Note: This post was written a while ago and some information might be a little out-dated. We recommend our new post The 5 Basics of the Japanese Ticketing System, first.
Pre-order lotteries, general sale, fan club pre-sale, promoter pre-order – the Japanese ticketing system can be very confusing.
Not only because there is little information in English, but also because there are multiple sales phases, sometimes limited to specific groups of people or sales channels.
Buying tickets from resellers is also a quite popular option in Japan.
As you can learn in this article, each option has its own advantages and disadvantages.
By the term “pre-order” (sometimes also called “pre-sale”) we mean the stage when you can order tickets before general sale (ippan hatsubai – 一般発売) starts. Depending on the pre-order phase, you could be eligible if you are a paying member of the fan club, promoter’s club, ticket agent’s club, you have registered for a certain mailing list, or you have otherwise obtained the right to participate by, for example, buying a CD or DVD with a pre-order code. There is also public pre-order which is open to anyone, but more on that later.
Most of the time, a certain amount of tickets is allocated to each sales phase and the seat location is further away from the stage, the later the sales period. Pre-ordered tickets are not issued before general sale starts and are often withheld until 2-3 weeks before the concert. Thus, regular tickets might be physically available (with visible seat number), while at the same time people who purchased pre-ordered tickets have to wait longer until they can issue their tickets (and see their seat numbers).
For virtually all big to mid-sized artists (in terms of popularity), there usually is at least one pre-order phase in the form of a lottery/ballot. If the artist has a fan club, members will be informed, given the chance to buy or apply for tickets before anyone else. There might be several lottery/ballot rounds, and it is usually possible to apply for several concerts and categories at the same time. However, the amount of tickets and how they are allocated is determined by an undisclosed algorithm.
Even with a fan club membership, it is not always possible to get all the tickets you apply for. Good seats, such as front row seats, are usually allocated to fan club members. Thus, if you want to obtain such seats as a non-fan club member and for (more or less) certain, you can purchase them on the resale market if available – although not for the original face value but at market prices. We’ve seen good tickets sometimes go for more than 10 times the original value, even for small shows.
In contrast to Japanese or Korean artists, “Western” singers and bands (e.g. Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Bob Dylan) usually don’t have a Japanese fan club. However, they are promoted by companies such as Smash, UDO or Creativeman, which have their own membership clubs and pre-order sales.
The large ticket companies (Playguides), Lawson Tickets, eplus and Ticket Pia also have paid membership clubs which allow fans to apply for tickets in pre-order lotteries.
Some lotteries can also be limited to e.g. users of a certain credit card or customers of another affiliate, as incentive for people to join all sorts of other clubs or register for certain things. All these lotteries tend to be after fan club sales, though.
After the paid membership pre-orders but before regular sale starts, it is usually possible for anyone to participate in lotteries by the large playguides (eplus, Ticket Pia, L-tike, etc.). These tickets are still a better than regular tickets. The number of playguides conducting these lotteries as well as the number of lottery rounds conducted by each playguide can differ from event to event.
Each pre-order phase can have different restrictions in terms of ticket delivery methods, payment options and number of tickets which can be applied for. If there are several shows of the same artist in the same city, it is often possible to prioritize one show or ticket category over the other.
Applying in a public lottery is usually free, and you can (but don’t have to) purchase the tickets if you win in the lottery. Only if you selected an automatic payment method such as credit card, the tickets will be purchased the moment the lottery result is decided within the system.
Fortunately, general sale is much more straight forward: one simply visits the ticketing website or store and buys the tickets. So why even bother with pre-order?
Well, one reason why you would want to try your luck with pre-order lotteries is that seats are usually better the earlier they are purchased. More importantly, if the artist has a large fan base (and they usually have, if there is an official fan club) a considerable part of all tickets is allocated to pre-order customers. No-one knows how many tickets actually make it to general sale, but the fact that they frequently sell out within seconds indicates that sometimes only a handful of “last row seats” are still available at the regular tickets go online. More often than not, the ticketing systems collapse immediately and no more tickets are available when you can finally access the site after hitting refresh for 30 minutes or more!
If you are new to this ticketing system, it might seem extremely inconvenient and troublesome, and it really is. However, there is also another perspective to it: through the lotteries, fans get the chance to participate within a certain time frame without having to camp outside ticket stores or fight the online “first-come, first-served” battle exactly at a time when they might be busy with work or a date. This is actually convenient for the many Japanese who have to work on weekends, when most regular ticket sales start.
Sold Out Shows, Good Seats and the Resale Market
What can you do if you just heard about a concert and realize that tickets are already sold out? What if you want to secure tickets without the trouble of going through multiple lotteries? Or how can you make sure you get decent seats, no matter what?
Besides the official channels, there is a thriving ticket resale market on various online platforms, such as the international site Viagogo, or various Japanese sites such as Yahoo Auctions or ticket.co.jp. For the latter two, you might have to go through a ticket proxy service such as TicketsGalore.
As soon as the very first official sales phase starts and the first tickets are allocated, resale tickets pop up on the secondary market. For most of the events, dozens if not hundreds of tickets are offered.
Some fans participate in several lotteries simultaneously to maximize their chances, but end up with too many tickets. Others realize, after buying, that they cannot attend the concert due to the wedding of their best friend or an unexpected business trip. It is safe to say, though, that most resale tickets are offered by profit-driven scalpers, though.
The number of tickets being traded on the secondary market in Japan is extremely high. Probably the largest reason is that it is virtually impossible for the committed fan to make sure he or she gets good seats close to the stage, if he or she buys through official channels. Only during regular sale it is (sometimes) possible to see the specific seat numbers, before the tickets are purchased.
Usually, buyers have to take what they get. Even fan club members might find out 2 weeks before the concert – when fan club tickets are issued – that their seats are at the far end of the stadium. Thus, it might make sense for some people to look into the offers on the secondary market, where seat numbers are disclosed as soon as the ticket is issued physically. Needless to say, market prices depend on how good the seats are, but also to overall demand and supply factors.
When is the Best Time to Buy Tickets?
Taking into account the above peculiarities of the Japanese ticket market, it becomes clear that there is no clear answer to the question when to buy tickets.
If you want to keep cost down and don’t want to spend additional money on any memberships, it makes most sense to participate in the early, public lotteries or look for cheap resale tickets.
If you want to maximize the chances of getting good seats by spending a little bit more money, we recommend starting applying through the fan club, if possible. Note that you need to become a member before a certain deadline, even before fan club lotteries start, in order to be eligible.
You missed the best timing or just want to make sure you get decent seats, our suggestion is to check the prices from resellers.
Learn more about ticketing in Japan: The 5 Basics of the Japanese Ticketing System