TL;DR: This is mainly about in-person attendance, though many event streams have similar barriers. The biggest barriers are phone verification and paying for the ticket. I hope you have a connection in Japan.
This is my experience with buying anisong and seiyuu event tickets that generally don't have sales targeted towards overseas buyers—examples are Love Live!, BanG Dream!, and the iDOLM@STER. Other types of events might have different procedures.
(Note: Love Live! has had some concert ticket+hotel packages for overseas fans. They're definitely worth considering, but they're pretty expensive, and you can still lose the lottery.)
Overview of the process
Most popular events implement at least one lottery (抽選 "chuusen") to determine who can buy a ticket. (No, it does not necessarily mean you get the ticket for free.)
The usual lottery process:
- Submit an application on the ticketing site. This may require a serial code—most often included in media (CD/Blu-rays/etc.) related to the performer—or a fan club membership.
- Wait until results are announced.
- If you win, either you get charged for the ticket immediately (if you use a credit card for payment), or you have a few days to pay for the ticket (if you opt to pay at a convenience store or use net banking).
- Once you've paid, you either receive or can print out the ticket before the event starts. The specific timeline depends on the event.
On the other hand, events could have first-come-first-serve ticket sales, where you can just buy a ticket. ("just" might be too light of a word—there can be server problems, and payment may not be easy if you don't live in Japan.)
Events, especially large ones, often have multiple rounds of ticket sales. A simple example:
- CD lottery: a lottery round that requires a serial code included in a CD
- Open sales: first-come-first-serve sales, where they put up all the tickets that didn't sell during the lottery round
Seats are often randomly assigned within the seat type you have, though a few events let you choose your seat. For all-standing, you usually get a entry number (整理番号) that determines the order you enter in.
In both cases, the assigned position is often better in earlier rounds than in later rounds. You probably want to try to get a ticket as early as you can. (There are exceptions, e.g. they might wait until later to open up closer seats that might have weird viewing angles.)
Where do I start?
Look at the event website to figure out what process and ticketing site(s) it uses to sell tickets.
(If there's a serial code involved, they might just tell you to look at the slip the code's written on to find out what website is being used.)
Be warned that events will often be announced with no ticketing details, or they might only announce one round of ticketing at a time, so even if there's no ticketing info yet or the lottery already passed, you should keep your ears peeled.
Using the ticketing site
If you don't need to create an account, great! (For example, some applications on Ticket Pia, L-Tike, and Rakuten Ticket don't require making an account.)
If it turns out you need to create an account, some sites might make it hard—they might require you to have a Japanese phone number and verify it by receiving an SMS or calling a certain number with it.
If you've dealt with this, it's time to apply for tickets. Two sections in particular may involve some consideration: payment methods and receiving the ticket.
You need a Japanese phone number with SMS? Bad news.
If you don't have the right to reside in Japan (citizen/permanent resident/long-term visa) and don't already have a phone number, then your options are limited, but it is possible:
- Get a resident/citizen to help you by signing up for a SIM themselves.
- Get a SIM that only works in Japan and travel to Japan to do the registration.
In order to pay for tickets on JP ticketing sites, you usually need one of:
- a credit card—may need to be issued in Japan
- someone who can go to a convenience store (conbini) in Japan and pay there
- someone with a Japanese bank account
Receiving the ticket
Events may implement one or all of these methods.
- E-ticket: This is becoming more common. It could be as easy as them emailing you a QR code to show when you go into the venue, or it could involve you downloading an app or possibly submitting a photo. (You might need to receive SMS at your registered phone number for the app, so don't cancel your plan!)
- Printing the ticket at a conbini: Straightforward. You can usually print the ticket as late as the day of the concert, so just double-check the timeline. (Some tickets need to be printed when you pay, though.) The mechanics of ticket printing are basically the same as paying (see above).
- Getting the ticket mailed: If you don't have a friend or family to send to, try asking your hotel in Japan if they can receive mail, or ask your package forwarding service to see if they can send to your planned lodging. Tickets could be mailed with not much time to spare, so you want to avoid the time/uncertainty burden of sending it overseas to where you live.
At this point, I hope you have a good sense for what the process of getting tickets involves. But there are some specifics that I didn't want to bog down the (already long) explanation above with.
Japan Concert Tickets also has a guide with some more details, especially on seating and phases of ticket sales.
How many codes should I use?
Hard to say. My anecdotal experience suggests that 2 codes is a lot better than 1 code for Love Live! events, and that winning more than once for a certain event on one account is highly unlikely if it's a competitive lottery. I won't conclude much more than that due to lack of data.
I lost (or didn't apply), but I still want to go!
You can hope that there will be another round of ticket sales. You could also try to buy from ticket resellers, e.g. on ticket.co.jp, Yahoo Auctions JP, or even Twitter.
If you do buy from a reseller, a couple warnings:
- Scammers: they exist.
- ID checks: if you buy from an unauthorized reseller and staff finds out, you could be kicked out... or worse. Some events may check your ID against the name on your ticket to make sure you're actually the person who bought it. They might even make you recite the address or phone number you used for your application.
To guard against ID checks for especially risky events, I recommend buying (if possible) an accompanied (同行) ticket, where the original buyer goes in alongside you. Ideally, they're also sitting with you to provide ID help if you get checked at your seat. You'll need to coordinate with them, so be prepared to deal with the language barrier, and such tickets also tend to be significantly more expensive.
(For events that restrict tickets to one per person, or that constrain all tickets to the original buyers, it won't be possible to have such tickets.)
ID checks sound scary. Do they target foreigners?
There's no evidence they target foreigners in particular. Personally, I've seen staff walk around with a list of seats to ID check—they likely glean these from watching secondhand resale listings online.
Where's my seat?
You'll usually find out what your seat is when you get your ticket. E-tickets might update a couple weeks or a couple days before the event. (Sometimes you can check on the website without needing to print it out.)
You can often find out where in the venue your seat is by searching for a seat map ("[venue name] 座席表").
Be warned that sometimes the blocks in the re-configurable sections (like the arena section of many large venues) will be labeled in a less predictable manner than A > B > C > D > etc., so that resale prices don't get exorbitant for the seats that are close up. (For example, the blocks might be labeled H, P, T, A, leaving people to guess which blocks will be further up.)