Being a fan of Japanese music and not living in Japan is hard. Not only do they rarely arrive on your shores to bring their music abroad (although English-speaking acts are beginning to change this), but you also lose out on scoring first dibs on music and merch, succumbing to scouring eBay and Japan’s second-hand record stores for those limited edition goods. But if you do make it to the Land of the Rising Sun and have coordinated your travel dates with a band’s tour that you’d give your left kidney not to miss, then there are a few things you might need to get acquainted with. Contrary to the rowdy and untamed nature of gigs in most parts of the world, Japan has its own breed of live entertainment, from scoring tickets to crowd etiquette. Before you plan to rock out at one of the country’s many live music institutions to catch a J-Pop diva, punk rock group or androgynous Visual Kei outfit, we’ll get you acquainted with some shame-saving tips.
1. Secure Your Tickets
Japan’s futuristic cities may be bursting with hi-tech gadgets, but day-to-day activities, like making purchases over the Internet, are still terribly cumbersome. Even with leading online ticket vendors, you can forget about PayPal; the closest thing you’ll get to convenience is by way of online funds transfer – and that’s if you so happen to have a Japanese bank account – or, ironically, a ticket pick-up machine at a convenience store. You can go old-fashioned and line up at a ticket counter, but just remember: Japan has over 127 million people, so you’ll be facing an exponential amount of competition compared to what you’d likely expect back home. And if you miss out on tickets? Well, you can always hit up the scalpers on Japan’s various auction sites (eBay still hasn’t caught on) for an obligatory fee. Of course, then you’re back in that old bank transfer nutshell. Time to hit up some local friends for unclaimed favours.
2. Arrive Early
So, you managed to score tickets and you’re out of the woods, for now. If you look closely at your ticket, you’ll likely notice that it’s numbered. That’s not some arbitrary code; that represents the numbered order in which you purchased it. Unlike free-standing general admission concerts in most other countries, Japan operates on the notion that the early bird gets the worm; if you’re first to buy, then you’re first to enter. In a similar fashion to boarding an airplane, event staff at the doors of the venue armed with megaphones will call your number for you to proceed to enter. You’ll typically see crowds of people already waiting at the venue when you get there – they’re not kancheong, they just don’t want to miss their numbers being called. So get there early if you want to secure exclusive tour merch and some prime mosh real estate.
3. Keep Your Camera Holstered
You’re finally in the venue, and the show is about to begin. You whip out your smartphone to capture the moment the band graces the stage – but why isn’t anyone else around you doing the same? Because photography is often strictly prohibited by many venues and performers. As one of the few countries which fans still buy their favourite musicians’ annual live DVDs/Blu-rays, artists go to great lengths to record entire concerts with stunning imagery – and the last thing they need is bunch of glowing smartphones ruining the view. While the stereotype of the Japanese wanting to photograph everything is defeated in this instance, it does reinforce the virtues of polity and civil obedience. Who wants to watch a concert through a palm-sized screen anyway?
4. Contain Your Excitement
The band is killing it, and without the distraction of constantly snapping photos, you’re truly living in the moment. The stage fades to black; dead silence. As the intro to a song you’ve been waiting to hear all night commences, you yell out an impulsive “Whoo!” or “F*ck yeah!” – only to be death-stared into yesterday by your fellow concert-goers. If you didn’t already stick out like a sore thumb for being one of the audiences few gaijins (that’ll work to your advantage when you spot yourself with ease in the DVD footage) and for looking lost while the crowd perform furitsuke hand choreography in perfect unison, then you certainly will now. It comes back to Japan’s overdriven polity; when an artist wants silence, the audience obliges, to the point where a room filled with thousands of people can omit less noise than a sensory deprivation chamber. On the other hand, when a performer wants commotion, prepare yourself for a deafening barrage of cries and squeals.
5. Cry Your Eyes Out
The show is over, and the act has taken a bow. Is someone cutting onions in here? ‘Cos the venue’s filling up with the salty tears of wailing fans. No, it’s not the band’s final show together; it’s a typical (but no less unusual) response from audiences at the finale of Japanese concerts. Whether it’s the fact that the performance has come to a close and it’s time to go home, it’ll be another year before hearing the music in the flesh, or simply the overwhelming emotions that take over concert-goers after witnessing their heroes on stage, Japanese fans have no fear of bringing on the waterworks at the end of a show. It’s not even uncommon for artists to pay fan service with a bit of weeping of their own. So if you’re feeling a little emotional after the experience, take solace in the fact that there are plenty of shoulders to cry on.