I remember my first few idol lives: I was excited, sure, but I was also nervous, confused, and had lots of questions. Well, I’ve been to a few mainstream idol events and a LOT of underground idol events and hopefully I can help! This is gonna be a pretty long post, so let’s get started!
If you’re going to a mainstream idol event, you probably won’t be able to buy tickets at the door or if you are able to, you’re going to end up in the very back. Really big groups usually have their own ticket center websites. AKB48 recently created an English Global Ticket Center site here, where you can apply from abroad both for their theater shows and big concerts. However, I’ve heard the English site isn’t very good and won’t let you apply for most things, so if you’re interested in seeing AKB, you should probably also check out their Japanese Ticket Center site here. If the group you’re interested in isn’t quite at that level, you can buy tickets at convenience stores or online. Buying tickets at a convenience store is the easiest method, but you’ll need to either be in Japan or have a friend that can help you. The ticket machines are in Japanese, but there are some guides online that will explain how to use them, like this one. You can also buy tickets online via Ticket Pia, Lawson Ticket, or eplus, however, you will need to print them out within a few days of ordering at a convenience store in Japan and either pay at a convenience store or with a credit card (foreign credit cards might not be accepted). Buying tickets online might also require SNS confirmation, which you would need a Japanese phone with text messaging capabilities to use.
So if you don’t live in Japan, you don’t have a Japanese phone, and/or your foreign credit card isn’t working, what can you do? Well, if you know and trust someone who lives in Japan, the best method is probably to send them money via PayPal and get them to buy tickets for you at a convenience store. If you don’t, there are a few services online that claim to be able to buy tickets for you. The main one I found is Japan Concert Tickets. Their services fees are pretty high, but they say they handle everything for you and ship the tickets to you in your home country. I personally haven’t used them, but I’ve talked to someone who has and he had a good experience and said the owner is very friendly. If you or any of your friends have used any other proxy services to get tickets, let me know!
Another method is to go to a resale shop. There are resale shops all over Japan where you can buy tickets to events as late as the day of the event. I’ve personally used Gorakudoh in Harajuku, a big shop on Takeshita Street that mostly deals in idol concert and handshake tickets. They have a lot of Hello! Project tickets, so if you’re interested in seeing H!P, it might be something to look into. The prices can be really high, but they can also be pretty reasonable, depending on how far in advance you buy them and how good the seats are. I bought okay seats (close to the middle, but a little far back) for a Hello! Project Kenshuusei recital there the day before the show and paid about the original price. Finally, you can try your luck getting tickets at the door. Obviously you won’t have a chance with groups like AKB48 or Morning Musume, but with other groups, I guess it never hurts to try. For example, I think the Tacoyaki Rainbow concert I went to in 2016 had same-day tickets available. Obviously the people who bought them had to stand way in the back, but they still got to see the show. I don’t personally have any experience with trying to get tickets for a popular group at the door, but I’d recommend getting there really early to increase your chances.
If you want to see underground idols and it’s not a huge graduation or birthday show, you’re in luck: reserve online if you can beforehand, but you’ll have no problem showing up without any sort of ticket at the door. In my previous guide here, I explain how to reserve online, so check that out if you’re confused. One thing to note is that in-store live events at record shops are almost always free, so you can just show up and watch without having to do anything special. They fill up fast, though, so get there early if you want to be towards the front.
Before You Go:
If you have a favorite member in the group you’re going to see, or if the group you’re going to see has a specific color associated with them, you’ll probably want a glowstick. Typically, you can’t buy these at lives (except in the case of some bigger groups that have their own glowsticks for sale), but you can buy them at almost any store that sells idol related goods or at Don Quijote.
Don Quijote is my personal recommendation and if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a discount chain store all over Japan that sells a wide variety of goods. There are fundamentally three types of glowsticks: multi-color LED glowsticks (King Blade is the most popular manufacturer), single color LED glowsticks, and chemical glowsticks (or cyalumes).
Most people use multi-color LED glowsticks, which will run you around 2500 yen or $25. These are battery operated, last for about 10 hours, and have ten or more colors you can cycle between. There’s a bunch of different types; the newer ones have more features with custom colors and things like that, but I personally think the older ones are easier to use and do the job just fine. I’ve heard from a few different sources that the King Blade X10 III, one of the new types of multi-color LED glowsticks, is unreliable, so I would recommend against that one. Single color LED glowsticks are the same except they’re a little cheaper (2000 yen/$20) and can’t change colors. They’re good for if you’re mainly going to see one idol or group, but if you’re planning to see many groups, they’re not very practical.
If you don’t want to spend 2000+ yen on a glowstick, you can get chemical ones, which are about 100 yen/$1 individually or you can get them at a discounted rate in bulk. To use them, you snap them in half and they’ll glow very brightly in the color shown on the package for about ten minutes. Usually you only see people using them at things like birthday shows where fan committees pass them out to be used at the end or during the birthday girl’s special solo, but I’ve used them in normal shows when I’ve forgotten my King Blades and the girls appreciate the support no matter what you use.
Most of the people there will be wearing some sort of group T-shirt and probably have a group towel, too, if you’re going to see a popular group. Mainstream groups will almost always sell merchandise before the show, but it’ll be pretty expensive and the lines will be long. You might want to buy a shirt and/or towel beforehand at an idol goods shop. TRIO is the most well-known idol goods chain and while all locations will have lots of merchandise, different locations specialize in different groups’ goods. Don’t quote me, but if I remember correctly, the one in Harajuku is mostly geared towards Johnnys groups, the one in Radio Kaikan is best for Stardust groups, the one in the Akiba Cultures building is best for lesser known groups, and one of the Trios in Nakano Broadway is best for Hello! Project stuff.
If you are going to a live that sells chekis (Polaroid pictures) of or with idols and you’d like to get some, you may want to bring an album to put them in. You can buy Polaroid picture albums at many places, but I’ve found camera stores like Yodobashi and Bic Camera have the best selection. These albums are really stylish, but they can get a bit pricey. My friend and fellow idol wota Melody recommends going to Daiso or any other 100 yen shop and buying a business card album instead. The slots are the same size as a normal size cheki and they’re only 108 yen for a 150 slot album!
Outside food and drinks are generally not allowed in live venues, but if you’re going to a smaller event, your bags probably won’t be checked. Lives can be long and buying drinks at the venue is expensive, so you might want to sneak in a few, if you’re comfortable with that. Some bigger venues might sell food, but most venues won’t, so make sure to eat beforehand. It’s good to make sure your phone is fully charged; that might be kind of obvious, but I’m throwing it out there. Being able to use Google Translate in a pinch is really useful if you’re not fluent in Japanese and at underground lives, there are some groups that do free cell phone pictures, so it’s a bummer if your phone’s dead.
Entering the Venue
If you have a ticket and it’s a show with assigned seats or a small show, you can usually just show your ticket to the staff and walk right in. However, if it’s a popular show with everyone standing, you will probably enter according to the letter and number found on your ticket. I think they usually call in 10s, so 1-10, 11-20, etc etc. If you have a high number or later letter in the alphabet, you may have to wait a while. Of course, since it’s Japan, they will call everything in Japanese, so if you’re going to a big show without assigned seats and don’t know Japanese you should make sure to memorize your number (and letter, but you don’t need to know Japanese to understand that) so that you don’t miss your turn.
At smaller lives, just go up to the entrance and have your money ready. Usually the staff member will ask you if you reserved (if you can’t understand what they’re saying, assume that’s it) and if you did, just say the name and group you reserved under and they’ll check your name off and tell you your discounted price. If you didn’t reserve, just say no in Japanese or shake your head. They’ll still ask which group you came for, even if you didn’t reserve. You can’t pick multiple groups, so if you’re there for a lot of groups, say the name of your favorite. After you pay the admission price, you’ll probably have to buy a drink ticket and there will be another staff member right after the first one that will collect drink money. A drink ticket almost always costs either 500 or 600 yen. Don’t worry about having exact change, but it’s obviously faster and easier if you do.
In the case of bigger lives, it’s possible that your bags will be searched and that you will be ID’d to make sure your name matches the name on the ticket. I’ve only heard of being ID’d at 48/46G live events, so at other events, you probably won’t, but I’d have your passport ready just in case. If you’re going to a live with free or discounted admission for foreigners (for example, Tokyo Idol Festival or most of the lives at Shinagawa J-Square) they will definitely ask to see your passport (even if you look obviously non-Japanese), so keep that in mind.
When you walk in, you won’t be in the actual live area yet. Mainstream groups usually have separate events for meeting the members and seeing the members perform, so if you’re at that kind of live, you will probably see a bar area for buying drinks and using drink tickets, maybe an area to buy food, and merchandise tables selling T-shirts, towels, CDs, and other goods before the show. Lines for merchandise can be really long, especially for groups like AKB, so make sure to get there really early if you want to buy some. If you’re at an underground idol live, you will probably see a bar for buying drinks and using drink tickets (although a couple venues have this in the live area) and if it’s an event with multiple groups, idols shaking hands and taking pictures with fans.
If you want to use your drink ticket, just go up to the bar and you will see a menu with their list of drinks. Sometimes they have it in English too, but if they don’t, you can expect them to have bottled water, a couple kinds of pop (usually Coca Cola, ginger ale, and melon soda), maybe some sort of sports/energy drink, beer, and all the popular alcoholic cocktails. Some venues have a very limited menu of “free” (with the drink ticket) drinks and others you can order off the full menu. I’ve never been to a bar that didn’t have bottled water, so if you can’t read the menu and you’re at a loss, that’s always a safe bet.
Maybe you’re wondering what to do with your purse, bag, coat, or anything of that nature. If you’re at a mainstream idol event, you’ll probably be expected to either keep everything with you or get a coin locker. Pretty much every venue has coin lockers and they’ll usually run you anything from a couple hundred yen to around 1000 yen, depending on the venue and the size of the locker. There might not be any change machines around, so try to have 100 and 500 yen coins with you. If you’re at an underground idol event, most people put their belongings on the floor in the back or to the side of the live area. Theft is really rare in Japan, but I have heard of it happening, so I’d keep things like large sums of money on you. Most small live venues still have coin lockers, so even though the majority of people don’t use them, if you’re worried about theft, they will probably be an option.
If you’re going to an event with multiple groups, you don’t have to stay there the whole time. Many idol events go on for hours and it’s not seen as rude to leave early or get there late. In fact, usually the least popular groups are first and the most popular groups are last, so at the beginning, there’s usually not very many people there (unless all the groups involved are popular). However, many venues offer a 500 to 1000 yen discount if you get there before the live starts, so that’s something to keep in mind if you want to save money. If you don’t have much planned, I’d recommend staying for most of the show, because it’s a good way to discover new groups.
First off: if you are going to a live with assigned seating, be prepared to show your ticket to a staff member so they can make sure you’re in the right seat. I had to do this at a Budokan show and I threw my ticket in my messy bag, so I had to search around for a couple minutes. Don’t be like me!
Most idol lives, particularly underground lives, don’t have a seating area and are all standing. At lives with multiple groups, it’s seen as general courtesy to let fans of the group that’s performing go to the front. If you don’t really know a group, don’t stand in the front: hang around in the middle or go to the back and if you just want to drink your drink or mess around on your phone while half watching the group that’s on, definitely go to the back, it’s seen as very rude if you don’t. If you are a fan of the group that’s performing, don’t be afraid to politely move ahead of people who aren’t fans, most people will happily let you go ahead of them.
Keep in mind that in general, you can’t take videos or photos during lives, mainstream or underground. There are some exceptions (usually in-store lives and outdoor lives), but most of the time, it’s against the rules. If you see a lot of Japanese fans taking pictures and filming, it’s probably okay, but if you don’t, put your phone or camera unless you’re 100% sure it’s allowed.
If you brought a glowstick and lit it up to the color of your favorite member, she will definitely notice at a smaller live and so will her fans. One thing to keep in mind is that if you light up for a particular member, especially if you look obviously foreign, there’s a decent chance that her fans will push you towards the front at a small live. If you’re not comfortable with that, you might not want to use a glowstick.
If you want to be an active participant in the crowd during the live, great! Just know that it’s not quite as individualistic as lives in many foreign countries and there are specific things to say at specific times that pretty much everyone adheres to. It’s not really considered appropriate to start singing along or to yell random things, there’s a certain order to it all. You can easily figure out what a group’s live environment is like by looking up live videos on YouTube (or in the case of bigger groups, buying DVDs). If you watch these, you can figure out when to do calls and maybe what to say. Usually people only do member calls for their favorite member of the group, but if you want to do calls for all the members, people might look at you a little funny but there’s nothing too wrong with that.
Also keep in mind that when a member has a solo that’s a couple lines or more, it’s considered polite to let all her fans go to the front. If she’s your favorite member, feel free to move to the front (or stay there, if you’re already in the front), but if you like a different member or don’t have a favorite member, let her fans in front of you. If I don’t know a group’s songs well, I usually like to stay quiet and hang back a little until I get to know the group. I think that’s the safest way to go about it.
At most concerts here in America, people dance around and do whatever they want, but if you did that at an idol live, you’d be getting really weird looks. It depends on the group, but usually there’s some form of furicopy, where you copy the dance moves of the members. It’s better to keep your movements small, especially if you’re at a busy live. Some groups have parts in the song where you do performance based wotagei. I can’t really describe it, but it’s the kind of movements shown in this video:
If you don’t know how or when to do the movements, you probably want to stick to the sides a bit or you could get injured. With some groups, things like jumping when your favorite member sings or moshing at particular parts of the song are common, but these types of actions might also be frowned upon or against the rules. Basically, my two pieces of advice are to watch live videos of the group so you know what to expect and try to copy what everyone else is doing. If you follow those two rules, you’ll probably have a great time and keep the people around you happy.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer to just watch and not participate in the crowd chants, dances, and movements, that’s fine too! If you’re at a really busy live, it’ll probably be too packed for people to move around much anyway and if you’re at a live with seating, you’ll be sitting down most of the time, but if you’re at a smaller underground live, just stick towards the middle or back and make sure to leave plenty of room for people doing furicopy/wotagei.
Meeting the Idols
At some lives, you won’t have the opportunity to meet the idols that are performing. In those cases, you can usually buy merchandise before the show and after the show, you just leave (or maybe buy more merchandise). However, at some mainstream idol events and most underground idol events, you can buy merchandise but you can also buy handshakes, pictures, and sometimes things like videos with the idols. You’ll have to check the schedule online or at the venue to find out when your favorite group is doing buppan (sale of goods, including tickets for handshakes and pictures if applicable) and how long it’s for, but most of the time, it’ll be right after they’re done performing and it’ll last for about an hour. Sometimes groups will even have buppan multiple times, typically before and after the performance.
Each group will have a table with all of their goods laid out and you go up to the table to buy them. If you want a handshake or picture, usually you have to buy them from the table and then go line up in the girl or group’s line, which you can easily find by a large card with the girl or group’s picture and or name, held up by the last fan in line. Most smaller groups don’t do handshakes and only do Polaroid pictures and big groups usually only do handshakes and phone pictures. At underground lives, if you want to meet an idol, you will probably get a cheki (polaroid picture) with her. You either do this by buying cheki tickets or getting bonus tickets by buying a certain amount of merchandise, which you can use to get chekis. If you have to buy cheki tickets (chekiken), just go up to the table and say the girl’s name and the number of cheki tickets you’d like, then go wait in her line. If you have to buy merchandise to get tickets, there’s usually a card on the table that explains how it works. It’ll be in Japanese, but it might have pictures and staff will probably show you what to buy if you seem confused. Usually, in the case of buying merchandise to get tickets, buying one or two singles gets you a “bonus” cheki.
When you get to the front of the line and it’s your turn to meet your favorite idol, you give the staff member your ticket and the first thing they’ll do is take the picture of the two of you. If you’d like a picture of just her without you in it, that’s fine too, just say “pin cheki” or “solo cheki” and they’ll get what you mean. Sometimes you can get a picture with the whole group or multiple members, but more often than not, that’s not an option. In the case that it is, it’ll probably be more expensive. If you want to get a lot of pictures and are worried about having enough time, you can usually get more than one picture at once (provided you’ve bought several tickets already). Ask the staff if you can “matome” and if they say yes, just give the staff the amount of tickets that corresponds to the amount of pictures you want and they’ll take them all at once.
The idol will usually ask what pose you want. It depends on the idol group, but most of the time physical contact in pictures is prohibited (except for touching finger tips to make a heart together), so unless she initiates it or you know they’re a group that is okay with physical contact, try to avoid it. The most common poses are the two of you making a heart together, both of you doing peace signs, and if applicable, the group pose. Feel free to get creative, but if you don’t have an idea, the idol will probably choose one of those. Try to refrain from any pose that could make the idol uncomfortable and if you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask but know that the idol might say no.
The idol might sign the picture after and if she does, she’ll probably ask your name if she doesn’t know it. Usually when an idol signs a cheki, they write your name, the date, the venue, a short message, and their signature. The whole cheki and talk process usually is a minute long, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the group. As a general rule, the less popular the group, the more time you’ll get. Often, when you first go up to meet an idol, staff will start a timer and when it goes off, you know it’s time to go. If there’s not a timer, the staff will tell you it’s time to leave and escort you away. Obviously, follow the rules and don’t try to get more time than you’re offered.
The main things you should avoid doing are pretty obvious, but don’t make any sexual comments, don’t record your conversation, don’t whisper in the idol’s ear, don’t ask them out or ask for any private information, and don’t say anything hateful. You might be able to show them things on your phone, but you should probably show it to staff first so that they know you’re not trying to show them something inappropriate. You can usually make them hold props for a cheki, but ask first to make sure. If you want them to put on something you brought like a coat, glasses, or hat for a cheki, that might be allowed but it isn’t always, so again, make sure to ask. When it comes to physical contact, the general rule is to always avoid it unless the girl initiates it. Don’t ask for a hug or to hold hands or anything like that, but some idols will initiate it, especially if you’re a girl.
If you want to give an idol a gift, you usually can. If it’s a bigger idol group, you typically give the gift to the staff, but if it’s a smaller group, you usually give it to the girl herself. One notable exception is Alice Project: the only gifts they allow are fan letters and Polaroid pictures, because of an incident where a fan put a GPS in a teddy bear in the past. Every group has different rules on what gifts you can and can’t give, but generally you can’t give sexual gifts, underwear, money, really big gifts they’d have trouble taking home, homemade food or food not in the original packaging, really expensive gifts, and DVDS or flash drives. You also usually can’t give gift cards or tickets to events. When it comes to food in its original packaging, some groups accept all of it, some groups don’t accept food that expires quickly, and some groups don’t accept food at all.
Leaving the Venue
When the live’s over, your favorite group has left, or you just decide it’s time to go home, there’s nothing special you have to do, you can just leave. However, if you want to leave for a period of time to get some food or drinks, go shopping, or do whatever else and come back later, you’ll have to see if there’s re-entry. Most of the time, if you leave, you’ll have to pay full admission if you want to get back in, but sometimes, there’s free re-entry. Ask a staff member (re-entry is sainyuu) and if they have it, they’ll probably stamp your hand so that when you come back in, they can tell you’ve already paid. Some venues have free re-entry, but you have to buy another drink ticket. In that case, they’ll stamp your hand, but you have to pay another 500 or 600 yen for an additional drink when you come back in.
I’m sure there’s a million other things I could talk about, but I think I covered all the basics. Hopefully this guide cleared up some questions you may have had about idol lives in Japan! Do you have any questions or anything that you’d like to add? Let me know!