Ritsuhiko Tajima has about 100 CDs by his favorite artist, Japanese girl group AKB48, many of them copies of the same disc. The attraction? The CDs often include tickets to events where he can briefly meet his idols. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of them,” the 28-year-old nursing assistant says as he waits at the group’s Tokyo theater for a monthly sale of limited-edition photos of its members. “They’re pop stars that I can come visit.”
Fans such as Tajima helped increase music sales to consumers in Japan by 3 percent last year, to $4.3 billion, surpassing the U.S. to become the world’s biggest market, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Japanese consumer music revenue rose in 2012 for the first time in five years, led by tunes delivered on CDs and other physical media, bucking a trend in the U.S. and other Western markets as cheaper downloads gain ground.