Mistakes to avoid with Japan rail pass Shinkansen: we almost lost 400€
The Shinkansen train of Japan is worldwide known. It's one of the best trains in the world. It's extremely fast and extremely punctual with a maximum of a couple of minutes late per year on average! Once, we were taking one JR line train and it was 3 minutes late. In the google maps app it was already saying significant delays :D
However, it's not extremely easy to ride using the Japan rail pass and there are important mistakes that you should avoid. One of them happened to us and it took us 3 hours to get it fixed! That's why we want to summarize the mistakes to avoid with Japan rail pass when travelling with the Shinkansen and JR trains.
Mistake #1: forgetting your pass when you go through the machine!
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, apparently it happens much more often than expected and the worse is that if this happens you cannot do anything apart from buying a new one... Moreover, you will create a bunch of problems to the people behind you, which brings us to mistake #2, which is what happened to us...
Mistake #2: not checking whether the machine gives you your pass back when passing through the doors
The automatic machines that you have to go through when taking the Shinkansen or any JR train valid with the JR pass will in general not allow you to put in your pass if there is another that's still there! However, sometimes this does not happen. If somebody does mistake #1 you will basically pass through the gate and take the pass of another person! The person behind will take your pass, and so on. This happened to us at Himeji station and we basically took the JR pass of another person that was valid for only 7 days! However, our original pass was valid for 21 days, which was making us lose an entire week of the JR pass originally costing 400€... Luckily enough, we remembered where we booked the tickets (at Kyoto station) so we went back there. After 1h of queuing it was our turn to speak to the officers and they were checking the situation with a back and forth of google translate... and after 40 minutes they said we should go to another office where we bought the ticket within the same station because apparently each JR office operates differently. Then we had to queue there for 20 more minutes and then after 40 minutes the guy at the office could actually find that there had been an error in the machine of Himeji and that's where we exchanged our pass. Finally, after 20 minutes more he could issue us a replacement JR pass. It all took more than 3 hours and we were never sure whether we would get the JR pass back or not. So, please double check every time you go through the gates.
Mistake #3 not booking seats for the trains in advance
Not booking the seats for the trains. There are some trains that have restricted number of seats and only allow people having a reserved seat. The JR pass system is very old-faishoned and the "automatic" machines to reserve seats hardly ever work. So you will need to reserve the seats through a person and queue between 40 minutes and 1 h before it's your turn to do so. This means, that despite the trains being so fast and punctual, the system is so "manual" and "old-faishon" that you need to plan quite a lot of time in advance to book each train. We found that the best way to avoid waiting times is to book in advance for several days all the different trains you want to take during your stay in Japan. However, this is sometimes not possible because some trains are only bookable from some stations...
Mistake #4 Going to the false machines or the false counters
The queues for tickets are long, so the worse it can happen is that you're in the false queue. Before waiting at the queue just be sure whether this specific counter is for JR trains, for Shinkansen, for local train, or for metro. This is always written in Japanese only at the top of the counters, so it's difficult to identify as a tourist.