Shinkansen luggage rules have changed. On some lines, unreserved compartments for large suitcases are a thing of the past. From now on, you’ll need to reserve a special seat for your oversized bags.

What does this mean? We’ve got the how, when, where, and why of the new Shinkansen policies and restrictions — so you can get some of that weight off your shoulders.

Video guide to the new luggage rules

Everything you need to know, with visuals, plus extra Shinkansen tips. But read on for the May 24, 2023 update.

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New Shinkansen luggage rules (2020)

JR announced a new policy in May 2020 requiring travelers with luggage of a certain size to reserve certain seats on certain Shinkansen routes.

This is for luggage with overall dimensions between 161–250cm; more on how to calculate that below. Luggage of this size falls into a challenging category for the Shinkansen: too big to safely store on the overhead luggage racks and also (usually) too big to squeeze in front of your knees.

Shinkansen luggage size restrictions

SizeReservation required
160cm and belowNo
161–250cmYes
250cm and aboveNot allowed on train

Luggage under 160 cm linear dimensions — this is surprisingly big — can be brought on without a reservation. It can either be placed in front of you (goodbye, legroom) or in the overhead luggage rack, provided it doesn’t jut out in such a way that it could fall or be bumped. And it’s light enough for you to lift it up.

Most American airlines also prefer your checked luggage to be under 160 cm (total linear dimension), but international flights from other areas tend to stretch the rules to 200 cm or so.

Enormous packages or suitcases over 250 cm won’t be allowed on at all. This is unlikely to be a problem, however, as even the largest suitcases are typically under 200 cm in overall dimensions. But if you are the exception, take a look at our section on transporting luggage in Japan.

Editor’s note: For any suitcase you do not reserve space for, because it is under 160 linear centimeters, you are expected to store it (safely) on the overhead rack or keep it with your person. Basically JR is done with having bags rolling through the aisles.

Shinkansen routes affected by the new luggage rules

  • Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tokyo to Osaka)
  • San’yō Shinkansen (Osaka to Fukuoka)
  • Kyūshū Shinkansen (Fukuoka to Kagoshima)

Unfortunately these are major routes — especially the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, which is also the one you take to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Update May 2023: Reserving the luggage rack

Starting from May 24, 2023, you can also reserve the space in the baggage compartment on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen and San’yō Shinkansen.

The dimensions available are 80 x 60 x 50 cm for the upper space and 80 x 60 x 40 cm for the lower space. You can lock your things in place with an IC card — such as Suica or Pasmo. You will also need to reserve certain seats to be able to put your things in the baggage compartment.

From May 24, you can put your suitcases in baggage compartment if you reserve a certain seat. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Note: This is only available in some cars on the Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodoma Shinkansen services.

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How to calculate your baggage size for the Shinkansen

Will it fit in the overhead rack? | Photo by Alex Ziminski

You will need to add the width, height, and depth together to come up with the overall dimension. You can do this pretty simply with a tape measure — though be warned, this might evoke traumatic math test vibes.

But don’t worry too much, similar to an airport there will be baggage sizers at all Tokaido Shinkansen stations, so you can always double-check before boarding. Note that the example dimensions are a max 50cm (W) + 80cm (H) + 30cm (D).

A Shinkansen luggage sizer at the station. | Photo by Shyam Bhardwa

Note: Sports equipment (including skis, surfboards, and bikes — with covers), musical instruments, wheelchairs, strollers, etc. do not need reservations, no matter the size. However, it is recommended to reserve an oversized luggage seat for a more comfortable journey. For Shinkansen lines without luggage space, you may want to book an extra seat if you can afford it — just in case.

How to reserve luggage space on the Shinkansen

A luggage rack on the hokuriku shinkansen with a single backpack.
Thankfully, you can still use the luggage racks on the Hokuriku Shinkansen without a reservation. | Photo by Gregory Lane

You will need to book before getting on the train, but these special luggage seats won’t cost you more than a regular reserved seat. And with a JR Pass, they are complimentary. Tickets are available to book from one month in advance. Please note that you cannot use these seats if you have an unreserved train ticket.

Which seats can I use?

You can use this space if you reserve the seats in front. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Seats to reserve the luggage area will either be the last row of most — but not all — carriages and will have a dedicated space behind them for oversized luggage (unfortunately, you cannot recline in these seats if you have baggage behind you); or, if you are planning on reserving the compartment and not the space behind the chairs, you need to book certain seats in each carriage (there will only be 2 per car available): aisle seat = top compartment and window seat = bottom compartment.

How to book Shinkansen tickets

You could book the old-fashioned way, with a staff member or ticket machine at any JR station — remember to select a seat with oversized baggage space — or you could go online and flaunt your tech savviness.

Sites and apps for booking Shinkansen tickets

Shipping luggage in Japan

The Yamato Baggage Delivery counter at the South Wing of Narita Airport Terminal 1. | Photo by Gregory Lane

What if all the spaces are booked up or you just have too much luggage for one person to handle? Luckily, there are alternatives to loading everything onto a Shinkansen. One, you could send your luggage separately with a delivery service — we have a comprehensive guide on shipping baggage. Two, there’s also the option of leaving it behind in a safe spot. For that, read our article on luggage storage in Tokyo.

New Shinkansen luggage rules FAQs

The shinkansen bullet train passing Mt Fuji
The Tōkaidō Shinkansen has a famous view of Mt Fuji, though unfortunately it comes right after Mishima Station. | Photo by iStock.com/spyarm

Do I need to reserve a luggage space on other train lines?

For now, only the Tōkaidō, San’yō, and Kyūshū Shinkansen routes are affected. That means you can still take advantage of the luggage rack on the Hokuriku, Jōetsu, Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, and Hokkaido Shinkansen. Local trains and subways also do not need to be reserved.

How heavy can my bag be?

You may only take two items of luggage onto any Shinkansen, and they cannot exceed 30kg in weight.

Can I reserve these seats even if I don’t have oversized luggage?

Yes, but it is recommended you be a team player and sit in a normal seat if you don’t have oversized luggage.

What if all the oversized luggage seats are fully booked?

You can see if any luggage space is available in the Green Car, which is a bit more expensive (it’s like Business Class). Otherwise, you’re stuck with your bag in front of you, or you’ll need to take an earlier or later train.

What if I forget to book?

You will either be charged a ¥1,000 fee and the guard will put your luggage in a designated space, or you might be asked to take a different train if you haven’t boarded yet.

What if I want to take the Kodama (unreserved) Shinkansen service?

There are limited oversized baggage seats on Kodama trains because they go slower and are predominantly used by commuters. There may only be one car for reserved seating, or even none in some cases, so please check when booking.

Don’t let these rules hamper your journey around Japan. Make the most out of using the Shinkansen — it can be an affordable and great experience — whether that’s going to Kyoto or further afield.

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