Photo/Illutration A poster at the Hakataza Theater in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward warns against illegally resold tickets on May 2. (Daichi Itakura)

In the battle against ticket resellers, the scalpers have managed to stay at least one step ahead.

The anti-scalping law took effect in June 2019, prohibiting people from reselling tickets at prices higher than their retail value for commercial purposes.

Violators face up to one year in prison and/or a maximum fine of 1 million yen ($7140).

Early on, a number of individuals were arrested for reselling tickets to pro baseball games and concerts at extremely expensive prices.

But since then, scalpers have developed more sophisticated tactics to circumvent regulations.

And while event organizers have taken measures against ticket resales, such as rejecting visitors with scalped tickets, the moves proved unsustainable or ineffective.


In January, the Hakataza Theater in Fukuoka put up a sign for the stage drama “Elisabeth.” It warned that ticket holders may be asked questions, and that they should prepare their IDs. The sign also listed some seat numbers.

The theater operator had seen several tickets to “Elisabeth” being sold online at exorbitant prices.

One ticket was valued at 500,000 yen, 30 times its original price.

Hakataza said the tickets were all sold as soon as they were released, but a number of them were resold on the internet. The operator decided in May last year to play hardball.

Hakataza determined the seat numbers for the resold tickets, and those who showed up with those tickets were refused entry to the venue.

Most of them, including one who said a daughter had bought the ticket, were shocked to learn that their passes were obtained illicitly.

“It is heartbreaking for us to turn away audience members,” a Hakataza representative said. “We believe our approach will help broaden warnings that scalping is illegal.”

The representative said the theater will think about continuing this strategy against ticket resales, especially for popular shows.

“It would be very regrettable if scalpers prevent those who want to really watch our performances from buying tickets,” the official said.


The Imperial Theater in Tokyo in 2019 published the seat numbers for scalped tickets for “Les Miserables” on its official site.

But it quickly abandoned the practice because of the heavy burden it placed on staff.

Aside from their daily tasks, the theater’s personnel had to pinpoint the resold tickets, locate where they were purchased, and deal with angry visitors who were refused admission.

“We were worn down mentally,” an official said. “The workload for the process was too burdensome.”

The Imperial Theater operator currently contacts suspected buyers of improperly resold seats by email. Confirmed scalping cases are reported to police.


Online ticket vendors are bolstering countermeasures, too.

Major e-commerce marketplace operator Mercari Inc. uses both staff members and artificial intelligence to flag tickets that appear to be resold illegally. It also solicits reports from users about suspected offenses.

Mercari said it deletes tickets from the site after violations are confirmed.

One challenge is that excessively expensive tickets available online frequently blur out the seat numbers and buyers’ names to hide the scalpers’ identities.

An official of Hankyu Corp., operator of the Takarazuka Grand Theater in Hyogo Prefecture and other facilities, pointed to a more advanced scalping method.

“Cases have been reported where tickets are resold with fake seat numbers,” the official said.

Those cases are difficult to find or confirm as illegal.

About all the theater operators can do against that practice is regularly check visitors’ membership cards and IDs.

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan urges consumers to look carefully at not only resold tickets’ prices but also the theaters’ terms and conditions beforehand.