As any casual observer can tell, Japan is all about seasons and as the Japanese summer gets underway, there are a number of ways to not only survive the onset of the rainy season (and soon thereafter the typhoon season), but revel in it, most of them having to do with the sundry music festivals happening across the country from Hokkaidō to Okinawa. If you’re going to try to hit all thirteen of Japan’s major music festivals you are going to need fairly deep pockets (less so if you hitchhike), access to more than one boat and just about all summer to do it. So pack your ponchos and portable chopsticks, your sunglasses and mosquito coils and get your thumbs warmed up. It’s Go Time!
6/12-13 Miyako-jima Rock Festival: Often Japanese festivals are distinguished more by setting than by the music, located amidst amazing natural surroundings, the forest and the mountains, the sun and the sea, allowing us an access to the stars at night Tokyo wouldn’t think of dimming its neon for, yet more often than not it is the Zen sense of ephemerality that tinges the Japanese Music Festival with unforgettable moments. So you won’t be too disappointed that this rock and dub based festival on Miyako-jima is already over. Rather, your excitement for this festival held on the tiny island of Miyako in the Okinawan archipelago in its fifth year will continue to grow as 2010 swings around. Don’t dwell on the past (nor the future) and head north young traveler.
Japan’s Music Festival Mania
Info: 2-day pass ¥7000 – Miyakojima, Okinawa
7/16-23 Total Solar Eclipse Festival 2009: An opportunity to see one of the longest solar eclipses (7/22) in your lifetime comes two days before Fuji Rock and in possibly one of the remotest locations in Japan, making travel to and from difficult. But dem’s da breaks when it comes to experiencing the only total solar eclipse you’ll probably ever see on a lost little tropical island in the east pacific with all the other young, gyrating creatures and their summertime inhibitions at an all-time-solar-eclipse low. Mostly DJs spinning wax all week long. Though it’s probably too late to get a hotel anywhere, book travel and make tent arrangements asap.
Info: 9-day Pass ¥30,000 ¥5000 campsite – Amami Island, Kagoshima
Amami Total Solar Eclipse Music Festival
7/19-20 Nano-Mugen Festival 2009
Hosted by Asian Kung-Fu Generation since 2003, Nano-Mugen is one of the year’s major rock festivals, finally garnering the likes of Yokohama Arena in 2005. Of course Yokohama Areana is convenient and within easy reach of Tokyo so, depending on how you look at it, this could be a good warmup just before Fujirock, or your last chance at meeting a yamanba that’s not actually a mountain spirit. Featuring Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Ben Folds, Manic Street Preachers, Nada Surf, Straightener, OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, SPITZ, Sakanacushion, and more.
Info: 2 1-day passes EACH ¥9,600 – Yokohama Arena, Yokohama, Kanagawa
7/24-27 Fuji Rock Festival
More than a month after the Miyako-jima Festival gave us a taste of pristine Okinawan beaches, some strong Awamori hangovers and a great variety of music, arguably the biggest-longest running festival rolls up her summer yukata to show a bit of backwoods leg. The Fuji Rock Festival being nowhere near the haunted forests of Mt. Fuji, but rather nestled in Mt. Naeba, a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, a large rural prefecture located on the northwest shores of Japan (Yuzawa is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s classic Snow Country), which has been hosting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1997. The morning fog, the inevitable rain and ensuing deluge, all add to the inescapably mesmerizing atmosphere of the self-styled “world’s cleanest festival”. Cleanliness aside, once the rain starts and clears and starts again, there will be plenty of mud and lots of space provided by stunned rubber-neckers should you opt to slip and slide in any of the eleven or so performance areas, so be sure to pack your slicker, a sturdy pair of shoes and extra beer money to treat all the people who pick your muddied person up (should you decide not to camp on an incline) hitchhiking to and from the isolated area. Featuring Franz Ferdinand, Paul Weller, Public Enemy, Brahman, Melvins, and Tortoise among innumerable others.
Info: 3-day pass ¥39,800 Camping ¥3,000/person Parking ¥3,000 – Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa, Niigata
8/7-9 Summer Sonic: Little need be said about Summer Sonic. It’s a massive affair in every aspect, spanning three days of heatstroke inducing conditions in both Tokyo (the site says Tokyo, but it’s actually Chiba) and Osaka. Besides flaunting one its best lineups for its 10th anniversary, SS offers a maelstrom of interactive booths, exhibits, artworks, a movie and photo gallery, seaside village (depending on which venue), basically any kind of food you can imagine, oh, and lines…long ones. This being Japan bring plenty of cash, sunscreen, sunglasses, squirt guns, walkie talkies to find lost friends, anything to distract you from the improbable task of getting from Nine Inch Nails in time to see Mogwai. Cheer up though, if you can handle the crowds, maybe Beyonce will share her portable bootie fan with you backstage or the Flaming Lips will bounce giant water balloons through the crowd just as Lightning Strikes The Postman crescendoes.
Info: 3-day pass Tokyo- ¥39,500 – Chiba Marines Stadium & Makuhari Messe – Osaka ¥37,000 – Maishima Summer Sonic Osaka Site
8/8-9 Festa de Rama: The alternative to Summer Sonic’s massive commerciality, this demure festival offers a bit of everything for fans seeking a musical escape from the humidity of the mainland. Now in its fifth year, it’s slogan is a truism for the ages, “One good thing about music: when it hits you feel no pain.” While FdR- whose other mantra is “PEACE. MUSIC. LOVE. SUMMER. BEER.”- is technically in Hiroshima, it is actually in another world altogether. Set in Setoda Sunset Beach on Ikuchishima, one of many islands in the Seto Inland Sea between Hiroshima and Okayama, Festa de Rama has alternately kept a low profile among Japanese festivals while growing in abundant influence annually. A worthwhile trip, indeed.
Info: 2-day pass ¥9900/¥12,500 w/Campsite
Festa de Rama
8/8-9 Isla de Salsa: Come August Fukuoka is on the map with the largest Latin music festival in Japan, which is good news for all those who didn’t want to traverse the country during the high end of the tourist season for Summer Sonic. Stay at home, see a ballgame (the festival site is right next to Yahoo Dome where the Hawks play) and then head to the beach for some salsa, some grinding and what is described as “Borderless music, borderless mind” in its 13th year. Don’t forget your bikini. ¡Qué bueno! Vamos…
Info: 2-day pass ¥8800 – Momochi Beach, Fukuoka
Isla de Salsa
8/9 World Happiness 2009: So far as I can tell the only summer festival actually in Tokyo proper, World Happiness is, aptly enough, being held at Dream Island Park. If Gautama Buddha were here today (shhh…he is) he might suggest that this dreamy (manmade) island park would be the perfect place to catch some oneness with any of the number of artists appearing at the show with names like Love Psychedelico, Granola Boys, The Dub Flower or Moon Riders. The final performance is done around 8pm which means clocking in at roughly 8-9 hours this will be the pound for pound most expensive “festival” all summer. At least early has the benefit of allowing plenty of time to get back to reality for a drink before the last train home.
Info: 1-day pass ¥8500 or ¥9000 w/ 1 kid – Yumenoshimakoen, Koto-ku, Tokyo
8/14-15 Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ezo: Like anything in a country as collectively uniform as Japan, one must search a bit harder to find distinction, but once you do watch out someone doesn’t lose an eye or go out of their way to find yours and pick it up for you. The Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ezo, barely taking the prize for the northernmost festival in Japan (just beating out Teine Highland), is described as an “handmade, outdoor event,” but if the name “Ezo” gives any indication, this festival is its own little world. Ezo is the ancient name of Hokkaidō and was at one point (1868-69) a separate republic from Imperial Japan. Festival frequenter J. Hadfield attended last year’s event and called it “a two-day extravaganza where goodwill is taken to occasionally ridiculous extremes.” That’s old Ezo, where people smile and high-five, the winter comes early (dress warm for cool nights) and the music doesn’t stop until the sun rises.
Info: 2-day pass ¥21,000 w/campsite – Ishikari New Port, Otaru, Hokkaido
8/29 Wire Music Festival: Started in 1999 The Wire is an all-night Techno Fest featuring more talented European (largely German) and Japanese DJs than anyone would even think about shaking a glow stick at. Not to fear, with a handful of live acts and a few VJs to round the evening, the Wire should prove to stick around at least another ten years. Located just a few minutes walk from Shin-Yokohama station this may very well be the most conveniently located festival in Japan, so why not hit it up for kicks?
Info: Advance ticket ¥11,550 – Yokohama Arena
8/29-30 Sapporo Teine Highland All-Night Music & Art Camp: If you listen to talk on the festival circuit there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding what actually transpires at Teine Highland All-Night Music & Art Camp. Situated in the Teine Ski Resort, the website “about” section makes reference to a lot of “magical” this and that, dropping adjectives like “moving”, “unique”, and “living” alongside nouns the likes of “nature”, “forest” and “hope”. What do we get for our hard-earned yen besides hippy allegory? Apparently a tent space (which despite it’s “all-night” boast, might actually come in handy), possibly a bike (what is a natural bicycle?), lots of art (40 or so works / installations) and over 80 musical acts (50-50 DJ-Live). Is that worth the trek? If you have never been to Hokkaido before, that alone necessitates the journey, and likely the most “natural” festival experience you’ll experience anywhere let alone in Japan.
Info: Natural Bicycle & Magical Campsite ¥7,500 – Sapporo Teine Ski Resort
9/4-6 Sunset Live: Sunset Live takes the prize for longest running music festival in Japan, going on its 17th summer out at Keya Beach on the immaculate Maebaru peninsula just an hour south of Tenjin in Fukuoka. Surrounded by mountains and the ocean the ongoing mantra is “Love & Unity”, which should ward off any stray Yakuza if the granola and hackey sack doesn’t work. If you’ve seen Sonatine you know it could take a lot of sand to do that. Crossover artist Gilles Peterson, instrumentalist extraordinaires Special Others, and Fukuoka’s own Zazen Boys headline this laidback event on three stages.
Info: 3-day ¥16,300 – Keya Beach, Fukuoka
If you happen to be in town all summer, you’ll notice that the beaches have mysteriously become vacant some September. While the new school year and the jellyfish migration may have this effect on the majority of the population, there’s no reason for your hitchhiking adventure to end because of a little sting in the water. Keep on trucking! Though if you’ve made it this far you may be having a touch choice to make come the first weekend in September when the Metamorphose and Otodama Festivals both compete for your musical yen.
9/5 Metamorphose: Originating on Mt. Fuji, this all-night festival will showcase about 30 – 40 eclectic international and Japanese artists on three different stages just outside of Tokyo’s megalopolis in Shizuoka. So while you’re in the area, why not head on down to the Izu peninsula to close up the summer festival season in style, get yourself in a hot spring, and try to recreate Hokusai’s majestic view of Fuji through The Wave? It’s definitely one of the better places Japan has to offer. Featuring Prefuse 73, Afrika Bambaataa, Richie Hawtin, Tangerine Dream.
Info: Advance ticket of ¥11,500, parking ticket of ¥2000, tent ticket of ¥2500 are available from 7/1 – Cycle Sports Center in Shizuoka
9/5 Otodama: Otodama, meaning the “Spirit of the Sound” is the official festival of Shimizu Onsen, or vice versa. It’s unclear from the website. As is much about the festival altogether, except that there will likely be guitars, amps, meat on sticks and lots of beer, which could all be good enough reasons to trek into the heart of Osaka’s harbor area. Though not exactly the forbidding place it must have been during the samurai’s reign there could be some action. After all Osaka can be seen as the tough and cool little brother to Tokyo’s buttondown sterility. Even Osakan salaryman walk and talk fast. You never know what great bands or trouble (or both) you might find.
Info: 1-day ¥6500 – Itsumiotsu-Phoenix in Osaka
Taicoclub’09 Kawasaki: This all-night festival in Kawasaki Higashi Ogishima Park will close out the summer festival circuit in Japan with what looks to be a promising lineup, featuring Múm, British electronic duo Plaid, Isolée, and techno DJ Carl Craig. All the way the future in mid-September away, the staff probably figures they have time to work on the website, you know, providing maps and prices and other small details like that. A big suggestion to all festival websites that don’t already have them: English versions will increase sales! Annoying but true. Let’s rock, trance, jazz and samba out on islands (manmade or natural), in the mountains (ski resorts and golf courses), on the docks or in seaside big parks (like where the Taicoclub will be held in Kawasaki- whose lead-in description begins “the park will serve as a staging ground for foreign aid and staff in the event of a major earthquake disaster in the Tokyo metropolitan area), better than before and do it together.
Info: 2-day ¥? – Kawasaki Higashi Ogishima Park, Kanagawa
To see a bit more what kind of hot water you may be getting yourself into, check out the plotted trip map below.
View Japan Music Festival Mania in a larger map
*Big thanks to Madman Hadfield for providing many of the above links.