, and height total to 160-250 cm is considered "extra-large luggage," or in Japanese "tokudai nimotsu" (特大荷物). In the above chart, this refers to the section marked in red.
However, there is no weight limit. So, if you're the type that likes to cram as much as possible into one suitcase, you can still do so without any financial repercussions.
How Can I Make a Reservation for My Baggage?
Extra-large luggage space reservations can be made at the same time and in the exact same way as booking a bullet train seat. In other words, you will be able to do so online, through the bullet train ticket machines at local train stations, and at ticket counters like the Midori-no-Madoguchi (JR Ticket Offices).
To book your space (and shinkansen ticket!) online, use the Smart EX app (available on Apple and Google Play). You can download it to reserve your ticket and luggage space in advance if you're located in the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, or Taiwan (Note: The app is called "Express Ride" in Taiwan). If you're not from one of these countries, you will have to reserve your luggage space via shinkansen ticket machines or ticket counters after you come to Japan.
The price of the luggage space is included in the fee for reserving a bullet train seat, so it will not cost any extra money. However, if you fail to book in advance, you will be required to pay 1,000 yen (incl. tax) in cash when you board the bullet train. You will also have no say in where your oversized baggage goes, as the conductor will guide you to an available spot.
Not all shinkansen cars come with extra-large luggage space. The number of spaces available depends on the train and line, so it is highly recommended to reserve your seat and baggage space as far in advance as possible. For most people, this will be up to a month before your actual departure date. JR Pass users, you are not exempt from this policy, so watch out!
Where Will My Luggage Be Stored?
By 2023, some of the toilets and sinks on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu shinkansen will be renovated into lockable extra-large luggage storage corners. Once you put your luggage in, you will need to produce two forms of authentication - a series of numbers and a unique card - in order to take your luggage out. The blue section in the image above gives an example of what the corner is expected to look like.
From May 2020 until then, however, all extra-large luggage will be put behind the very last row of some carriages. Images of this space in both a regular and green carriage can be seen in the orange section of the image above. Please note that this space can also be used to store strollers, wheelchairs, and other large equipment, so once again, we strongly suggest reserving this space as soon as possible.
Planning to travel to Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, or Fukuoka? If you'll bring any kind of luggage that could be categorized as "oversized" or "extra-large", remain cautious and book both your shinkansen tickets and luggage storage space as far out in advance as possible! Also, please make sure to share this article with everyone you know who is coming to Japan past May 2020, as this new policy could very well affect them.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.