Hi! I am Sakura, just an ordinary Japanese mom living in Japan.
Today I will tell you everything you need to know about using the shinkansen (bullet train) with a baby stroller, or pram.
If you want more information on taking the shinkansen with kids, see my other post too: REAL Tips on Using the Shinkansen With Kids. I’ve written about kids shinkansen fees, best seats for families, and bunch of other useful tips!
Are strollers allowed on the shinkansen?
The first question you might have is “Are strollers allowed on the shinkansen?”. The simple answer is yes, it is allowed. However there are several manners and etiquette you should know before boarding.
The most important manner is to make sure the stroller does not get in other people’s way. In Japan, people are strict about behavior and noise. Making sure you don’t get in other’s way is considered “common sense”. And this applies to kids and families too.
So it is wise to be careful with how you treat the stroller on the shinkansen. Most importantly, never block the aisle or the door with the stroller. Don’t put the stroller in other people’s seats. These are the most important manners you should remember.
Where to park a stroller inside shinkansen
If we can’t put the stroller on the aisle, then where can we park the stroller? Unfortunately, there is no stroller-specific parking area inside a shinkansen. However, there are several luggage storage sports that can be used for strollers too.
1. Behind the last row seats
The best spot to store your baby stroller is behind the last row. If you fold your stroller, you can fit it inside this area. Note that other passengers will use this space too to store luggage.
The problem with this space is that it is first come first served. So, you cannot always rely on this space. Also, if you store your stroller on the far end and someone else stores luggage after that, you may have difficulty pulling the stroller out when you get off.
2. By your foot (leg room)
If you have a simple traveling (portable) type of stroller, you would be able to fold it and keep it by your foot when you seat. It will not be comfortable, but it’s nice to keep the stroller near you.
3. Keep it in the deck area
The deck (デッキ、dekki）are the space between the shinkansen cars. It has vending machines, public phones, and bathrooms. This is like a mini hallway where people can walk around.
The deck area is spacious enough that an open stroller will not bother other passengers. So if your baby is asleep in the stroller and you need to keep it open, stay in the deck area! But it is important to note that you are not allowed to leave the stroller here by itself. An adult needs to be there with it. Never leave a stroller (even without a baby) in the deck unattended!
5. Use the wheelchair space
The most popular space among Japanese moms (I’m saying ‘mom’ here because in Japan, it is usually the moms that do all the research concerning kids), is the last seats in the #11 car (11号車、 ju-ichi gousha）. As I mentioned in REAL Tips on Using the Shinkansen With Kids, this #11 car is a wheelchair and handicapped priority car. And there are 2 wheelchair space available, seats 12A, 12B, 13A, and 13B.
These are priority seats, but if there is no wheelchair or handicapped passenger on board, anyone is allowed to use it. It means that if you reserve these seats, you can keep your stroller opened next to you.
However, you must remember that these are handicapped priority seats, not baby priority seats. You may not be able to reserve these seats until the last minute, so make sure you check at the counter. Also, if a handicapped person comes on board after you make a reservation, you may need to give up your seat.
These seats are very useful but not 100% reliable.
Do’s and don’ts for strollers in shinkansen
1. Don’t bump into people! Watch where you’re pushing the stroller. Shinkansen station platforms can be very crowded and busy. Be careful not to run into another person with the stroller (it really hurts). If you accidentally bump into someone, apologize! Stop and say “Sumimasen” （すみません、meaning I’m sorry or Excuse me). If you need to pass behind someone, say Sumimasen as you pass, to let that person know you are moving close with a stroller. I know, it’s pretty strict. But this is Japan and not everyone likes strollers
2. Do give yourself plenty of time to prepare boarding! Shinkansen is very long and it may take time to move from the elevator to the shinkansen car. Also give plenty of time to get off. Shinkansen doors close quite quickly, so if you are too late to catch your luggage, open the stroller, get the baby on the stroller, and start moving to the door exit, the door might close!
3. Do keep an eye on your stroller! Even if you decide to store your stroller away from your seat, check to make sure everything is okay couple of times during the ride. Japan is generally safe and it is unlikely that it will be stolen, but it is not impossible. Also a good idea to check your stroller hasn’t fallen down or moved into someone else’s area.
4. Don’t park the stroller on the aisle! Shinkansen aisles are narrow, and just enough for one adult to pass through. If a stroller is parked, other passengers can’t walk though. Even after the shinkansen starts moving, there will be many passengers walking across the aisle to go to the deck, move between cars, buying drinks, and so on. Snack carts (like food carts in a plane) will be moving through, as well as the station crew to check tickets and support passenger. Moreover, the stroller in the aisle is extremely dangerous in case of emergency.
5. Do consider using the baby carrier instead of a stroller! It will be a lot easier to move around in crowded areas. Some touring sights have stroller rentals. Check out some stroller rental companies too, like the ones I have introduced in Guide to English-friendly online baby stroller rental sites in Japan.