Plus, the best alternative to lugging skis onto a crowded shinkansen

Riding a bullet train in Japan is something you absolutely have to tick off your traveller’s bucket list. It’s fast, clean, and extremely comfortable. What more could you want from public transport?

However, unless you’re planning to ride the train without any luggage, you’ll have to take into consideration JR’s new shinkansen rules. While they don’t change things too much, it’s important to understand them to make sure your ski trip runs as smoothly as possible.

Shinkansen, Japan

Japan’s famous shinkansen

What are the new Shinkansen rules?

In May 2020, a new rule was announced that means if any pieces of luggage between 160cm and 250cm needs to be brought onto the train, a prior reservation is needed. As a rule of thumb, any baggage you would usually check in for a flight should have an oversized seat reserved. Check out the JR Central website for a precise size guide.

To calculate the size of the luggage, use the following formula:

Height + length + width

Items over 250cm cannot be taken onto the train and will have to find an alternative method of transport to your final destination. If you’ve measured it and still aren’t sure, there will be luggage sizers at appropriate stations. In case you’re still confused, any member of staff at the JR station should be able to advise you on the best course of action. Each piece must also not weigh more than 30 kilos.

What does this mean for you?

While this might sound like it adds another layer of complexity to your travels, the actual effect it has on you may be fairly minimal. That said, there are still a few things you’ll need to know to ensure a hassle-free journey.

The route

It’s important to note that these rules only affect the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines. While that isn’t the main route for a lot of ski resorts, it’s still important to take into consideration if you’re traveling from further afield or need to get on the line at any point during your trip.

The reservation

The most important thing to remember is if you’re carrying oversized luggage, you’ll need to book an oversized luggage seat for the train in advance. This won’t cost you any extra money and is very easy to do, but if you forget you’ll have to pay a fine.

The fine is ¥1000 which, while not wallet-breaking, isn’t ideal. The main reason the new shinkansen rules have come into practice is because of the increasing number of passengers wo use the service. Having a specially reserved seat ensures that everyone will have a comfortable and quick journey, two words that have become synonymous with train travel in Japan.

Tickets can be booked up to one month in advance in a variety of ways depending on what suits you best. If you’d rather speak to a human being and have someone else take care of it, you can reserve your tickets at any JR Station via a ticket machine or member of staff.

If you’d prefer to get everything done digitally instead, you can book it through any online provider, and you should have the option to reserve an oversized baggage seat at the time of purchase.

Remember, there are just five seats that benefit from oversized luggage areas per car, so if it’s peak season, it’s best to book them in as quickly as possible. That said, the Japanese shinkansen come extremely frequently, so unless you’ve booked something specific like the Platt Kodama you may not have to wait long for the next train.

On the train

On most trains, the oversized luggage seat will be at the back, with a space behind the seat to put your luggage. This space is shared between 5 passengers, so be respectful and place your luggage where it fits and make sure it’s out of the way of the aisle.

Shinkansen seating

The oversized luggage seat will be at the back, with a space behind the seat to put your luggage

What about my skis?

Luckily enough for us, our ski equipment won’t be affected. Technically you can put your skis or snowboard anywhere, as long as it’s out of the way of passengers and not going to cause any problems. This is the same for other special baggage such as wheelchairs or other sports equipment.

Though, depending on the length of your journey you might be more comfortable reserving a seat. The choice is entirely up to you, however, if you’ve got skis to transport I’ll hazard a guess that you’ve probably got oversized baggage as well. More on the best way to deal with that later in the article.

How can I reserve a seat?

As I briefly touched upon earlier, reserving an oversized luggage seat on the bullet train is easy. Reservations can be made up to one month in advance either digitally or in person, whichever is most convenient for you.

I like to make sure I’ve done things properly, so going directly to a JR staff member is the option I would choose. As such, all I’d have to do is go up to a staff member at the ticket office and ask to reserve a seat with an oversized baggage area. Ticket machines also have an option with the same wording.

Shinkansen train station

Shinkansen reservations can be made up to one month in advance either digitally or in person, whichever is most convenient for you

What other options do I have?

If you find yourself with ski equipment, oversized bags, and a backpack, getting on the shinkansen with all your baggage isn’t going to be a pleasant experience. Especially if there are a lot of you who all need oversized seats.

If your ski holiday is taking you somewhere in Hokkaido, you’ll more than likely be catching an internal flight anyway, so what’s the best option for that? And is it worth paying for ski carriage on the airlines?

Well, you certainly could do but it’s never fun trusting the airlines with your kit. And lugging so much stuff through the airport and transfers on either side is a great way to add a load more stress to your holiday.

If you’re looking for the simplest, hassle-free way to get your ski gear from your home country (or even domestically in Japan) to Japan, TA-Q-BIN is my favourite option.

What is TA-Q-BIN?

TA-Q-BIN and International TA-Q-BIN are both services operated by Yamato Transport, a company which prides itself on being able to offer its customers ‘hands-free’ travel. How does it manage to achieve this? Simply fill out a form and have your ski gear (and luggage if you want) collected from your door and delivered straight to your hotel in Japan.

That means no more worrying about hiking through stations and airports with your luggage, and perhaps not even having to check your luggage in when you get to the airport. There’s nothing better than walking straight through security!

Ta-Q-Bin

TA-Q-BIN prides itself on being able to offer its customers ‘hands-free’ travel

If you’re going to any stations during your trip, which you likely will be, sending your skis and luggage through TA-Q-BIN is almost a necessity. Japanese train stations are not just incredibly crowded even at the best of times, but they’re also huge. Most of them that are located in a big city have an added shopping centre which, while great if you’ve got some spare time to kill, really isn’t going to be fun lugging all your luggage around.

Domestic TA-Q-BIN services only take a single day to collect your skis and luggage and deliver them to your hotel. Normally anything dropped off in the evening will be delivered by 10am the following morning which is honestly fantastic. However it’s always good to allow some wiggle room in the unlikely event things get delayed, so perhaps have your first-day exploring the local town.

By finding a TA-Q-BIN kiosk at either Narita or Haneda depending on where you’ve flown into, you can get all your things sent directly to your hotel while you take a leisurely journey to the resort. Perhaps you’ll want to spend your first day in Tokyo which is another popular option many skiers decide on if they’ve got time. Once you’ve finished your day and night in Tokyo, take the train or plane to your resort and all your baggage and skis will be waiting for you.

How long does international TA-Q-BIN take?

If you want to save yourself the stress and hassle of taking your skis through the airport, you could use international TA-Q-BIN which takes on average 6–0 days.

After suffering a huge rip down my Rossignol ski case from Etihad airways, I’ll be looking for other options for sure. I suppose I should have realised it wouldn’t be a totally smooth journey when they asked “What are skis?” as I handed them over what was apparently an alien-like package. Oh well, we live and learn.

In any case, all you need to do is fill out a few details, and Yamato Transport takes care of the rest.

Who Should Use TA-Q-BIN?

If you’ve got the money and want the smoothest journey possible, opt for the international TA-Q-BIN. Prices will likely work out similarly to airline ski carriage, but not having to lug your things through terminals and train stations is a big plus in my book.

The most common use of the TA-Q-BIN service will be to ship your skis and luggage domestically to and from your hotel and the airport in Japan. Whether you’re skiing in Hokkaido or Honshu, it’ll make the whole process easier. Plus, no one wants to get on a rush-hour train in Japan with ski bags and a suitcase.

While it’s perfectly possible to get on a shinkansen with your luggage and skis, the new Shinkansen rules may push passengers to choose alternative methods. For the amount of hassle shipping with TA-Q-BIN saves, I’m fairly certain it’s going to be the most popular alternative. I’ll certainly be using it this season!

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