July 29, 2017

The Luggage Problem

Wheeling a giant suitcase through the streets of Japan is a big no no but this guide will show you what to do with all your stuff while visiting.

A main points at a mountain of luggage in Japan that he regrets he brought

It’s a common scenario. You’ve just arrived in Japan (or in a new destination) and want to start exploring but it’s still too early to check-in to your hotel or Airbnb. Alternatively, check-out for the previous place was at the ungodly hour of 10 AM but your transportation onward doesn’t depart until much later in the day. Talk about a massive headache!

Unbeknownst to most first time travelers, the problem of what to do with baggage is one of the most daunting challenges that they will face. While hotel check-ins in Japan usually start around 3–4 PM, some places will let you to leave your luggage before. Doing so is often the least painful option but it can often be inconvenient due to location (if it’s even allowed).

A man exits the ticket gate at Ueno Station with a suite case in tow

What’s a traveler supposed to do? Contrary to what you might think, carrying around large luggage while exploring the city is not a particularly good idea. In the crowded streets where people are going about their daily lives, you’ll only end up slowing down pedestrian traffic.

Bringing large luggage (including big backpacks) inside shops can be hazardous too as it can prevent other customers from easily navigating the store. Even worse, your bags can accidentally knock over merchandise or displays. If this weren’t enough, the scruffy, sweaty backpacker look might very well be one of the few fashion trends that will never be considered cool in Tokyo.

So what do you do when you’re burdened with baggage but don’t want to waste half of a precious day waiting until you can move it to somewhere else? Fear not! While you may not realize it, you are far from alone in your plight. Japan’s got your back on this one!

Enter Japan’s Amazing Coin Lockers

A man walks by a bunch of coin lockers at a major Japanese train station

Believe it or not, many Japanese also frequently need to stow bags or luggage. In fact, it’s something so common that every major train station as well as many smaller stations and metro stations have coin lockers available. In large train stations, sometimes there are lockers both inside and outside the ticket gates.

There are typically a range of two to three locker sizes available, including sizes big enough to hold a large suitcase. Most of these are coin lockers and only accept 100 yen coins, but some high-tech lockers also accept payments via your IC cards. Look at the signs around the station for the words “Coin Lockers” or ask a station staff for assistance if you can’t find any signs indicating their location.

Several rows of coin lockers at a train station in Japan

In high-density areas, especially shopping districts, there are often even more coin lockers available outside of the train station area. In some cases, the base charges can start very cheap and incrementally increase every 3 or 6 hours (whereas the ones inside the station are a flat rate for the day). If the lockers in the train stations are all full by the time you find them, you may still be in luck outside of the station.

At Shibuya Station, for example, you can find a large number of coin lockers around the Dogenzaka and Center Gai shopping street areas. Shinjuku and Akihabara also have lockers outside of the station area as well

Larger Loads When Traveling in Japan

A man struggles to carry a ton of large suitcases

Got a bigger bag but don’t know what to do with it? Tokyo Station offers a cloak room service which accepts luggage up to 2 meters in length and 30 kg in weight. At a cost of 600 yen per piece, this is not a bad option for the big stuff. You can find the cloak service reception in Tokyo Station at the JR East Travel Service Center.

The Travel Service Center is located near the Marunouchi North Entrance but just ask a station attendant if you get lost. Bear in mind that they are only open until 8:30 PM, so you will need to pick up your stuff before then.

If you’re not in the Tokyo Station vicinity or if you need to keep your luggage somewhere until a bit later, Sagawa Express offers a similar service at several of its locations.

Rows and rows of manga in a Japanese manga cafe

If neither of these locations are convenient for you, it’s time to get creative. One potential option can be to use an manga or internet cafe. The downside is that these require membership and can be tricky for travelers. Most places will accept your passport but some may still require you to provide an address or phone number in Japan.

On the bright side though, you can buy cheap package deals which give you a private cubicle, computer/internet, free drinks, and even access to a shower room sometimes. Additionally you do not need to stay for the entirety of your purchased time. As long as you notify the front desk staff, you can come and go as you please!

Just be forewarned that this is not as secure of a way to store your items and I would personally not recommend leaving something extremely valuable in an unattended cubicle. There are combination-lock safes in some of these places to store valuables but they tend to be only for small items.

If you’ve checked out of your hotel in the morning and have quite a number of hours before your flight or onward transportation, this can be a really great option because you will have a conveniently-located place to come back to and relax whenever you want, have free soft drinks, and even grab a quick shower before you head off.

With their large selection of manga and Japanese magazines, it may also be a good chance for you to peruse some of the pop culture publications you may have found yourself curious about.

Crowdsourcing Your Luggage Problems

A tourist giver her bag to a woman dressed in a kimono via the ecbo cloak service

Before ending, I also want to introduce another ingenious alternative means of storage that I’ve recently discovered called ecbo cloak. This service connects people with stuff to stow and shops that have the empty space to store it. You can search and reserve your nearest luggage storage space online so there is no more need to look for open lockers or luggage storage counters. Furthermore, you are able to store large-size bags that would not fit inside lockers too. This is a great option for things like snowboards, ski equipment, instruments, strollers, etc.

Though priced similarly to coin lockers at only 300 yen per day, ecbo cloak has a lot more going for it. For one, unlike with other unmanned options, they have dedicated customer service representatives should you ever need support. What’s more, ecbo cloak has strict standards for the shops it lists and even goes as far as offering insurance in case something happens. You’ll find ecbo cloak shops all over Japan. But, as you might expect, the highest concentration of these are in the major metropolitan areas like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Okinawa, etc.