The great thing about the shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train network, isn’t just how fast the trains move, but how convenient they are to use for long-haul travel. If you’re an overseas traveler in Japan, odds are you’re going to have a suitcase or two with you, so it’s especially nice that on the shinkansen there are no baggage check-in procedures or luggage fees to deal with.
Well, it was especially nice. Unfortunately, the free shinkansen ride for all luggage is about to become a thing of the past on the most popular shinkansen lines. Starting in May, passengers planning to take “large suitcases” aboard will have to make reservations for their luggage ahead of time on the Tokkaido Shinkansen, which runs between Tokyo and Shin Osaka, and includes the stop in perennial traveler favorite Kyoto. The restriction will also be introduced on the Sanyo Shinkansen (which runs from Shin Osaka to Hakata, in Fukuoka, and includes Himeji and Hiroshima) and the Kyushu Shinkansen (which runs from Hakata to Kagoshima Chuo).
Bringing a large suitcase onto the train won’t automatically incur an extra fee, but it will lock you out of the most affordable seats. That’s because to reserve a spot for a large suitcase, you also have to be traveling by a reserved-seat ticket, which costs a premium over the less expensive non-reserved-seat tickets. Luggage reservations can be made online or at Shinkansen station service counters, but should you fail to make a reservation before getting on the train, you’ll have to pay a 1,000-yen penalty fee if you want to take your bag with you, as opposed to just leaving it on the platform and tearfully waving goodbye as you zoom off to your next destination.
OK, but what if you show up with a non-reserved-seat ticket and large suitcase? You’ll once again be asked to pay the 1,000-yen penalty, and also to upgrade to a more expensive reserved-seat ticket for an extra 520 yen. Shinkansen operators are currently vague on what will happen if there are no more reserved-seat tickets left, but the assumption is that you’ll be told to wait for the next train, while keeping your fingers crossed that it has available reserved seats.
For purposes of the new regulations, “large suitcases” are described as those with collective length, width, and depth measurements between 160 and 250 centimeters. For reference, Japan Airlines’ size limit for carry-on luggage is 55 x 40 x 25 centimeters, total dimensions of 120 centimeters, and the 28-inch suitcase from AmazonBasics pictured below has total dimensions that work out to roughly 159.8 centimeters, depending on how you round.
Shinkansen operators plan to install measuring tables near Shinkansen gates so that you can check whether or not you’ll need to reserve a space for your bag.
JR Tokai (also known as Central Japan Railway Company), JR West, and JR Kyushu, the operators of the Tokkaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, say the change is being implemented as part of increased safety measures for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, though it’s unclear how the events will constitute a safety issue in Kyushu, on the opposite side of the country from the Games’ Tokyo venues, two months before the opening ceremony takes place.
Aside from the hassles of measuring bags, making reservations, and paying extra fees, the fact that large suitcases will be kept in a locked compartment implies a lengthier boarding/exiting process as staff members verify passengers have made reservations when getting on, and passengers wait for the compartments to be unlocked so they can retrieve their luggage before getting off. Nevertheless, JR Tokai president Shin Kaneko is confident that passengers will not only be accepting of the new system, but actually welcome it. “Under the new system, a need to make reservations for luggage will come about, but the place where the bags are kept is secure, so I think passengers with large suitcases will be happy about it.”
All those who would be happier to not have to deal with all that, though, will also be happy to know that JR East, which operates the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines (which run from Tokyo to Shin Aomori and from Omiya to Niigata) has announced no plans to require baggage reservations or fees, nor has the Hokuriku line (Takasaki to Kanazawa).
Sources: NHK News Web via Jin, Travel and Leisure
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