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Indie Visual Kei live etiquette in Japan

Updated on July 5, 2015

Why is it important to know the rules?

In general, so that you don't look like an entitled foreign douchebag.
More specifically, even if you don't necessarily like these written and unwritten rules, there are still several reasons to follow them.
If you plan to see a band more than one time, these rules will help you get better spots at the live and be at least on good terms with the Japanese (or even foreign) girls who regularly follow the band (the 常連, jouren). The girls can be mean to you if you disrespect them, and in extreme cases you could get yourself banned from the band's lives or get a bad reputation with the bandguys themselves.
If you feel altruistic, respecting the rules will also give the Japanese girls a good image of foreigners in general.
Finally, even though you may not like these rules and think they are stupid, Visual Kei was still born in Japan, where it's still alive as a subculture with its own use and customs. While you may do what you want abroad, when you're in someone else's country it's a polite gesture to respect their ways!

Finally, I want to point out these rules mostly apply to smaller and medium shows (I would say up to around 1000-1500 attendees). If you're going to see the GazettE or X Japan or similar artists, you probably don't need to care about any of this.

Visual kei fans cosplaying their favorite band
Visual kei fans cosplaying their favorite band | Source

Basic live knowledge: taiban, shusai, oneman, free lives

First of all, in order to know how to act, it's important to know what kind of live are you going to see.

  • Event live (sometimes shortened in "taiban")
    At an event live more than one band appears on stage. Depending on the number of bands, it could be a really long event, and each band could play for half an hour or more.
    Most of the indie bands' lives are of this kind, as renting a live house could be too expensive for a single band.
    There is no way to know for certain when a band will play, unless one of the members tells you. There are ways to guess though: usually the more famous a band is, the later it will play - however this is not exact science!
    If it's a very big event involving more than one venue, they might release a schedule before the event - the same applies to some "end of the year" lives.
  • Shusai (主催) live
    This is another kind of event live, meaning more than one band will play. The only difference is that it's organized by one of the bands ("shusai" means sponsorship, organizing) and usually the band that organizes the live will play last.
    There have been a few cases of bands organizing lives and playing early, but 99% of the times they will be the last to appear on stage.
  • Oneman (ワンマン)
    This is the kind of live people are mostly used to in the West. Only one band plays at this live. There could be an opening act (usually tagged as O.A.).
    Some bigger bands (think GazettE, Alice Nine or Nightmare) mostly appear at oneman lives.
  • Free live
    Sometimes bands organize free lives. This can be done for a variety of reasons, usually because they want to shoot something at the live, the live will be broadcasted somewhere or they do it as advertising.
    Sometimes you can get numbered or not numbered tickets in CD shops, or you can just show up at the venue on the day of the live (in this case, if other people have a ticket with a number they will enter before you, and if there are too many people you may not be able to enter). Be aware that you will still have to pay the drink fee.

Example of tickets

Oneman live (only one band playing)
Oneman live (only one band playing)
Event live (more than one band) without shusai (outside organizer, not a band). The ticket was bought at the livehouse so it looks different.
Event live (more than one band) without shusai (outside organizer, not a band). The ticket was bought at the livehouse so it looks different.
Event live (more than one band) with shusai (organized by one of the bands, as can be read on top). In fact Neverland, who was organizing, played last.
Event live (more than one band) with shusai (organized by one of the bands, as can be read on top). In fact Neverland, who was organizing, played last.

The importance of ticket numbers

First of all, why are ticket numbers important?
Basically, most lives in Japan are all standing lives, and the ticket number decides the order in which you will enter the livehouse - and obviously the first people to enter will get the best spots!
The venue staff will literally call the numbers (usually ten by ten) at the entrance, and check the number on your ticket, so you should at least learn how to say your number in Japanese.

I am not going into the details of how to buy tickets here, so let's say that you already have tickets in your hands.

  • Be aware of your letter
    Sometimes, together with the number you will also have a letter near the number. Most of the time it's S, A or B, but there can be other variations. What does this mean?
    In addition to the number, letters play a role in the order of entrance. This is because sometimes tickets for the same show are sold by different entities (for example, the band will sell some directly at their merchandising table and some others can be bought online) or at different times (for example, there is a lottery-based pre-sale and then general sales), so the letters help differentiate the kind of tickets.
    The order really depends on the band and on the live, so you have to check on the band website. There will be written something like S->A->B... which means that S tickets will enter first, than A, than B and so on. The website will also usually say where to buy which category of tickets.
  • Yay I can be on the first row!
    Well, maybe yes. Or maybe not.
    Japanese girls are really precise and strict when it comes to being in the first rows for band they like.Taking a spot that you're not supposed to take is one of the rudest things you can do, especially in the first row (called 最前, saizen). In order to learn more about how ticket numbers determine your spot at an all-standing live, please read the "Negotiations" section further on. If you don't read anything else, at least read that!
  • Seated lives
    Occasionally bands will have seated lives. While this doesn't happen very often, a seated live works just like any seated live in the West. You can show up whenever you want and go to your seat, which will be written on the ticket. However, people may still do negotiations even at seated lives, so read the section!

Dressing tips

While there is no dress code for Visual Kei lives, here are some tips that might help you.

  • Check that there actually isn't a dress code
    Sometimes bands will enforce a dress code, especially if they want to shoot a video. They might ask everyone to wear a certain color or to bring a towel. Or the live might have a theme. So check with the band's/livehouse website to make sure.
  • Style
    Personally, I've seen girls in all kind of style at lives, going from people in jumpers to full Gothic Lolita. In general, I noticed that most girls dress in a very normal or cute style, but it really depends on the band (some bands tend to have a lot of gyaru fans, some gather Gothic Lolita, etc.) so it's up to you. My only advice would be to wear shorts underneath if you plan to wear a skirt, so you don't flash anyone if you sit down on the ground or bend.
  • Layers
    Especially in winter, dressing in layers it's your best bet, as most livehouses tend to get very hot quickly. Conversely, if it's summer, you may want to consider bringing a light shirt to cover yourself up if you know the livehouse won't be crowded, as the aircon tends to be set pretty high.
  • Cosplay
    Sometimes girls will go to live in cosplay or wearing special clothes on special occasions. For example, people might dress in Santa-inspired fashion at Christmas, or if the band announced they are going to appear on stage in a school uniform, some fans might do the same. In general if there is an occasion or you know that the guys will appreciate it, you are free to do it.
  • Shoes
    You might have seen girls coming in with super high heels and changing to horrible crocs once inside. Why?
    There are several reasons. Mostly, they want to be cute but they also want to be able to enjoy the concert with all the jumping and headbanging that ensues. Also, there might be moshing, so it's polite to wear light shoes in order not to hurt the other people if you step on them. However, there is no written rule, so you can still wear your shoes.
    Personally, when it's warm I bring a pair of flats with me and change into them, while in winter I will change into Huggs-like boots or loafers, or wear them directly to the livehouse.
  • Bags and belongings
    Japanese girls bring one thousand bags with them, which is something that I find very annoying if the livehouse is full.
    For this reason, sometimes livehouses enforce a cloak policy if they expect a lot of people to come to the live, meaning that if your bag is bigger than a certain size, you will have to check it in. Read the website of the livehouse to find if that's the case.
    Aside from that, even though Japan is generally very safe, I still advise you to take you important belongings (cellphone and wallet) with you when you go to the toilet etc. if you're alone.
    Personally, if I know that the live will be crowded, I bring a small bag with the essential stuff (money, cellphone, ID/ ATM card) inside my bigger bag, so that I can leave the big bag wherever there's space in the livehouse and bring only the small bag with me, if needed. Some livehouses also have coin lockers, and generally even if the livehouse doesn't have any, there will be some in the nearest train or subway station.
    If you're in saizen, usually you will be able to put your bag in front of you over the rail during your saizen set.
  • Water and food
    In theory, it's forbidden to bring food and drinks from outside into the livehouse. In practice, since especially event lives tend to be long and most livehouses don't sell food, girls usually sneak in water and snacks. My bag has never been checked at the entrance, but I've seen people getting their snacks taken away when they were caught eating (while I've never seen anyone getting water taken away). Basically, you can sneak it stuff if you want, but know that it's against the rules.

Before the live: lining up, lockers and entering

So, you've done your preparation and you're actually at the livehouse! What happens now?

  • Locker and cloak
    If you have a lot of stuff with you, or you have things that you're afraid would get dirty or break, it's better to put them inside a locker. Not all livehouses have a cloak room, so check in advance on their website.
    Some venues have a number of lockers inside or outside; however, they may get filled quickly if it's a popular event. If the venue is near the station and the weather conditions let you, you can also consider leaving your things in a train/subway station locker and coming back after the show to get them.
  • Doors open, line up and start
    You may notice that on your tickets there are two indications of time, for example 開場16.30 開演17 . This means that they will let people start entering at 16.30, while the show will start at 17. This is mostly relevant if you have a low number as you will be allowed to enter before other people.
    Certain livehouses also specify at what time you can start lining up for the live and will ask you to leave if you show up too early. You should check with the livehouse website for this, but it's usually from 15 to 5 minutes before opening.
    Also, if you plan to get into the first row (saizen), it's a good idea to be there a bit before the opening (usually 10 to 15 minutes) to make sure you can discuss this (see more details on the "Negotiations" section).
    When it comes to free lives, sometimes the regular fans (called 常連, jouren) will find a way to line up before the allowed time to get the best spots. I am not an expert on this so I don't know the details, but this should be a problem only at lives without numbered tickets.
  • Locate the shikiri
    This is only relevant if you have a good ticket number and plan to be in the first row for someone. The shikiri (from 仕切り, to divide) is the person that decided and keeps track of people on the first row; each band has its own person, who is usually a die hard fan and goes to all lives. You will recognize her because she will probably have a phone or small notepad out to write down names. Please see more of it in the "Negotiations" section.
  • At the entrance: band name, drink ticket, flyers
    If you're at an event live, when taking your tickets the staff will ask you which band are you there to see; this helps them divide the revenues for the show. When you enter you will also be asked to pay the drink ticket fee (more on it below); some venues will give you a drink ticket, but if they don't give you anything it means that you can use your ticket as a drink ticket. Sometimes you will also be handed a free magazine and/or a bunch of band flyers, or they will be nearby; you can refuse to take them, take them or wait and take them after the live, it's up to you!
  • Irimachi?
    Irimachi is the act of waiting for the band when they arrive at the livehouse. Honestly, most girls that I know won't do irimachi, especially because the guys will arrive to do reharsal and will have a set amount of time to do it, before they head over to eat and/or do their make up, which can take up hours. So it will probably just be annoying for them if they have to also entertain you. Additionally, some livehouses explicitly forbid irimachi and will send you away if you're hanging around.


Before the live: negotiations

So, you actually got a very good ticket number. We are talking about a single digit number for a oneman or a taiban (1-9) or a low double digit number for a taiban (10-20, but this varies a lot, further explanation below).
Congratulations, this means that you may be able to enter the first row (最前 saizen) if you want!

First of all, if you don't want to be saizen, it's not a problem. It's your right! You may want to stay in the back and enjoy the show and you are totally free to do that.
If however you want to be in saizen, things are a bit different depending on what kind of live it is (taiban or oneman).


Saizen at a oneman live
This is the easiest case. Basically, when you enter the venue, if there is a free spot on the first row, you can take it. The only limit is that depending on how big the venue is, the first row can accommodate more or less people.

Saizen at an event live
This is slightly more complicated. Basically each band will have a number of girls taking the first row, but only during their set. Depending on the width of the livehouse, the number can vary; for smaller livehouses is usually a range between 1 and 6/7 people.
If you have a very low number (let's say number 4), you basically have a guaranteed spot in saizen. Once you are in, find the shikiri (more details on what the shikiri does are in the "Before the live: lining up" section) and talk to her about what band you are there to see and what spot you want.
If you have a higher number, there still could be a spot in saizen. Maybe your band is not popular at all, or maybe all the girls before you are all there for other bands. Even with a higher number, you can still go to the shikiri and ask if there is a spot for your band - in this case however you might get denied.

Even if you can't be in saizen, you can still switch with girls in the front rows (from the second on) for the band that you like. Try to locate someone who has a towel of a band which is not your band, and ask them if they could switch with you during the set of your band. Some girls are happy to leave their spot for bands they don't like and will let you switch with them for the length of that set, after which they will come back to their spot (notice: if your spot was in the back, if the livehouse is crowded it might not be there anymore, so plan accordingly). Once again, some girls might tell you no, but usually if you ask more than one person you might find someone to switch with.

Finally, some bands ban shikiri. If that's the case with your band, it means that whoever has the desire to do so can enter saizen, if there is space. If you find out your band doesn't have a shikiri, you can still try to ask/ look around for other fans and see if there is space for you at the front.

As for vocabulary for negotiations and more details, I would like you to check the section "How do I get into saizen?" from the Ask A Bangya blog, which you can find here. They did a great job and you will be able to find a lot of info there!

Drink bar and saving your spot

When you enter, you will have to pay a drink ticket fee, ranging from 500 to 600 yen. This is basically a mandatory drink.
Depending on the livehouse, you might get an additional ticket with "drink ticket" written on it, some kind of other object like a pick or a coin, or you will be able to use your live ticket as a drink ticket (the person at the bar will stamp it when you order).

  • Does it have a date?
    As mentioned above, sometimes you will have to use your live ticket as a drink ticket, and if you don't use you will just lose your money. Sometimes also the drink ticket that you get will have a date stamped on it, which will make it usable only on that day.
    Other livehouses have drink tickets without dates. If you happen to get one of those, you can keep it and use it at the same livehouse during another concert!! Just make sure that the livehouse doesn't abruptly change them.
  • When can you drink it?
    The bar opening time depends on the livehouse. In general, for a taiban the bar will be open at least before the live and between the bands' sets, and for a oneman it will be open before the live start. Some livehouses keep their bar open for a while also after the performance ends, but since it depends on the livehouse's policies, if you are not sure you may want to ask.
    Finally, some smaller livehouses have the bar in the same room as the stage. This means that usually the bar will be closed when the band performs. If the livehouse's bar is in an area other than the stage, then the bar might be open also during sets.
  • What are the drink choices?
    There is usually a list of drinks you can get with your drink ticket, and some others for which you have to pay a little extra. Most livehouses offer both soft and alcoholic drinks, with variety depending on the livehouse.
    Remember that in Japan the drinking age is 20 years old, so they might ask for your ID card at the bar if you order an alcoholic beverage.

Cheki example. You can also see the ticket with a drink stamp and a small gift I was given when I bought cheki (yeah, don't ask)
Cheki example. You can also see the ticket with a drink stamp and a small gift I was given when I bought cheki (yeah, don't ask)

Merchandising

If you want to buy something at the merchandising table (物販, buppan), this could happen before or after the show. Here are some tips.

  • Check for early buppan at big shows
    Sometimes at big shows, to avoid confusion and make it easier for everyone to get things, the buppan will be open before the show. This means that you can go to the venue, enter, buy your things and than go out. This will usually be announced on the band/venue website a few days before the show, so check it out. Usually the buppan will also be open after the show, though.
  • Cheki vs. other merchandising
    While most of the merchandising is always available at the buppan no matter what time you go, sometimes cheki will be sold after the band's performance. You may want to ask the person at the buppan for info. Cheki are little polaroid pictures of the bandmen that girls like to collect and trade.
  • Band members at the buppan
    Smaller bands often run their own buppan, meaning they will only open it after their set and keep it open for one or two sets after, depending on the band and what time they play - there could also be just one of them, all of them or they could take turns. Other times there will be a staff person at the buppan, and the guys won't come out at all. Finally, sometimes there will be a staff person at the buppan, but the guys will still come out for a bit after their performance, all together or separately.
    This really depends on the band and their eventual label.
    Even if the members don't come out, if you have gifts for them you still can give them to their buppan staff. Just make sure to write the member's name on the letter or bag!

During the live: taking pictures

Can you take pictures during the live?

Basically, no. There most likely will be signs around saying that, so unless the band specifically says you're allowed to take pictures, you're not.

When it comes to other people, while it's not very common, you can ask to take their pictures (especially if they are wearing cosplays and such). But if you plan to put them online, please ask them if they're okay with that, as a lot of bangyas avoid putting their faces on the internet for several reasons.

Taking selfies inside the venue is okay, as long as you're not obviously using it as an excuse for taking something else's picture. You can also take pictures of the stage before the performance starts, even though usually there will be a curtain and you won't be able to see anything.
You can also take pictures of the flowers and band boards outside, this is perfectly fine, and uploading them online is fine too.

During the live: furitsuke (coreography)

You may have noticed that the girls all do the same hand movements during the live. Welcome to the world of furitsuke (振付)!
Furitsuke by itself means "coreography". Furitsuke in Visual Kei involve a series of hand movements or body movements like headbanging, jumping, moshing.

Most of the furitsuke is done based on the rhythm of the song, and if you go to lives often enough, you will learn what movements go where. Some bands design their own furitsuke (usually uploading them online in furitsuke videos or explaining them before the song) and some bands have very elaborated ones.

Please see the videos below for some examples!

While you're not forced to do them, it's polite to try and follow the other girls, especially if you're in the first rows. You don't need to to very big hand movements if you're not sure about what's going on, just trying is fine! Also, you don't need to headbang or do oritatami or gyaku dai if you don't feel like it, there are some hands movements that you can do to replace that.

Also, if you are not sure about participating into moshing (which happens often especially for heavier bands), it's a good idea to just stay in the back or on the sides of the venue, especially if it's a oneman.

Visual Kei band Kiryu demonstrating the furitsuke coreography for one of their songs, Shinin Hana

Band Synk;yet demonstrating the coreography for "Psychotic Mechanism"

After the live: merchandising and demachi

As mentioned above, you may want to go to the merchandising table after the live (or after your band's set).

  • Buppan etiquette
    First of all, there will be a queue. Respect that!
    As we already mentioned, there might or might not be band members at the buppan. While you're more than welcome to talk to them, if there are still a lot of people behind you, it's not polite to monopolize the conversation. You may want to come back a second time when there are less people, or stay at the end of the line if you plan to chat a lot.

  • To demachi or not to demachi?
    Demachi means waiting outside for the band to leave the venue after the show. I personally don't do it, but if you do you can get a chance to talk with the guys for longer, and you can also bring them something to drink or eat.
    First of all, check the policies of the livehouse. As mentioned in the irimachi part, some places ban demachi and there will be a person from the staff outside the venue that will ask you to leave if you are standing around. Sometimes, the band itself will ban demachi (especially if they start to be more famous), and it will usually be written on their website.
    Having that said, some girls will just wait a bit further from the livehouse, and most livehouses still allow it.
    If your band is okay with it however, you can wait for the members to come out - if you want, you can ask their fans to know if they usually do it or not.


After the live: satsueikai and bandmen flyers

Some other general things that could happen after the performance's end.

  • Photoshoot session
    This usually happens only for smaller bands. Sometimes, if you spend a certain amount of money at the merchandising table, pull out a winning cheki (a cheki with written "atari" on it), or fill your stamp card if your band has one, there could be a photo shoot session, meaning that you will be able to take a picture with the band or one of the members. The session usually happens after the show's end, and you will be asked to wait or line up in a certain part of the venue for it, or invited to leave if you're not participating.
    Check with your band if this is happening, it usually will be written on their website or social networks.
  • Band members giving out flyers
    If the band that you're seeing is famous, you might find band guys from smaller bands outside the venue after the show, giving out flyers. They might be makeupless and thus not recognizable.
    They are usually happy if you take their flyers, but if you don't want them you can just politely refuse and walk on. If you know their band there's no problem in saying that you know them and/or you've already seen them, it usually makes them happy!

Further reading

If you still have questions, there are some places where you can find answers.

I already linked it above, but Ask A Bangya is a very good resource for all things related to Visual Kei. They also answer questions so it's a good place to start.

JAME UK also has an article about it, which you can find here, even though I don't necessarily agree with everything said.

You can also comment here below and I will try to help you!

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