- The best luggage for Japan travel is the one that converts into a backpack or the one that’s easily carried such as a duffel bag.
- Train stations in Japan have a lot of stairs. Be ready to quickly carry your bags.
- Japanese trains don’t have space for bulky luggage. Large-sized luggage is also very bothersome to local commuters.
- Elevators and platforms are mainly reserved for the elderly, disabled, pregnant, and families with strollers in Japan. As a tourist, and if you’re none of those, you are expected to take the stairs (politeness is very important in Japan).
- Pack light! This avoids your dependence on large-sized coin lockers, which are very limited in number despite the demand from less prepared tourists. Travel with a carry-on if possible.
- The worst type of luggage to bring in Japan
- Best luggage bags we recommend for Japan travel
- Additional Packing Tips for Japan Travel
- Japanese Bullet Train (Shinkansen): Luggage space rules, tips, and recommendations
- Japanese’s Secret to Traveling Luggage Free
- Bottom Line
The worst type of luggage to bring in Japan
The worst type of luggage to use in Japan are those large-sized 4-wheeled spinner suitcases. They are very bulky, wide, and really difficult to carry when taking the stairs and escalators in train stations.
Japanese train stations surprised us a lot during our early days of living and traveling in Japan. Many train and subway stations are packed with people and large baggage is quite difficult to navigate with.
In major cities, almost all have elevators. However, we find it generally inappropriate to use as they’re designed to be used by elderly and disabled commuters, so it’s embarrassing to line up.
Politeness is very important in Japan, click to read more about etiquette in Japan here.
That large-sized 4-wheel spinner suitcase that you have will undoubtedly cause major inconveniences, not just for you, but for the Japanese commuters.
By seeking and blundering we learn.~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Best luggage bags we recommend for Japan travel
The most ideal way to travel is to keep everything to one luggage per person, or one luggage if you’re a family traveling with a baby. Travel with a carry-on if possible.
For those of you staying longer in Japan, opt for luggage with a bit more space, not additional luggage.
Before packing, I recommend you evaluate what is really needed for your trip in order to keep everything to just one piece of luggage.
Here are the best luggage bags we recommend for your trip to Japan:
1. Wheeled Backpack
Wheeled backpacks are designed for maximum convenience and have a narrower profile than a typical large-sized 4-wheeled spinner suitcase. It’s perfect for those who are traveling with a laptop or slightly heavier items and plan to travel extensively in Japan.
This type is especially useful for those who have the JR Pass, as you’ll absolutely need a bag that’s easily backpackable, and the wheels are a nice bonus should you get a bit tired from carrying it.
Compare our recommended wheeled backpack to see which one is best for you::
2. Wheeled Duffel Bag
A wheeled duffel bag is best for those who need maximum storage space, making them very effective travel bags if you’re traveling with kids or as a family.
Just like the wheeled backpacks, these types of luggage are much narrower and can usually be stored on the overhead luggage rack of Japanese trains.
Compare our recommended wheeled duffel bags to see which one is best for you:
- Thule Subterra Wheeled Duffel. → Click here to see.
- Thule Crossover 2 Wheeled Duffel. → Click here to see.
- Osprey SOJOURN. → Click here to see.
3. Backpacking Backpack
If you’re planning multi-day tours or pilgrimage excursions in Japan, then you’re going to need something that’s just a backpack. Wheeled luggage won’t stand the road, so you’re going to need backpacking designed for prolonged wear and offer enough storage for a couple of days worth of clothes.
- Deuter FUTURA VARIO 50L + 10. → Click here to see.
- Osprey Farpoint Trekpack. → Click here to see.
- Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpack. → Click here to see.
Additional Packing Tips for Japan Travel
1. Bring a collapsible duffel bag.
If you’re like us, then you’re probably looking to bring home souvenirs from your trip. This is where a collapsable duffle bag (like this) comes in handy.
My husband is a hoarder of Japanese food during travel, things like local versions of cup noodles and instant noodles, milk teas, beers, and chuhais (flavored shochu). So keeping these extra bags with us allows us to use them specifically for these “souvenirs,” and we can simply ship the bag home or to the airport to avoid lugging it around (more on that later).
Compare our recommended packable/collapsible duffel bags to see which one is best for you:
- Gonex Packable and Foldable Duffel bag. → Click here to see.
- WANDF Packable and Foldable Duffel bag. → Click here to see.
- Canway Packable and Foldable Duffel bag. → Click here to see.
2. Use packing cubes.
Packing cubes are the single best investment we’ve ever made in travel. We bought a set several years ago and haven’t traveled without them since. Packing cubes serve the purpose of organizing, separating, and compressing your clothes.
You’d be amazed at how much more you can fit into your 60L bag with proper organization. We have two different colored sets, which lets us quickly distinguish whose bags are whose, so you don’t need to tear all the clothing out of the bag to find that one pair of socks you like!
If traveling in the winter (or if you just want more space), consider using compression packing cubes. As with the above cubes, they allow you to better organize your travel bags, but also offer zipper compression to compact the clothing even further. They’re perfect for sweaters and down jackets, which are notorious space hogs.
- BAGAIL Packing Cubes (BEST VALUE!) → Click here to see.
- eBags packing cubes. → Click here to see the classic set or here for the large-sized.
- Shacke packing cubes. → Click here to see.
- Gonex Compression Packing Cubes. → Click here to see.
Japanese Bullet Train (Shinkansen): Luggage space rules, tips, and recommendations
If you’re going to ride bullet trains in Japan, it’s important to know how to properly store your bags and luggage properly.
1. Dedicated luggage storage space. Some bullet trains have a dedicated luggage storage space. However, the official rules only allow you to store two pieces of luggage in this storage space.
Each piece of luggage must be under 250cm (98 inches) of the total height, width, and length and with a maximum weight of 30kg.
During peak season there’s a competition to get this space and a train attendant will label your luggage matching it against your shinkansen ticket. If they find a piece of luggage that’s unlabeled or unattended, they will remove it and drop it off to the next station! While this sounds harsh we’ve never actually seen it happen yet.
2. Storage space behind the last row seats. There’s also extra storage space behind the seats of the last row.
For security reasons and convenience, only for the passengers sitting in the last row seats are supposed to use it.
MAY 2020 NEW RULE: For storage space behind the last row seats, starting in May 2020 those looking to travel with oversized luggage, with overall dimensions over 160 cm/62 inches, on the Tokaido Shinkansen will need to reserve specific seats in order to store them.
According to the JR website, you may still travel on the train without the reservation, but you will be charged an additional 1,000 yen fee for each bag and the luggage will need to be stored in space designated by the conductor.
This new rule does not apply to musical instruments, sports equipment, wheelchairs or strollers, but finding storage for these things can be a bit difficult. For more information refer to the JR website here:
3. Overhead rack. For luggage smaller than 160 cm –roughly the same size as carry-on luggage on a plane– you can make use of the overhead storage rack. If the train is particularly crowded this space can be at a premium, which is another good reason for compact luggage while traveling in Japan.
4. In front of your legs. As I said, the overhead rack could fill up pretty fast, and there is basically no space beneath the seats for luggage. In this case, you’ll be forced to keep the bags on your lap or in front of your legs.
Fortunately, the legroom is spacious in a shinkansen, but keeping your luggage there may make your ride a bit uncomfortable if you have larger bags.
NOTE: If you’re getting close to your destination station, you must stand up to prepare to get your luggage. Japanese people move fast and the trains are on strict schedules, so you need to pay attention to quickly get off the train or the door will close on you, causing a ton of problems.
Japanese’s Secret to Traveling Luggage Free
If you’re an observer like me, you’ll notice that Japanese people seem to travel nearly luggage free to and from the airport. That’s because they utilize a service called Ta-Q-Bin, a luggage forwarding service.
How does this work?
Basically, you just drop off your luggage at “hands-free” counter in an airport, 7-eleven, or your hotel concierge, and have it forwarded to your next destination.
Delivery is usually within 1-2 days.
There are plenty of other great travel bag options out there, but these are the ones that stand out to us as being perfect for Japan travel.
This list may change in the future as new bags are released, but for now, I hope you find this information helpful in your decision-making process.
Here’s to a great Japan experience & adventure!
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
→ What to really pack for your trip to Japan (travel checklist guide)