The 5 Basics of the Japanese Ticketing System

If you have been to Japan before, you may have noticed: Japanese do a lot of things their own way.

The ticketing system is no exception. If you think buying Japanese event tickets online works similar to ordering from Ticketmaster, Eventim or other major ticket agencies around the world, you might be in for a surprise.

From lotteries to ID checks, this article covers the most important basics you need to know. After purchasing tickets for countless events in Japan, I can assure you that knowing about the five topics covered here, will increase your chances of getting tickets.

Not just that, you will also know how to get better seats than other buyers.

So let’s get right into the five most important things you need to know.

Fact No.1: Buying tickets from overseas can be quite difficult

First, the good news: the number of events for which you can buy tickets online from overseas is increasing. More events than ever have an official ticket sales site in English or other languages, now.

The bad news: for probably around 95% of events, there are still no ticket sales pages in English. Most organizers simply ignore demand from non-Japanese fans. Google Translate might be helpful, but automatic translations of Japanese websites tend to render patchy and confusing results.

Another issue fans overseas face (even if they can read Japanese characters) is the fact that the payment methods are usually unavailable outside of Japan. Typically, they require you to pay at a convenience store or ATM in Japan. Credit Card payment is another common option, but most of the time non-Japanese cards are not accepted.

To make things even more difficult, all major playguides (ticket agencies) now require you to have a mobile phone with a Japanese number (for SMS OTP verification) when setting up an account. Luckily, you can buy Japanese SIM cards with a real Japanese phone number quite easily from Mobal (even when still abroad, though it will only work once you arrive in Japan).

Some ticket sites even go as far as blocking non-Japanese IP’s (i.e. users who are located outside of Japan). A VPN service with Japanese servers (like Proton VPN) will allow you to access these sites nevertheless.

There are some exceptions as well as solutions (e.g. the use of proxy services) to all the problems related to buying from overseas.

Although I recommend reading all the basics in this article first, you can learn about these exceptions and solutions in Buying Japanese Tickets from Overseas.

Fact No.2: Seat location can usually not be chosen

In other countries, you might be able to choose specific seats (or at least the section or block) on a venue map.

Japan does not have that system. Seats are assigned by the ticket system based on the closest seats still available.

Note that classical music concerts and musicals tend to be an exception to this rule. For those, you can usually choose your specific seats on a map when buying online or offline.

However, for concerts and festivals, there is usually no detailed seating map to choose from when buying the tickets.

This doesn’t mean you can’t select from various categories sometimes. If there are different categories, though, they will be very broad and less specific than sections/blocks.

Unless there is a “VIP” or “SS” category, there is no guarantee that your seats will be particularly “good”. This is because the less expensive categories usually include both good and bad seats.

Which one you will get, is not entirely based on your lucky stars, though. As mentioned above, it also depends on the timing of your purchase. As a general rule: the earlier tickets are booked, the better.

Keep in mind that if you purchase through pre-order sale (before the start of general sale; more on the different sales phases later), your seat numbers will be assigned within the system when you book, but they will not be shown to you on the screen.

Only once you get the physical ticket, you can see the seat number printed on it. It does not matter, if you print it early or late since the seat location/entry number is fixed at the time of purchase, not the time of printing.

Fact No.3: Not all “General Admission” or “Standing” tickets are created equal

Standing tickets usually have an entry number printed on them (整理番号, which translates as “order number”).

Once doors open, ticket holders with the lowest number can enter first.
For example, if your ticket has the number 1240, there will potentially be more than a thousand people let into the venue before you can enter. If your number is 65, and you are not late, you could potentially stand in the first few rows.

Most club/live house shows have a standing area for which this system applies. Stadium shows however are usually “all seated”. That means that even the arena floor will have seats which are assigned to specific ticket holders.

If that sounds strange to you, don’t worry: there might be no moshing pit, but most probably everyone will be standing in front of their seat during the show.
The good thing about it is, that you don’t have to bother about being at the venue early since nobody will take away your spot.

Fact No.4: Knowing the chronology of sales phases is important

This part is really important if you want to get good tickets. Or any tickets at all, if the concert is likely to sell out!

Once an event is announced, tickets become available through a series of sales phases. As mentioned above, ticket availability and seat numbers/entry numbers are best in the first sales phase and get worse in every subsequent sales stage. Also, you might need a little luck and good timing in most sales phases.

For the sake of completeness, I will tell you about a little exception to the “best tickets are sold first” rule. I once got front block seats for an almost sold out Paul McCartney Tokyo Dome show, even long after the very last sales phase had started. Before you get your hopes up, though, I will tell you that this situation is extremely rare and virtually impossible to replicate willingly.

Only if already reserved ticket contingents are put back into public sale again for some reason, is it possible that tickets are better than in earlier sales. The problem is that it’s practically impossible to foresee if, and when, that will happen. And even if, such “extra tickets” are usually very few in numbers and thus snatched away in an instant.

So let’s get back to what will apply to 99.9% of the cases.

Usually, the more popular the artist or event, the more of the following phases will take place. They will happen in the order listed here, one after the other. Only phases “II” and “III” sometimes overlap.

Fan Club Pre-order

FC (fan club) members are in the privileged position of being able to apply for tickets before anyone else.

“Apply”, because FC sale takes form of a pre-order lottery most of the time. Once the application window is closed, the “winning” applicants will be notified that they can purchase the tickets they entered the lottery for (if the payment method was set to credit card, they will be purchased automatically).

Note that there might be two or even more fan club lotteries. Super-popular artists such as Arashi or BTS usually sell out most of their shows through their FC.

Once a show is (almost) sold out, there might be a fan club pre-order for inferior seats such as “stage side” seats, too.

After a show has been announced, there’s usually still a short time window within which you can still become eligible for the lottery by joining the fan club. If it is for a very popular artist, a membership might be worth the few thousand Yen because it could be the only chance to get decent seats (or any at all)!

Other Exclusive/Limited Lotteries

After fan club pre-sale, there sometimes are one or several additional “limited” lotteries.

These are similar to FC pre-sale, in that they require you to pay extra cash in some way or another, in order to get access to the lottery.

This can be in form of a premium membership club of the promoter (e.g. UDO Artists, H.I.P., Creativeman) or a playguide (e.g. L-tike, Ticket Pia, Yahoo Tickets, CNPlayguide), or being a subscriber to a certain product (e.g. credit card).
The availability of such lotteries is usually announced on the official event page, and/or on the event page of the playguide.

Yet another version are lotteries where you have to purchase a merchandise item (usually a specific CD, DVD or Blu-ray) that includes a participation code (“serial number”).

In most cases, I wouldn’t bother too much about these “membership” lotteries. If you are willing to invest into memberships, I recommend trying to become a fan club member since registering for a membership is similarly troublesome, but chances of getting tickets are better.

“Merchandise” lotteries, on the other hand, are usually for very popular events (Love Live, Idolmaster, etc.) so it might be best to apply whenever possible.

Public Pre-order Lotteries (Senkou Chusen 先行抽選)

There may be several rounds of these lotteries on one, or more playguides.

Holders of a free account can apply, and buy tickets if the lottery result is positive. Many events don’t do the first two sales (fan club/limited lotteries) but start with these public playguide lotteries. There is usually a small pre-order fee, but it’s usually worth the peace of mind from securing tickets early on.

In many cases, almost all tickets are sold through these lotteries, rather than through the later general sales phase. For popular shows, I recommend participating in this phase, if you haven’t been able to obtain tickets earlier. General sale might be an even larger hassle, despite seeming easier on first sight (more on that in a bit).

Public Pre-order Sale (Senkou Senchaku 先行先着)

If lotteries weren’t confusing enough, there’s also the possibility of a “first-come, first-served” pre-order phase before general sale. It’s basically the same system as general sale (see below) but you should note some particularities about it:

  • Tickets can sell out before the end of the pre-order. However, tickets might be available again in the later general sale phase!
  • Payment methods can be more limited than general sale. Oftentimes, credit card is the only option.
  • There is an additional pre-order fee, just like in pre-order lotteries.

This type of sale is not as common as lotteries, but I’ve seen it quite a few times.

General Sale (Ippan Hatsubai 一般発売)

Many people who are unfamiliar with the intricacy of the Japanese system falsely believe, that general sale is the first or only opportunity as well as the best time to purchase tickets.

As you know now, both are wrong. General sale is not the first sales phase, nor are chances better than in other sales stages.

Unfortunately, the date of general sale is usually announced as soon as an event is confirmed and made public. Quite often, pre-order dates are published later on, despite taking place before general sale. So even if the event listing you’ve seen only mentions general sale, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be any lotteries.

Lotteries might be announced later, exclusively on the artists’ social media, or only on the specific playguide event page.

Another misconception is that some tickets are held back during pre-orders, in order to be sold through general sale. In reality, only what is “left over” will be sold through general sale (if there are tickets still left).

Occasionally, I’ve been asked, “Can’t I just ignore the lotteries and wait for general sale to get tickets?”

The answer is yes, you can. If you are confident that they will not sell out, and if you don’t mind what seats/entry numbers you get, that is.

In most cases, don’t recommend waiting for general sale, though. Even for upcoming and semi-well-known artists, there’s a risk that most or all of the available spots are gone by the time general sale comes around.

If the show is popular but there still are a handful of tickets (most likely in the very last rows or a few unpaid tickets from earlier lotteries), there will be thousands of fans competing for them. The websites of Japanese playguides tend to break down the second “the flood gates are opened”.

Sometimes you’ve entered all necessary details, selected all options, and finally reach the last page with the “pay now” button…only for the site to disconnect again and through you back to “field one”.
It can take 30-60 minutes of constant trying (pushing the F5 button!) until you can complete your purchase.

Believe me, I’ve gone through more than a couple of traumatic “general sale” experiences. ;)

To be honest, for super popular artists such as Arashi or BTS, I wouldn’t even bother trying, especially if the show is in Tokyo or Osaka, and on a weekend. It’s safe to say that it will be virtually impossible to get tickets through general sale in those cases. And if you do, they are almost guaranteed to be last row.

Rather, I’d be looking to score tickets from someone who got too many, or for less popular cities or weekdays. Once everybody has realized that tickets are totally sold out, those options will become more difficult, and resale prices will hike, too!

Given the risk of not getting your desired tickets, and going through a very frustrating experience overall, I always recommend trying to secure your tickets in earlier sales phases and as soon as you are sure you want/can attend the event.

Fact No.5: Buying resale tickets can be risky

Japan used to be notorious for the amount of scalping. Professional re-sellers snatched up large numbers of tickets just to offer them on various online platforms at inflated prices, a minute later.

Actually, there still is a fair bit of that. There are also a lot of fans who try to resell tickets due to changes in their schedule, cancellations of their friends, and so on.

When you weren’t able to purchase tickets before an event was sold out, resale tickets might be your last chance.

Note, however, that most tickets nowadays have the initial buyer’s name printed on them. Some managements are getting stricter about it, but ID checks are still a fairly rare occurrence.

If checks are strict and systematic, there is usually an explicit announcement about the requirement of bringing an official photo ID (e.g. passport, drivers’ license, etc.). Plus, they will write that the management doesn’t even accept “giving away or selling tickets at face value”, even to friends or family.

The less popular an event, the less you need to worry about ID checks. Fact is, most of the time the organizers don’t have time to check IDs, especially if there is only 30 minutes between “doors” and “start”.

Also, most artists still allow you to re-sell your tickets at face value, so there’s no point in checking IDs (as it’s difficult to know for the staff for how much you bought the ticket).

If you choose to go down the “resale ticket” path, my two recommendations are:

  • Check the official artist’s event site for requirement to bring a photo ID.
  • Only buy tickets if there’s no way to tell the exact seat or ticket number (e.g. on a photo publicly available on an auction site). A few organizers do actually search on resale sites and block seats which are offered at inflated prices.

Bonus: More Important Facts About Japanese Concert Tickets

  • “Print-yourself” e-tickets are a rarity in Japan. Most events require paper tickets sent by physical mail, or printed at a convenience store in Japan.
  • Digital mobile phone tickets are increasingly common, but might require a Japanese mobile phone or the installation of specific apps (if so, you can get a SIM with a real Japanese phone number at Mobal). Unfortunately, such apps tend to be only available in Japanese.
  • If you order two or more tickets (in one single order), then seats will be together even if it’s a lottery.
    Only if tickets are almost sold out during general sale, the ticket system might explicitly ask if separate seats are acceptable too, before you press the buy button. Getting this option is very rare though.
  • Japanese event tickets can usually not be replaced, returned or refunded for any reason.
  • Kids usually need to have a ticket too. Age limits vary, but usually pre-school kids are not allowed to shows.

This might be a lot of information to digest, and you might still have a lot of questions. Maybe you feel better if I tell you that even for Japanese concert-goers, buying concert tickets can be quite challenging and confusing?

Once you got a basic understanding of how the Japanese ticket system works, your chances of a smooth process will be much higher!
And if you still have doubts and questions, check out the existing (and yet to come) resources on this website. If there is anything missing, don’t hesitate to drop us a message on Facebook.

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