As people often ask how much luggage storage space there is on the Shinkansen trains, let me show you. Our suitscase who is doing the modelling is 85 x 55 x 30 cm including the wheels. If you try to put it in the overhead rack it sticks out by about 1/3 of the width, which is a little too much to be safe.
You can barely squeeze in a suitcase, and not all cars have this space. On some trains (a little newer) there is an actual luggage rack.
There are overhead racks, which are about as big as the onerhead storage in an airplane. And then there is a small storage space at the end of some cars.
The seats on the trains turn around so the riders always face forward, even when the train is going in the other direction. That means there is a space at the end of the cars behind the seats.
Then, there is a storage space behind the last row of seats. The tables do not move and it is very small. Those seats do not recline, since the tables are fixed. That is on the side with two seats. On newer trains the trays fold up, but the space is still limited.
On the other side of the aisle, where there are three seats, you can squeeze in a whelchair. Or two strollers.
And that is the sum of the luggage storage space in a Shinkansen car. No wonder most people prefer to send their luggage ahead.
This was one of several posts I have made about taking the train to get around Tokyo. I have written about the Japanese travel day, how to take a train in Tokyo, about the Shinkansen platform tickets, when you need a car in Japan, when flying makes sense over taking the train, what you need to think about when you take the Shinkansen, why Shinkansen is the best travel alternative, and what you should budget for your daily travel (kids under six travel free on Tokyo trains!). And I recently wrote about the rules for riding trains in Japan.
The Japanese winter is not really cold. At least not for someone used to the snow and cold of borthern Sweden. Which does not mean you and your kids can not get bad colds if you are not careful. You have to dress right.
In Japan, Uniqlo has a line of specially engineered clothes - Japanese high tech - that keep the heat close to the body and wicks away the sweat that would cool you off if it was allowed to stay on your skin. Ito Yokado, the department and supermarket part of the group that owns the 7-11 convenience stores, has a similar line of clothes. But while Uniqlo also has some clothes in childrens sizes using the HeatTech technology.
Uniqlo and H&M and all their competitors have clothes for a little bit bigger kids - toddlers and up. Not so much for babies in strollers. And stroller bags are unknown. The best you can do is most likely a blanket. If you have winter gear for your baby, you should bring it. If not, you need one of the specialized baby goods stores, or the department store baby departments. But the specialized baby goods stores are not located in the center, and the department stores are expensive. So if you have small kids the stores may not be much help. And watch the sizes. Our kids are five but "European size", which means they wear clothes intended for Japanese second graders.
Overheating the homes
In Japan, strangely enough for such a high-tech oriented country, thermostats often seem to have two settings only: Off and max. The Japanese traditional heaters worked that way, but that was more than two hundred years ago. Today the airconditioners in homes double as heaters, leveraging the heat pump in the air conditioner that takes the heat from the inside air and dumps it on the outside. They have very sophisticated sensors, and are able to direct the hot (or cold) air to the spots in the room where people are, achieving a comfortable temperature on the way.
But the normal way a home, or a hotel room, are heated is not that way.
In winter the train companies also switch on the heating beneath the seats. It is nice if you get wet in a rainstorm (or snowstorm), but it gets a bit too toasty on everyday trips. The seats can be uncomfortably hot, and you start worrying that your kids will burn their fingers.
The muffler winter wear
The Tokyo and Kyoto areas are about 5 degrees centigrade in winter, although the temperature can get up to 15 degrees. But if it snows then the temperature can go down to zero, even if it rarely drops below. It does not snow every year either.
Most people do not really put on winterwear, at least not compared to other countries. Heattech keeps you warm with a thin sweater or jacket on, and when you enter the overheated rooms you can take it off. Many people only wear a muffler for winter clothing.
The air-driven heater pads
Not everyone feels warm with only underwear and a sweater, or even a winter coat. If you are sensitive, or if you are going to be outside for more than a few hours, you will want a heating pad.
In Japan, you can buy heating pads in packs of ten or more. They are packed in an airtight bag, and when you open it the air starts reacting with the chemicals in the pad, and heat up. The pads are adhesive so they stick to your clothing, keeping you warm where you need it.
Just be careful if you put the pads on your children. They do get pretty hot, not enough to cause burns but enough to be uncomfortable if you do not have a few layers of clothing in between. If you put it in the stroller, put it under the seat pad so it becomes comfortably warm.
Winter fashion goods
Japanese people are as style-conscious as Italians, and design should not just be functional, it should be fun as well. But while old standbys are kept on market as long as they sell, every year sees a flood of novelties combining high tech and high design. It can be anything from hot water shoes (to keep your feet warm in the same way as a diver does, bu without getting wet), and USB-enabled socks and mittens with built in heaters. To find the novelty goods, go to Tokyu Hands, a big department store that specializes in home goods and DIY supplies.
Did you like this post? I have written about the five seasons of Japan before, what to do on a rainy day in Tokyo, about seasonal activities you can do in Tokyo, and the Japanese travel year (very much weather related).
If you want to find out more about my upcoming books about traveling to Japan with children, go to the book
Onboard the trains, both private and those run by JR, there is a number of rules you should follow. These are not unwritten rules – on the contrary, there are posters in the stations and the trains telling you how to behave on the trains, and stickers to remind you to give up the “silver seats”, as the seats reserved for elderly, people with disabilities, and parents with babies are known.
Make sure your children sit still (and do not put their shoes on the seats). Running about is not only disturbing other passengers; since they do not understand Japanese, they will not understand announcements declaring that the train is stopping suddenly, or that the train is about to change tracks. Small children can fall and hurt themselves
The first rule of inconvenience
The first rule in Japan, as always, is not to inconvenience others. Babies screaming loudly and children playing around and making noises are inconveniences. At least make an effort to hush them. Make sure to take off their shoes before they put their feet on the seats, and make sure they do not bump into others. Talking loudly on the phone is another inconvenience for others – the Japanese invented the “manner mode”, the ringtone mute function, on phones so that it should be quiet on trains. Playing music that spills out from the headphones so others can hear it is another inconvenience you had better avoid.
So is pushing other people with your huge rucksack or bag. When the train is crowded, it is better to keep the backpack in front. Unless you are wearing your baby there. But bringing lots of luggage onto the train is going to make it hard for others to move around and finds seats, and so it is better to avoid.
Do not even try to pick it up
If you frop something on the track, do not risk your life trying to retrieve it. Even if it is your childs favorite toy and she is screaming blood murder. Get the staff and ask them to pick it up for you. They know the timing of the trains and they have a really long thing with a grip at the end that quickly gets whatever it is off the tracks. Japanese subways do not have a third rail (at least not in Tokyo) but the trains can not stop if someone is on the tracks, so do mot risk it. Especially not for a stuffed toy.
If you mslay something on the train, you can be certain that it will be in the lost-and-found office the next day. If you forgot something on the train that just left, the staff may be able to ask the staff at the next station to pick it up and hold it for you. Japanese service is like that.
Line up properly
Lining up in a proper line in front of the train doors, and letting people get off the train before you try to enter, is another positive behavior you will find advertised on posters around the stations. So is making sure to line up behind the yellow line. This line is often paved with studs for blind people to feel with their white canes, so try to stand behind it. If you have a toddler you may want to make sure they hold your hand, as they may run around or cross the line to see the oncoming trains. This can be quite dangerous if the station does not have platform doors, since stations are often passed by express trains on the track closest to the platform (there may only be one), and this can mean they are pulled along by the wind from the passing train. It can happen to strollers too, so make sure to have a good grip and stand it at an angle to the platform edge.
Yielding to children
Once you get on you may find people yield their seats to your children (but not to you). But in the morning and evening, the manners of tired commuters go out the window, and they may even grab the seat before you instead of giving it up. To say something would be to shame them publicly though and that is even more impolite. Instead, do like the Japanese do: Stand in front of the seat you want them to give up, and make your children make a show of how tired they are, without directly asking the person. This may seem strange to you, but in Japan it is perfectly normal, since once you are in the seat, it is yours until you give it up. Regardless of the rules. But if the need of the person in front of you is bigger, then Japanese will feel they have to comply.
Careful with smartphones
There are huge signs in the station warning you against walking and texting. Apart from people who are drunk on their way home from parties, this must be one of the biggest dangers on the crowded and narrow train and subway platforms. And in the trains it is a nuisance too, as in the picture above. Not bothering others is the golden rule when it comes to smartphone usage on Japanese trains, like everything else.
Careful with strollers
When you bring a stroller you can usually put it close to the seats, but be careful not to block the door for people getting on or off. And do not block the door between the cars for people who are going through. If your child is asleep, you can keep her in the stroller. If you take her up, try to keep her quiet, as being quiet onboard the train is one of the rules written on the signboards in the stations, and featured in (often humorous) posters declaring that you should not chat loudly, talk loudly on your mobile phone, or generally disturb other passengers.
Get the silver seats
When bringing a stroller, you should look for the sign at the step which says where the silver seats are. They are usually in the ends of each car, and the seats themselves are a different color. Chances are that if you bring children in a stroller, you will get a seat there. But you may also want to check if there is a wing sign (羽) since that means the air conditioning is weaker in that car. In summer, Japanese tend to turn the air conditioning up high, and while the air is no warmer than in other cars, you do not have to put your babies in a cold wind if you choose those (the character in this context does not mean wings, but weak).
There is one thing to remember about taking trains in Japan, and especially in the big cities, that is not written anywhere on the trains or stations. It is that you should not even try trying to take trains and subway during morning rush hour. This is when people try to squeeze on the trains and the staff attempt to make sure their limbs and luggage are not sticking out and blocking the doors so they can not close. Give the trains a miss between 7 AM and 9:30 AM on working days.
No eating but drinking is allowed
A rule that actually is unwritten is that you should not eat on the trains. Generally, eating in Japan is a much more disciplined activity than eating in many other countries, both because of the crowded circumstances and because of the Japanese attitude to eating, which involves eating only when you have your own private space. This does not apply to small children who are excempted from most rules anyway.
Drinking is allowed, including alcoholic drinks, but in moderation. And there are no toilets on the local trains if you drink too much. There may be some on the long-distance lines that cross Tokyo on their way to somewhere els, but unless you specifically boatded such a train, you have no guarantees.
Things to remember about taking the train
☐ Do not take the train between 7 AM and 9:30 AM during working days. It is too crowded to travel with children.
☐ Put your phone in “manner mode” (the ring signal on mute) and do not talk on the phone. And do not walk and text. It is even more dangerous than walking and talking.
☐ Always let passengers get off before you get on.
☐ Offer your seat to the elderly or infirm.
☐ Take off your backpack or wear it in front, so you do not bump into other passengers.
☐ Find the car with the weak airconditioning.
☐ Avoid bringing heavy luggage onto the train, do like the Japanese and send it ahead.
☐ Do not speak loudly to others in your party or on the mobile phone.
☐ Do not eat on the local trains. Drinking is OK. Small children are excempt from the rule.
☐ If your kids play on the seats, take off their shoes.
☐ If you drop something on the tracks, call the station staff.
☐ Try to keep your kids quiet. That babies scream is unavoidable, but try to make your toddlers be quiet.
This was one of several posts I have made about taking the train to get around Tokyo. I have written about the Japanese travel day, how to take a train in Tokyo, about the Shinkansen platform tickets, when you need a car in Japan, when flying makes sense over taking the train, what you need to think about when you take the Shinkansen, why Shinkansen is the best travel alternative, and what you should budget for your daily travel (kids under six travel free on Tokyo trains!).
Did you find this interesting? You have actually been reading a chapter from my upcoming book, Bring Your Babies To Tokyo, about how to navigate the Japanese capital with kids in a stroller - all based on our personal experiences from getting out and about in Tokyo with one twin jogging stroller and one umbrella stroller.
If you are interested in getting monthly updates about travel in Japan, information about upcoming events, and how to prepare for the season, subscribe to my newsletter. I wrote a special post about what you will get - last month, I promised all the subscribers then 50% off my upcoming book. I may not always be able to be so generous, but you will get additions to the book, planning guides, and much more it you subscribe.
Yesterday, the Cabinet put a law before the Parliment making the day of ascension to the Imperial throne of the Crown Prince a public holiday. And the following day will also be a holiday. So now it is official: the Japanese will suddenly have Golden Week holiday from April 27 to Monday 6 in 2019. And this is on top of the governement mandate to take five days of paid holiday every year. But it will revert to more normal holidays in 2020. Unless the government declares holidays for the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Golden Week was already the preferred holiday week of the Japanese people, mostly since it meant taking three days off to get five days leave . Some years only
two days. But this year, the government is giving everyone a present: An entire vacation week. For families, three days extra pay is nothing to sneeze at, even if they will have to take it out as salary in April the year after.
Why is Japan changing emperor?
The current emperor is really old. He has ruled since 1989, and is 84 years old now. People get tired and frail at that age. Our grandma spends most of the time watching TV. I am pretty sure the Emperor would do the same, but he is going around the country visiting his people, meeting foreign ambassadors, dining with visiting heads of state, and so on. He did a fantastic job supporting people after the Great Northeast Japan earthquake, that led to the Fukushima disaster. You can see that he wants to retire.
The throne accession day
Akihito, the current emperor, will step down on April 30, the day after the holiday that celebrates his father, usually known as Hirohito in the West but the Showa emperor in Japan. His son Naruhito will take over on May 1. Making May 1 a holiday means both April 30 and May 2 become holidays, since they are sandwiched between other holidays. So suddenly the entire week is a holiday, and ending with a long weekend.
The ascension ceremony is not until October, so there will be an extra holiday then.
So what does it mean for tourists?
Much as it pains me to say so, you should not come to Japan between April 27 and May 6. It will be crowded everywhere. Worse than usual, and that was already crowded, as I have written about before. If you can, go after May 6. Then everybody will be at work, and the hotels and especially the ryokan will be empty, more or less. However, museums will be open (it is part of their job as educational institutions), and temples and shrines will not close. Stores will likely keep open, as people on vacation shop more than people at work. Trains will most likely run normal schedules, but there will not be any rush hours, different from the ordinary working days I have written about before.
50 % Off Afterwards
If the potential crowds and full hotels are not enough to make you less interested in coming during Golden Week 2019, here is something plenty of people have pointed out: The prices in hotels after May 6 are half, or even less than half. That is pretty stunning and tells you that May will be a very good time to visit Japan, especially as it is sandwiched between Golden Week and the rainy season. With great weather and small crowds. What is there no to like?
Every shopping street with visitors from outside the area has at least one: A stand where not only do they make crackers in front of your eyes, toast them over a fire and dip them in soy sauce and add spices - if they want it.
They are making senbei (せんべい), the Japanese rice crackers. When you are walking down the shopping street you can buy one fresh off the grill, dipped in soy sauce and crackling as it dries.
Rice snack from rice flour
Senbei is a Japanese favorite snack, and there are lots of variations. Different from other rice snacks, they are made from rice flour. The beaten dough made from glutinous rice called mochi is different. There are senbei made from mochi too, grilled or fried, like a kind of popcorn without the corn.
Dipped in soy sauce
But the regular version is made from rice flour dough. It is kneaded and beaten to a flat disk, about half a centimeter thick and ten to twelve centimeters in diameter. And dipped in soy sauce, sprinkled with a seasoning, and dried quickly. There are wet kinds, which are soft and squishy, but senbei are commonly hard - as crackers.
Many sprinkled seasonings
The main flavor may be soy sauce, but the seasonings sprinkled on top can be spicy, or salty, or sweet. Or citrus, from the Japanese yuzu fruit. There are senbei with sesame seeds or beans baked into the dough, and those lightly dipped or soaked in soy sauce. And there are other kinds which are not round, but shaped like sausages or squares or other shapes, and which are seasoned with soy sauce absorbed by the senbei. You want to be careful with the red pepper ones. Your kids will not like them.
Supermarket senbei section
Most Japanese supermarkets have a whole section of different senbei, because there are a huge number of manufacturers. Most of them are basically the same, but different people have different favorites. The cheapest kind are the "waresenbei (われせんべい )", which have been broken during manufacturing. Nothing wrong with the taste, but they are half price compared to the unbroken ones.
Crunchy yet chewy
Senbei are great snacks, especially if your children has just got their full set of teeth. They are crunchy when you bite into them, and they are chewy once you have got them into your mouth. They contain neither sugar nor fat but the soy sauce dip gives them "umami" flavor, just like meat. And they are cheap - you can get a big bag for around 200 yen.
Was this helpful? If you liked it, I have written about the 10 foods your children will ask for more of in Japan, kids menus in family and other restaurants, how much it costs to visit Japan, and of course about picking strawberries in Tochigi. If you want more, I am working on a guidebook for families coming to Tokyo. Follow my progress and get discount cupons by signing up to my newsletter below.
Welcome so much everybody! This week I had 1002 visitors. Glad you enjoy it, because there is already a lot to enjoy - and you can tell me what I should write about next.
It is so gratifying to see people interested in my sharing our experiences from traveling in Tokyo and Japan, and especially when people comment on my blog posts. Please keep the questions coming.
What can you expect more from this blog?
As I am getting closer to publishing my first book (well it is the third under my own name actually, but it is the first that builds on this blog), I am trying to spin out content from the book into the website. The book does not contain any website links - why bother with telling you things you can google yourself? And there is another goid reason not to put links in anebook: It disrupts the reading. But I know people want those links, so I will be putting them on a special web page.
More travel tips from outside Japan
As you probably have seen, we make one big trip every year. Not yet decided where to go next year, although Australia, Belgium, and Tahiti are on the shortlist. But we need to figure out when we can go and if we can get any vacation. As you may have seen the Golden Week in Japan next year will be a sequence of consecutive holidays - from April 24 to May 6 will be time off. For everyone exept store clerks and people in the hospitality industry, who will be extremely busy when families try to figure out how they should socialize when they are forced together.
More travel tips from inside Japan
We have traveled a lot more with our kids than I have written about here, and sometimes we make experiences next to home that can be valuable to you too. Japan is fascinating but there are many rules (written and unwritten) you need to follow. Especially off the beaten track. I will never forget the afternoon I spent in the rotenburo in an onsen in Gunma with a local Buddhist priest. He must have been in his 60's - but I was the first foreigner he had ever spoken to.
Paths that untrodden are hard to find. But there are many experiences that are uniquely Japanese that you can have even in Tokyo. And many more which have been slightly sanitized for tourist use. Even in Japan the customs of one part of the country seem strange to another. To say nothing of the food.
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I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.