Idol events can be very expensive and I’ve spent way too much on them. If you’re going to Japan and you’re interested in seeing your favorite idols or checking out some new groups, you might be wondering how it will fit in your budget. Well, never fear…I can help! Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to spend less and get more for your money as an idol fan in Japan.
Before I get started, I should clarify that this guide is geared towards smaller groups. If you want to see groups like AKB48 and Morning Musume, you’re probably going to be spending boatloads of money. That being said, some of these tips still apply for larger groups, so you might find something useful anyway.
Tip #1: Reserve
When you go to an idol live, after you walk in the door, staff members will collect your money and they might ask you a question in Japanese. If you don’t know Japanese, you will probably be freaking out, but they are most likely asking you if you reserved, which group you reserved with, and the name you reserved under. Reserving can be a little difficult, but it’s definitely worth it! Not only is it beneficial for you, it’ll help your favorite group get better timeslots, more events, and more money.
To reserve, you typically go to a group’s Twitter or website and they will have a reservation page.
Here’s an example, using Dear L mana’s reservation form. First, you check the event or events you want to go to.
Then you fill out your name, number of tickets, and email address.
You don’t have to use your real name, you can use a nickname if you’d like.
Easy, right? If you’re having trouble figuring out what the form is asking, Google Translate is your friend.
Anyway, reserving usually gets you 500-1000 yen off the ticket price. It can also get you benefits with the group you reserved for. Many groups will give you free chekis (Polaroid pictures), messages, or merchandise if you reserved with them. Again, it will probably say on the group’s Twitter or website what these bonuses are, but if you don’t know, try going up to the group’s merchandise table and saying you reserved (reservation is “yoyaku” in Japanese).
Some groups won’t give you a bonus for reserving, others throw in a bonus for important or expensive events, and there are some that always have good bonuses. It might be a little disloyal (since it’s beneficial for your favorite group for you to reserve with them), but you might want to consider reserving with a group you’re not as big of a fan of if they have better bonuses. For example, Dear L mana usually gives free chekis and Playballs almost always gives a free ticket (not sure about now, but a year ago, two tickets got you an unsigned cheki and three a signed cheki). If you didn’t reserve and act really confident that you did, most places will just write your name down and give you the cheaper price. It’s a little unethical and I’m not necessarily advocating that you do it, but I’m just throwing that out there.
Tip #2: Get to the venue early
At events with a lot of groups, you will usually get 500-1000 yen off the ticket price if you get there before the first group starts. Usually, this means you’ll have to get there at about 10:30 for an afternoon show or about 4:30 for an evening show. Some venues have free re-entry, so even if you’re not a fan of the earlier groups (typically the popular groups are at the end), you might want to consider getting there early for the cheaper price and then leaving to explore or get some food. On that note, make sure to ask if a venue has re-entry (sainyuu) before you leave, because if it doesn’t, you’ll have to pay the full admission price to get back in, which really sucks. At some events, to re-enter you don’t have to pay the full admission price, but you have to buy another drink ticket (which will run you an additional 500 or 600 yen).
Tip #3: Be a girl or a student
Girls and students often get cheaper (or even free!) admission. If you’re claiming to be a student, they will probably ask for your student ID. I imagine using a foreign student ID would be difficult, but you could give it a shot. Groups will also sometimes do exclusive lives that are only open to girls.
If you’re a girl, FES☆TIVE’s regular Twinbox lives are a great deal. They usually have a regular live the 2nd and 3rd Monday of every month at Twinbox in Akihabara, where entry is free for girls. If it’s your first time (hajimete), you can tell the people at the merchandise table and you will get a free cheki with the girl of your choice. It’s not a bad deal for guys either if it’s your first time (entry is 1500 yen + a 500 yen free drink and the aforementioned free cheki).
Girls can occassionally get cheaper chekis, too. Ikoku no Palpitante chekis are normally 1000 yen but, for girls, they’re 500. Simiarly, Starmarie chekis are usually 2000 yen, but for girls, they’re 1000.
Tip #4: Bring along your passport
You should really be carrying around your passport anyway…well unless you’re a Japanese resident, but in that case, bringing a passport to idol events is still recommended because you can save money! Sometimes you can get free or cheaper entry to events if you show your passport. The place that seems to do this the most frequently is Shinagawa J-Square. For most of their idol events, you can show your passport and only have to pay 500 or 600 yen for a drink.
Tip #5: Go to Tokyo Idol Festival
This ties into the last tip, but it’s big enough that I thought it merited a tip of its own. Now, there are some valid reasons to avoid Tokyo Idol Festival. It’s in August and it’s mostly outside, so it gets very, very hot. It also draws insane crowds. However, almost every well-known idol group performs there and many lesser known groups do as well. The last couple years have been free for non Japanese citizens, as long as you applied with Tokyo Girls Update for tickets ahead of time. This is a great deal, since it’s such a huge and expensive event. There’s no telling if they’ll do the same deal next year, but they have the last couple years, so I think there’s a pretty good chance.
Tip #6: Go to CD release events
CD release events are held every day at big record stores and they’re almost always free! These usually consist of a half an hour live that you don’t have to pay for and afterwards, a handshake, item sign, and/or picture event, where you buy the group’s CDs in order to participate. During CD release events, oftentimes meeting the members of your favorite group is a little more expensive than usual. Also, these events are sometimes held before the CD is actually released and you have to go back to that store to pick up the CDs after the release date. If you leave Japan before then, you won’t be able to get the CDs. Still, it’s a free way to see a group you enjoy live. The three major record chains (Tsutaya, HMV, and Tower Records) in Shibuya almost always have some kind of release event going on, so it might be worth checking them out. At CD release events, you can usually take pictures or videos of your favorite group, but keep an eye out for any signs that say otherwise. They are often very busy, so if you want to be front and center, get there early.
Tip #7: Look around the venue for free stuff
At most idol lives, many groups will be selling goods at the same time. Some groups do free high fives or handshakes and some even do free pictures if it’s your first time. Prism Fantasia and atME both do free chekis no strings attached for first time customers. Dear L mana will also give you a free cheki if you’re a first time customer as long as you buy at least one along with it. Look around for signs that say “free” (無料) and you might be able to find something.
Tip #8: Look for free events on Twitter
Do you follow a lot of idols on Twitter? Try searching “無料” (free) and narrowing it down to the people you follow. That way, it’ll be easy to see any free events they’re having.
Tip #9: Bring drinks to the venue
This might be obvious, but even non-alcoholic drinks at idol venues are really expensive. At lives for big groups, your bags might be searched, but at underground lives, it almost never happens. Bring some of your drink of choice in and you won’t have to buy it at the bar. If you’re seeing Kamen Joshi or going to Tokyo Idol Festival, they’re really strict about checking bags, so this tip won’t work in those cases.
Tip #10: See lesser known groups
Another obvious tip, but with lesser known groups, you will generally get cheaper prices on everything and more talk time. The events might not necessarily be less expensive, but spending time with the idols definitely will.
Tip #11: Go to Alice Project (Kamen Joshi) events
It’s no secret that I used to be a huge Alice Project fan. I’m still a fan, but I have my issues with management and the way things are run. Talk time is also very short, despite Kamen Joshi’s status as an underground idol group. Issues aside, they have a lot of great deals.
Alice Project is the umbrella name for Kamen Joshi, Cerisier, and their trainee and sub-groups. There are lives every weekday at 5:45 and 8:15 in Tokyo and Osaka where, for 1500 yen, you get admission and 1500 yen worth of food and drinks. Water and popcorn are 300 yen, other drinks and snacks 600 yen, and curry 900 yen. The food is pretty mediocre, but where else can you can get an hour and a half idol live and meal for 1500 yen? In Tokyo, Kamen Joshi members are absent Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sunday mornings and afternoons, but you can see Kamen Joshi trainees, Alice Project’s other group Cerisier, and non-Alice Project idols performing.
They even have free lives on the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, there’s an hour long free live at 3 PM, with a free high five from all the members after. These lives are super busy and mostly filled with casual fans, but it’s still a great way to check the groups out. The Saturday free live is usually Kamen Joshi and Kamen Joshi trainees, while the Sunday free live is usually Cerisier and Cerisier trainees.
Normally wide sized chekis with a signature are 2000 yen, but if you take a picture with a girl who hasn’t been promoted to a unit yet (an “AJ”), it’s only 500 yen. Also, they have a tomodachi campaign (friend campaign) where if you bring friends and tell a staff member, everyone will get free CDs or other merchandise.
Every week on either Monday or Friday, the members of Pa-Ken and OZ join together to form a unit “Area Girls” at a ramen food court (Arearea) in Tachikawa and have two free live performances at 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM. If you buy ramen there and show the receipt to Alice Project staff, you’ll usually get some kind of free gift. The only downside is that Tachikawa is a bit outside of central Tokyo (about 45 minutes from Akihabara or 25 from Shinjuku). Still, it’s a good way to see idols for free, eat delicious ramen, and see a different part of Tokyo, so it’s not too bad. The Area Girls costumes are really cute, in my opinion, so that’s also a plus.
Tip #12: Go outside of Tokyo
Tokyo is where most people in Japan live, where most tourists visit, and where most idol groups are located. That’s not to say there are no idol groups in other areas of Japan, though. Every major city (and probably most small cities) has its own idol groups. From what I’ve heard, lives are typically quite a bit cheaper when you go outside Tokyo, which isn’t too surprising, since living in general is a bit cheaper.
Tip #13: Talk to other fans of the group
If you’re a talkative person, you might want to try to start up a conversation with the biggest fans of the group you like. Odds are, they’ll probably be excited a foreign fan loves their group and they’ll be happy to talk with you. Obviously, your average Japanese person only knows basic English, but if you keep it simple and try to use a little Japanese, most idol fans are pretty welcoming. Many times, the top fans of a group will have lots of extra merchandise and are more than happy to give it away. Plus, it’s fun to talk to other fans of the groups you love and they might be able to help you out if you’re having any problems.
Tip #14: Buy in bulk
If you want to get lots of pictures of a particular member or of several members in a group, you probably want to buy them all at once. Many groups have a deal where if you buy a certain amount (usually 10), you get them at a cheaper price or additional free pictures. FES☆TIVE is especially good with this. If you buy 10 chekis, you can choose to get an additional 3 free chekis or roll a die and get that many free chekis. Odds are better with the die, but getting only one free cheki kind of sucks, so it depends on how much you like to gamble.
Tip #15: Buy CDs, T-shirts, etc in person instead of online
If you want to get merchandise, like CDs or tshirts, you should try to buy it directly from the group in person instead of online (assuming it’s possible). The prices are usually cheaper in person and you’ll often get free chekis or some kind of other bonus.
That’s about it for my money-saving suggestions. It’s expensive seeing idols, but I hope this can help you out a little bit. Let me know if you have any tips of your own!