In this post, we’ll go over the regulations around oversized luggage that were introduced in 2020 for some of Japan’s Shinkansen lines. The key element of these new rules: mandatory seat reservations are now required to use the extra space at the back of each train car.
Once upon a time, passengers travelling on Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen rail network knew exactly where to place large suitcases: behind the last row of seats in their car. But in the run-up to the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics and the expected overwhelming surge in visitor numbers – which ultimately failed to materialise due to the pandemic – three JR Group companies introduced a set of new rules. The idea was to impose order upon the chaos that might ensue when hordes of foreigners crowd into trains and come to blows with each other over the minuscule patch of extra floor space at the back.
What exactly is “oversized baggage”?
As defined by the JR Group companies who agreed on the guidelines, a piece of luggage whose total dimensions (i.e.; sum of length, width, and height) exceed 160 cm, but are no greater than 250 cm, counts as oversized baggage. Luggage with total dimensions of 160 cm or less aren’t covered by the new rules, and those with total dimensions greater than 250 cm cannot be brought aboard at all.
Smaller bags that don’t breach the 160 cm limit can be stored on the overhead rack.
What trains/lines are covered by the rules on oversized baggage?
The new rules apply to the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (run by JR Central), the San’yō Shinkansen (run by JR West), and the Kyūshū/Nishi-Kyūshū Shinkansen (run by JR Kyūshū). Shinkansen lines operated by JR East and JR Hokkaidō aren’t covered, and neither is the Hokuriku Shinkansen which is jointly operated by JR East and JR West.
As a visual reference, you can consult this (slightly outdated) map of Shinkansen lines on Wikipedia. Click on one of the larger-sized versions to more easily read individual station names.
Conventional, non-Shinkansen trains operated by JR Central, JR West, and JR Kyūshū – such as limited express services and local/rapid trains – are not affected by the new rules.
What are the new rules?
In a broad sense, there’s really only one new rule. If you want to bring oversized baggage aboard a Tōkaidō, San’yō, or Kyūshū/Nishi-Kyūshū Shinkansen service, you’ll need to reserve a “seat with oversized baggage area”.
“Seats with oversized baggage areas” are in the last row of most reserved-seat Ordinary and Green cars. (Non-reserved cars and some reserved cars do not have such seats.) The “oversized baggage area” is the empty floor space behind this last row: a gap between the seat backs and aft bulkhead where large luggage can be stored.
Before 20th May 2020, any passenger sitting in the car could leave their bags in this rear space (although for security reasons they were, strictly speaking, required to inform the crew). That’s no longer the case. These days, the space behind the last row is reserved for the exclusive use of the passengers sitting in that row.
JR West also state on their website that “[i]n cars that do not have oversized baggage area seats, the space behind the back row is reserved for use by passengers seated in that row”. Hence, even in non-reserved cars where (by definition) seats can’t be reserved in advance, you shouldn’t use the space behind the last row unless you’re actually sitting in that row.
Is there an extra cost to reserving seats with oversized baggage space?
No. Tickets for “seats with oversized baggage areas” cost the same as any other reserved seat. For JR Pass users, these seats can be reserved for free (just like normal seats).
The key issue isn’t cost, but availability. Each compartment only has one last row (needless to say), so there are just five oversized baggage seats in a typical Ordinary Car and four in a typical Green Car. These seats can be quite difficult to come by unless you reserve them well in advance.
How does one secure a seat with oversized baggage space?
“Seats with oversized baggage areas” can be reserved at manned ticket offices/counters, through select online channels, and at ticket vending machines, same as any other seat.
I’ve written a separate step-by-step guide illustrating the process of reserving seats with oversized baggage space on ticket machines.
What if I don’t reserve one of these special seats, and I still bring oversized baggage aboard?
First of all, you’re not entitled to put your belongings in the space behind the last row.
You will need to store your luggage where the conductor specifically tells you to put it (which may be in a different part of the train), and you’ll be charged an extra fee of 1,000 yen.
For any concerns not covered above…
…please refer directly to the websites of JR Central/West/Kyūshū. In addition to detailed guidelines, there are FAQs covering various areas of interest that might help clear up any remaining doubts.
The rules are harmonised amongst the three JR companies that are currently applying them, but there are differences of content and nuance that make consulting all three websites advisable. The fourth link leads to a document on the official JR Pass website that covers the same subject.
Oversized Baggage (JR Kyūshū)
Introduction of advance reservations for oversized baggage (official JR Pass website)