This is surprisingly, another one of those “I can’t believe I haven’t written about this sooner” posts. But then again, when you’re in Japan, there’s next to no time, zilch, to really document it other than via photos. As such, 4 years later, let’s talk about concerts in Japan, and specifically, my first concert in Japan.
This was one of those things that I had been dreaming about doing since long before I came to Japan (try 5 years!). Why? Well, because it was going to see my favorite singer Yuya Matsushita (松下優也) live, of course! To be fair, as I wrote about previously, I had seen him before this when he performed in the musical “In The Heights” in Shibuya (渋谷). The difference here was that this was one of his concerts and it was, as I said before, my first concert in Japan. And what better place to see your favorite singer in concert, live, and for the first time could there be other than Shinjuku BLAZE in the heart of Tokyo?? No place, that’s the answer.
But in all seriousness, Shinjuku BLAZE is a fantastic venue that I’ve been to several times since, each time having an absolute blast. So let’s dive into it with what one can expect from concerts in Japan, things to be aware of, and of course, an account of my first experience rocking it out in downtown Tokyo (東京).
To begin, let’s go back in the story before the concert itself…
Buying tickets in Japan can take several formats. Most often, you can buy tickets online. The two most popular websites to get tickets on are TicketPia and ePlus, but there are other options as well (by the way, if you don’t understand Japanese, I recommend using Google Chrome when visiting these websites as you can set it to automatically translate most things on these websites). Depending on the event, you can also buy tickets directly through kiosks located inside convenience stores (コンビニ) or, more often, to get the best seats for a show, you can become a member of an artist’s fan club, which tends to get you exclusive access to early bird lottery systems and more often than not, the best seats in the house.
This time around, I went the former way however, purchasing my tickets directly though one of the popular website vendors (in this case, I believe I used ePia). Online, you can pay for tickets in a variety of ways. Since I didn’t have a Japanese credit card, I opted for their convenience store/ATM pay option (a super useful option). So reserving a ticket, I got an email with a bar code that I promptly took down to the local 7-Eleven. At the counter I spoke with the cashier, showing him the email on my phone screen, and he quickly scanned it for me. I paid him and he printed my ticket out, putting it in a nice little envelope for me and that was it! I was ready for my first concert in Japan!
Having never been to the Shinjuku BLAZE venue before, I decided to go early the day of the concert to make sure I found it (the smart thing to always do when you are going somewhere important for the first time). I found it pretty easily after walking a bit from Shinokubo Station (新大久保駅), a stop on the Yamanote Line (山の手線) before the Shinjuku station (新宿駅) located in central Shinjuku (新宿). It probably would have taken just as much time to get to Shinjuku BLAZE from Shinjuku Station, but Shinjuku is very crowded and easy to get lost in, so I was happy to opt for Shinokubo.
As it turned out, I misread the ticket and got there more than 2 hours before I had planned on getting there! Talk about odd luck (how does that happen, misreading the time? It’s printed in military time, so if you’re not used to that, make sure to double check! It took me a while to get used when living in Japan). But it was good luck, because people were already lining up outside (in spite of some rain slightly coming down – but I was okay because I brought an umbrella!). However, this wasn’t to ‘get in’. No, this was for something else and what would be my first experience with the “goods” line.
The Goods Line
For those who don’t know, often before a concert in Japan, artists will have a ‘Goods Sale’. It’s not cheaper than buying items once inside the venue generally, but you do get a better chance at getting what you want and in the case of standing only concerts, you don’t have to worry about getting goods and can instead head straight inside to find a good spot to stand. These goods include anything from cups, to towels, CDs, calendars, keychains, mirrors, jewelry, and fans! They can be purchased via one of two ways: through the Gacha Gachas (ガチャガチャ) or through normal purchase (both of which tend to have different items).
So, what is a Gacha Gacha? Think back to when you were a kid at the supermarket and at the end of the store when your parents were done checking out and you saw those 5 machines with candy, gum, and toys inside little balls all available to you for 25 cents. That’s essentially what a Gacha Gacha is, but instead of 25 cents, you normally have to insert a 500 yen coin (about $5) and it will spit out a ball with an item inside or a piece of paper that you can give back for an item in exchange (normally you don’t get to choose the item though and it’s pre-determined).
The cool thing about Gacha Gachas is that sometimes if you’re really lucky, you might get a slip of paper that will allow you to meet the artist in person, get a photo, and/or talk to them one on one for a bit! While I didn’t win that this time or anytime I went after, I know several people who have gotten that chance. Talk about lucky! Though this kind of reward isn’t easy to get. Many of the winners of those special prizes would sometimes pay for over 20 Gachas before getting that slip. Imagine doing that not getting any!
So as one might expect, it could definitely be a risk if you decide to go all in. And in particular, sometimes they limit purchases. Thus, forcing you to go to the back of the line to retry. And someone might get it while you’re in line and you wouldn’t know!
Before I went to get the Gachas (which was a separate line), I went to the normal purchase line, where more often than not you’ll be able to get the bigger (size wise) and more valuable items than you will with the Gachas. While there, I purchased the “She’s a Liar” Limited Edition CD (a song I still love I might add), which came with a slip of paper (which I neglected to read and instead stuffed in my wallet), a T-shirt, a mirror, a towel, a poster, and the beginning of one of my addictions: Bromides (ブロマイド).
So what are Bromides? Bromides are photographs (normally of singers, actors, and other prominent figures in pop culture) printed on glossy paper. They are high quality shots and are collectable in Japan, a bit like trading cards are. They get their name for the Silver Bromide originally used in their printing. And of course, the cool thing about them is that only a limited amount are printed (normally they are only available for a season), so the ones you get are rather unique for you! Considering these were all prints of the man himself that I got, it’s no wonder my addiction got started! They can be really fun and cool to hunt down! 😀
After purchasing these and the Gachas (where I got a fan, awesome!), I met for the first time three friends who would become dear to me through out my time in Japan. After the line, noticing I was another lonely foreigner, they came up to me and invited me to join them for a snack prior to the concert. Upon chatting at a Doutor, the four of us girls quickly became bonded as foreigners that were fans of the same singer. My ticket was behind them, so when admission began, we parted ways and I waited to enter, getting very nervous as the line got shorter. Thankfully, there were some very nice women I chatted with before going in who helped distract me from my nerves.
Like most places, Shinjuku BLAZE required a drink ticket to be purchased (here it was 500 yen and I ended up just using it for a bottle of water). After doing that, I rushed to a locker to put away my things and went straight to the pit or concert arena area – which was filling up fast!
I was back a ways when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder from one of the foreign girls from before, who proceeded to pull me up to their spot which was much closer to the front! It was a wonderful view and of course, nerves went up even more. I literally couldn’t wait for this! I asked questions about how this worked. In response, I was told cell phones are to be turned off. Then once the place filled up, the concert would begin. And boy, it felt like it would never fill fast enough!
Then the lights dimmed and the concert began. As I mentioned before, I’d been a fan of Yuya’s for about 5 years at this point. So I had been following his work pretty closely since the start of his career. I knew his songs very well and always enjoyed his music. I didn’t think it could get better live. Most artists just don’t do as well as they do in a recording studio. During this concert though, I was so pleasantly surprised and blown away.
Yuya came out on stage an immediately impressed. He insanely better live. Just so much better. It was real. While I always think he does his best in recordings, I think just like many things, seeing something, feeling something in person coming from a performer can resonate so much stronger than just seeing or hearing something recorded. After going to this concert, one of Yuya’s clear strengths to me was that when he sings, he really puts his heart and soul into whatever it is he’s singing, as though his goal is to give away a part of his feelings to the audience. That is strong stuff and it made for a wonderful experience.
As the concert at Shinjuku BLAZE went on, he sang, he danced, he smiled, he touched girls hands and looked all around the room to make sure everyone was involved and included. Everyone pumped up by his energy and we all would sing along with him. And I noticed something else too: At this concert, everyone had their little space and everyone respected it. There was no shoving or pushing, just a bunch of people dancing and rocking out to their favorite artist. I realized this was likely due to just being a part of the respect ingrained into the Japanese culture. But it made for such an enjoyable time! It made the event much more fun than other concerts that I had been to in the past (in times since, I’ve noticed this pattern of respect at almost all Japanese concerts too).
I think another part of this though was that Yuya’s fans are just nice, considerate people. I’ve been to many concerts and events since. And honestly, they’ve been some of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. I love seeing their genuine love and support for both Yuya and all of his other fans. Seeing them always coming together makes me very happy. And I’m sure that Yuya feels blessed to have such dedicated, wonderful fans.
The “High Touch”
Yuya performed an encore presentation, switching into the tour T-shirt and giving us a few final songs. Between his change though, I got to chat with the other 3 girls again and found out that the little slip of paper I had stuffed in my wallet from before (remember?) was not just a receipt or tag, but a ticket for a “High Touch” (ハイタッチ) with Yuya himself! So while I did my best to take in everything from those last songs during the encore, my mind scrambled. I was just trying to recall Japanese words. Because really, going to a concert was one thing. Actually being able to briefly meet your favorite singer after their concert? How cool was that?
But let’s back up and talk about what a “High Touch” is. (Which I might add, yes, definitely sounds like odd ‘Japanglish’ to native English speakers. So yes, it needs a further explanation.) Sometimes at concerts, when you purchase or buy a CD or DVD that is above a certain amount of money, you will receive a slip of paper that will act as a “pass” of sorts. After the show those audience members who received a “pass” may wait in a designated area. They then line up with others who received a pass as well while others at the venue exit and leave. After everyone else has left, the artist comes out and may do either a “High Touch” or a “Handshake”, also known as an Akushu (握手), with everyone that had a pass.
A “High Touch” is a very brief high five with the performer or performers. Ushers quickly led guests out afterwards. You might be able to say 2 words to the artist(s). It’s that fast and they likely won’t have the chance to respond. A “Handshake” is when you literally get the chance to talk to the artists for a short amount of time. (Normally it’s less than 20 seconds or so.) And as the name implies, you get shake their hand. I would go on to do handshakes at other concerts. But this time I got the chance to go for a high touch.
Upon learning all of this myself while in the pit of Shinjuku BLAZE though, I felt an immediate panic! I thought I might have left my wallet in the locker with my goods. So quickly before the encore began, I checked my bag. Thankfully, I was so happy to find my wallet in my bag. What relief! I wouldn’t have to go back and find it.
As the concert ended, those who had not bought a CD (and thus couldn’t take part in the high touch) began to depart. Meanwhile those who had (including us four girls), began to line up. Soon the man of the hour came out. We all cheered as he began to high five all of us. We were somewhere near the middle of the line. Though it was fast, it felt rather slow. That is, until of course we were suddenly near the front! Japanese words finally came to my mind right before we were there in the front (another nice relief for me). And then of course, the high touch came.
It was fast and quick, but it was fun. I said super briefly that he was my favorite singer with an encouraging smile. To my surprise, he nodded with a smile in return. It was a relief to say something intelligible after being so nervous. It was such a treat after my first time seeing him live in concert to be able to give him a high five with a compliment as well as kind of meet him. Japan, (and Shinjuku BLAZE) you know how to do things right.
Overall, my experience at Shinjuku BLAZE was fantastic. The space itself was big, but not too big. It allowed for audiences to really reach out to their favorite artists while the area in general was well maintained. I made many new friends who would enrich my time in Japan again and again. And Yuya himself? Amazing, of course. Definitely go see him live if you get the chance. And really, if you’re in Japan, don’t discount the opportunity to go to a concert, even if you’re not fluent in the language. They’re really fun there and a great experience!