Whilst living out of a suitcase or backpack is an inevitable part of your trip to Japan, there are a number of ways in which you can lighten your load when travelling from destination to destination – thus maximising your unemcumbered sightseeing time.
The first is fairly obvious: taking advantage of the hotel’s luggage storage facility to either drop your luggage off prior to check-in or hold on to it after you check out. You can make life a lot easier for yourself and avoid a long trek to your hotel with lots of luggage by making sure you book a hotel as near to the station as possible. There are none more convenient than the Japan Railways (JR) owned hotels which are located above major stations, including Kyoto and Hiroshima. I recently used JR Kyushu hotels in both Kagoshima and Nagasaki and they were both very nice, excellent value and extremely convenient. Other budget chains are always very close to stations, including Daiwa Roynet and Toyoko Inn.
It is also a good idea to make use of the coin lockers to be found in pretty much any train station. These come in various sizes, the largest of which will hold a suitcase or large backpack. Large lockers usually cost about 500 yen whilst the smaller ones are usually around 300 yen per day. Some like this one have integral change machines with instructions in English – very handy! It is also worth noting that train stations aren’t the only place you can find coin lockers. Bus stations, some tourist offices and many attractions also have lockers so you can look around unencumbered. This is such a boon and just many of way in which Japan rates highly as a tourist-friendly destination.
Be aware that you cannot leave baggage in lockers overnight. Also, numbers of the larger lockers are limited and you can never guarantee that one will be available when you need it, especially if you arrive later in the day. I went to Himeji recently and there wasn’t a single coin locker to be found in the entire station. So whilst coin lockers are very useful, there are no guarantees that you might not still end up having to haul your luggage around.
What my experience of travelling around in Japan has taught me is to take a small rucksack as well as my large suitcase for use on overnight or shorter side trips. This means that I can send my suitcase to my next major destination and have it waiting in my hotel when I arrive. This takkyubin service as it is called is an absolute godsend on a longer trip. Look for the sign of the black cat. Many convenience stores offer the service, but so do most hotels and it is much easier to sort it out right from your hotel reception. It then becomes literally a door-to-door service.
Like nearly everything else in Japan it is extremely efficient and I think it is good value for money. The cost depends on the size of your luggage and the distance you are sending it. Standard delivery is a next-day service, but you can also pay extra for express same-day delivery. To give you an example, I sent my large suitcase from Nagasaki in Kyushu to Kyoto for about 1,700 yen and from Kyoto on to Shizuoka for 1,300 yen. The form is in Japanese and looks a bit daunting but people will be only too happy to help – this is Japan after all. You just need the address (including post code) and telephone number of the hotel you want to send it on to.
In my case, the receptionist at the hotel filled in the form for me, I paid her the fee and the next time I saw my suitcase it was waiting for me in my Kyoto hotel room. Fantastic! This allowed me to take two-night side trip to the rural towns of Yufuin and Tsuwano without the hassle of large luggage. Typically I use this service two or three times during my trip especially when travelling to more remote locations, when one or more changes of train are required and/or when my hotel is some distance from the station. All these were true of my recent stay at a Buddhist temple in Mt Koya when I was very glad that I wasn’t hauling my suitcase around trains, cable cars and on to buses like many people I saw there. Rather, I was safe in the knowledge that it was on its way to my next destination. Believe me, takkyubin makes life so much easier and for me it is worth every penny.