10/22/2012 07:18 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

Japan: Pack Heavy, Travel Light

For our recent trip to Japan, Jackie and I packed what seemed like a thousand pounds of clothes: We were stopping in London on the way (because we used some of our British Airways miles to fly in almost unbelievable first-class luxury and also to get over five hours' worth of jet lag), and our itinerary included summer-hot, urban Tokyo as well as several provincial towns where we expected the weather to be cooler and where we certainly didn't need dressy outfits.

That made for a heavy suitcase and a large-ish not-so-light carry-on. No problem when you check your bags in at the airport, wheel them to a bus or taxi and then let the hotel staff deal with them at the other end. But it's a big problem when you need to take a little local bus to a tiny railway station where you get a train to a slightly bigger railway station and catch another train. I was losing sleep over some of these connections -- especially since Japan's arcane "system" of private railways plying some of the routes means that you sometimes need to change not only platform but station to make your connection.

Then a woman who used to work for the Japan National Tourism Organization in New York told me that it is easy, inexpensive and totally reliable to have a suitcase (or a dozen suitcases) shipped overnight from your hotel in, say, Takayama to your hotel in, say, Kanazawa while you spend 24 hours in, say, Ainokura carrying nothing but a toothbrush and a clean pair of socks (vital in Japan, where shoes must be taken off at the threshold of many buildings).

As a New Yorker, I was skeptical, of course. First, it couldn't really be inexpensive, could it? Sending a 45-pound suitcase overnight by FedEx would surely cost more than your hotel room. And reliable? Hmmm... I was imagining walking around in the same clothes for days on end while I waited for our luggage to catch up with us. But our contacts all said that they do it all the time. One man who lives in a rural area said that his family of four never even carry their bags home from the airport after a long trip: they send them on and simply board a bus with free hands and pain-free backs.

So we tried it: All we did was ask the desk at our hotel to take care of it, and they did, adding the shipping fee to our bill. The fee is based on luggage size, and our full-size (26-inch) suitcase cost well less than $20 to send to our next destination -- and there was no supplement for Sunday delivery. We were even able to specify a delivery time (several windows available).

It worked, and that's all there is to say about that. We strolled around Ainokura, had a great dinner and a peaceful sleep, then got on the morning bus unburdened.

There are a couple of companies that offer this service, but the most commonly used is Yamato Transport, whose vans can be recognized by their cat-and-kitten logo (no, not Hello Kitty).

This system has changed our attitude to Japan travel: we'll be even more adventurous next time knowing that we can pack clothes for every occasion and almost never have to carry them.