Concert Experience Report
Sheena Ringo at Saitama Super Arena, 22.11.2018
If you have never been to a concert in Japan, you might wonder whether it is a different experience than in your country (hint: it most probably is). We went to a stadium concert recently and here is how it went down. Warning: this goes into quite some detail so it’s a bit of a lengthy read.
The concert was a weekday show of one of our favorite Japanese artists, the legendary Sheena Ringo (also known as the singer of the now split-up Tokyo Jihen aka Tokyo Incidents). If you are into Japanese Pop a little bit, I’m sure you’ve come across her. The current 2018 tour celebrates her 20-year anniversary of her debut as artist, and her popularity seems not to have declined at all!
Getting to the Venue
Starting at 7pm on a Thursday, you could expect the show not to be sold out (most Japanese work till late and would still have to travel to the concert venue fist). However, tickets were long gone well ahead of the show, despite two more shows planned at the same venue on the weekend just a few days later. Luckily, we were still able to get tickets through Yahoo Auctions which were sent to us by email by the reseller (see our articles on how to purchase tickets in Japan).
The concert was going to take place at the Saitama Super Arena, one of the largest indoor stadiums in Japan (maximum capacity of 37,000, a bit less for concerts). Despite being in Saitama Prefecture, it is technically in a suburb within the Tokyo metropolitan area. Thus, it’s easily accessible from central Tokyo…if there are no unexpected events, that is (more just in a bit)!
We started our journey from Shibuya, from where it takes around one hour to Saitama Shintoshin Station, with 1-2 changes from one JR (Japan Railway) lines to another on the way. This might seem super far but for Tokyo standards it’s actually quite close (many people’s commute to work is 1-2 hours…one way!).
Lines going from Shibuya towards Saitama
We didn’t want to have to hurry so we started at 4pm, knowing that we’d probably be at the venue a little early (doors time was 6pm). However, it turned out to be a wise decision because…there was one of those “unexpected events” mentioned above! An accident had occurred at some previous station, so trains were delayed a lot and the station was flowing over with people waiting. Events that disrupt the otherwise very reliable transportation system in Tokyo are not totally uncommon; trains get temporarily stopped in case of (even small) earthquakes, people dropping personal belongings onto the train tracks, medical emergencies of passengers or people “falling” onto the train tracks (sadly perhaps the most common cause). Tokyoites are used to such events and take it with stoic patience, but it is definitely a good idea to plan to arrive at the venue well ahead, if you are going to a concert by train or subway.
In the end, we arrived at the venue much later than planned. Doors had already opened, but we still had some time until the start of the show. The stadium was just a few steps from the station (see our Saitama Super Arena page for more information about the location, including seating maps, etc.) and it was beautifully lighted up in the darkness (concerts in Japan tend to begin quite early, but so does the sunset).
Outside the stadium, there was already a long line but it was not to enter the stadium; for many fans it’s a must to get at least one piece of official tour merchandise. If you want to get “goods”, you better arrive hours before the show since lines can become very long and popular items tend to sell out before the masses arrive. In case of Sheena Ringo, you could get all sort of things, ranging from the typical little flags with the tour logo, to classic items such as T-Shirts and towels, all the way up to fancy several-hundred-thousand-yen kimonos (maybe designed by Sheena herself?).
Despite being there 45 minutes early, staff was loudly announcing that one might miss the start of the concert if starting to queuing now, so we opted for entering the stadium already instead through gate A, as written on our tickets.
Merchandise sales stalls
Inside the Stadium
The admission process was smooth as usual: we showed our cell phone tickets and through we were. No bag checks or pat down.
Cell Phone Ticket (screenshot)
Sometimes there are checks (especially if you bring a backpack), sometimes there aren’t. Now, taking pictures was strictly forbidden at this show so there were signs everywhere, but we were not checked for cameras or asked to leave anything at a coat check or cloak room. If we wanted to get rid of anything anyway for the duration of the concert, we could have used one of the coin lockers in the hallways (cost: 500 yen in 100 yen coins, non-refundable).
Coin lockers inside the venue
Excited to be inside the venue, we through one of the doors connecting the hallway and the stands to take a quick look and get an idea of where our seats were. Not too close but could be much worse! There was time to kill so we joined the hungry working bees that were arriving to the concert in their office attire and going directly to one of the fast food counters in the hallway (Lotteria, KFC). We had eaten before so we just got a cup of beer (600 yen) and waited in eager anticipation for the show to start!
This was a “seated” concert as most arena shows are. That doesn’t mean that you have to sit and just dance in your head…as soon as the lights went out and the music started, everyone around us stood up. Being on the side stands with the stage on our left, we wouldn’t have seen anything if we stayed in our seats. Even on the arena floor and close to the stage, everyone had their own seat, so there was no pushing to the front, let along moshing.
Inside Saitama Super Arena
I won’t get too much into the performance since this is more about visiting a Japanese concert in general, but let me just say that Sheena did not disappoint! The show was a piece of art, including a whole orchestra, plenty of dancers, awesome visuals, and several “special guests”. This is the sort of stuff you’ll probably only at a domestic concert of a Japanese artist.
Fans swung their Sheena Ringo flags passionately which was a beautiful scene to see and the short silent breaks between songs were only interrupted by a few far yells of support from individual fans somewhere in the hall. There was a no-photo policy at this concert, which is why I can’t post any picture of it here…
After the End of the Concert
Almost exactly 2 hours after the show had started (7:05pm), the spectacle came to an end and the audience started to “wake up” to reality again as the hall lights came back on. Slowly the crowds started to pack their belongings and (all) of their trash, and return to the hallway where cleared trash bins were already set up to make disposing your own trash as easy as possible.
There were a few things to notice as a foreigner at this show.
As is the case at many anniversary-themed concerts, there was a display of a dozen or so flower bouquets at the entrance, with written wishes from friends and associated organizations such as other bands and artists, TV stations, etc. It’s an interesting sight and many fans stop to admire and take pictures of them.
Bouquets for Sheena
Another thing to note it that most sign boards were only in Japanese, for example the merch stands, the board that staff were holding to indicate where the end of the queue was, trash bin labels indicating what sort of trash goes where, etc. If you don’t read Japanese, that might cause some inconvenience but if you observe what people around you do and just do the same, you’ll figure out most of it even without asking around.
Also, while there was no major queue to enter the venue when we arrived, there were lines at food stands and toilets (especially the female ones). However, walking around a little inside the stadium, we found out that there were no, or only short queues, further in the back of the hallway.
After the intense experience this show was, we decided to hang around the venue just for a little more and grab something to eat before returning to the train station to head back. Just 30 minutes after the concert had finished, most of the crowd had already disappeared so we could just hop on the next train and enjoy the easy ride home.
This concert experience was another confirmation to us, that Japan is one of the nicest places to watch live shows. As long as you are well prepared (dancing shows, railway app, tickets) and get to the venue in time, everything else is usually pretty smooth and relaxed, so you can fully enjoy the performance. The audience is usually enthusiastic but not over-the-top (so there’s no pushing or drunken singing). So we can’t wait for our next gig!
In our next concert experience report, we’ll cover a “live house” show which is usually a little different.
Have you been to a stadium concert in Japan? How was your experience? Or what are the things you really want to know before joining a concert? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org