Bullet train baggage rules have changed. On some lines, luggage compartments are a thing of the past and from now on you’ll need to reserve a special seat for your oversized baggage.

This may leave you standing on Platform 9 ¾ wondering how you’ll get anywhere with your two large suitcases and an owl. Here’s where we come in. Below we’ve outlined the how, when, where and why of the new Shinkansen policy and restrictions, so you can get some of that weight off your shoulders.

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The new baggage rules

Suitcases Luggage
Where are we going to put all this? | Photo by iStock.com/Casanowe

JR announced a new policy in May 2020 that affects the Tōkaidō (Tokyo to Osaka), San’yō (Osaka to Fukuoka), and Kyūshū (Fukuoka to Kagoshima) Shinkansen. The new rule: You must reserve a special seat if you have luggage with overall dimensions between 161-250cm. More on how to calculate that below.

These seats will 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.)

SizeReservation required
160cm and belowNo
250cm and aboveNot allowed on train

Luggage below 160cm — this is surprisingly big — can be brought on without a reservation. It can either be placed in front of you or in the overhead luggage rack.

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You may run into trouble with enormous packages or suitcases that are above 250cm; they won’t be allowed on at all. This is unlikely to be a problem, however, as even the largest suitcases are typically below 200cm in overall dimensions. But if you are the exception, take a look at our section on transporting luggage in Japan.

Note: There are no separate baggage compartments, like the one seen below, on the Tōkaidō, San’yō, and Kyūshū Shinkansen routes.

A luggage rack on the hokuriku shinkansen with a single backpack.
Thankfully, the Hokuriku Shinkansen still has a luggage rack | Photo by Gregory Lane

How to calculate your baggage size

You will need to add the width, depth, and height together to come up with the overall dimension — 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 check before boarding.

Check out the video below from JR for a demonstration.

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 just in case.

How to book

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 complementary. Tickets are available to book one month in advance. Please note that you cannot use these seats if you have an unreserved train ticket.

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

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Sites and apps:

  • Smart-Ex website and app
  • Japan Rail Pass Reservation (JR Pass holders only)
  • JR West Online
  • JR Kyushu Online
  • Eki-net (Japanese only)
  • 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.


    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 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 must 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 I forget to book?

    You will be charged a ¥1,000 fee and the guard will put your luggage in a designated space.

    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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