The first round of Headliners for Fuji Rock Festival 2013 has just been announced this week, including Nine Inch Nails, Bjork, The XX and Australia’s own Tame Impala.
Sure, it’s a solid line-up, with some of the biggest bands in the world… But going to another hemisphere is such a chore, and these acts will probably tour Aus at some stage or another, right? Stop right now. That sort of attitude will have you shivering your Winter away with a cup of soup watching Channel V. Let’s clear up a few things about the Fuji Rock Festival here and now. It’s more than the music. It’s one of those ‘only in Japan’ experiences. Your new benchmark for music festivals if you like.
First up, there’s the impressive logistics. Imagine ferrying 100,000-odd festival-goers to an alpine resort in the middle of nowhere. It would probably send any Australian public transport system into meltdown. But then, they don’t have the help of a Shinkansen (bullet train). An hour from Tokyo in Echigo-Yuzawa, an army of busses meet the train, and take the hoards through the mountains (literally, through tunnels) to Naeba Ski Resort. You can actually wake up at a reasonable hour in your Tokyo bed, and be there for the first acts of the day. That said, expect some large queues for busses and wrist-band collection. They do move you through these quickly though, and it is so quiet and orderly, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in line for the world’s funkiest and hippest bank.
When you’re in the Japanese Alps at Fuji Rock, it’s important to note that thinking like an Australian could get you killed, or even worse, cause you to miss a band. If, like my comrade on this expedition, you happen to have your new iPhone unknowingly fall out of your pocket on the bus, do not handle this the Australian way – stressfully making 62 international calls to the phone in the hope that someone picks up who speaks some form of English, followed by several trips to the lost and found tent, making borderline crazy air-phone gestures to ask for help… Simply follow the more reserved Japanese-style approach instead – go and sit on the mountain-lush lawns, enjoy some of the biggest rock acts in the world, and then take a quick stroll back up to the bus-stop several hours later, where you will likely discover that your phone has been politely handed in by a complete stranger. Arigato Japan!
And incidentally, well done to you if you know what Arigato means, you now know as much Japanese as any of the international acts at the festival!
Rubbish disposal, whilst not usually high on the average festival-goer’s radar, is somewhat of a sport at Fuji Rock. In fact, if there were Recycling Olympics, Fuji Rock would receive Gold. Here’s how it works: Festival waste-stations have 8 or so bins… One for your wooden fork, another for your chop-sticks, one for your bottles, one for your lid, one for your bottle label, etc… and alongside them, some incredibly perky bin attendants to help baffled foreigners with this intense DIY disposal process.
Higher on your list of priorities might be accommodation. Hotels in the area can be costly, so for around $30, you could have your own camp-site. Since flat land is at a premium in Japan, they have taken an innovative approach for the festival campsite. This will probably be your first experience of pitching a tent on a ski run. Heed advice to angle your tent so that you’re less likely to roll in the night. Whilst it is a friendly festival, crashing through other tents in a 3am human avalanche may be frowned upon. Note that July is in the middle of the Japanese Summer, so you will be on grass, not snow. Just excuse the divots, this is also Naeba’s village golf course.
Down below, the festival setting will stay etched in your memory forever. It’s just breathtaking!
14 stages and band-sites sprinkled along a heavily forested alpine valley, with a surprising discovery made at last year’s festival. The valley’s unique shape can perfectly carry Beth Dito’s wailing dulcet tones extraordinary distances. Through the middle of the festival, there is a mountain stream for cooling off, an international boardwalk along one side, paying homage to the victims of 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake, and a rocky track through the forest passing big illuminated eyeballs, stars which slowly change colours, and rocks with eyes painted on them, aka “Fuji Rocks”.
At the stages, it’s worth moshing with some degree of poise and grace, since you may be rubbing shoulders with your favourite artist. Fuji Rock does away with the VIP treatment, so if rock-stars want to see a band, they’re out in the crowd with the rest of us. You’ll also notice that, like most of Japanese culture, the local crowd is quite subdued. Not dull, just pleasant. Think more A Day on the Green than Soundwave. With the festival receiving a lot of publicity in the UK, there are plenty of Brit backpackers, though not enough to totally ruin the whole cultural vibe.
The global (mainly UK) acts usually swap between Fuji Rock and South Korea’s Jisan Valley Rock Festival on the same weekend, and sometimes continue down to Splendour, organisers do a great job at finding a diverse range of local artists. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a word, the J-indie scene is massive!
If you’re limited to spending just one day at the festival, there are late-night Shinkansen services back to Tokyo, though you will need to miss the headline act for the day. Not that it matters. Fuji Rock Festival is so much more than just the music.
Fuji Rock Festival will again be held at Naeba Ski Resort Japan, July 26, 27, 28, 2013.
Early-bird tickets went on-sale March 9.
For the full 3 days, tickets will set you back upwards of $400. Camping or local accommodation is extra. Day tickets are also worthwhile if your airline’s baggage limit doesn’t allow for camping gear. These cost around $190.
Tickets booked through www.ganban.net can only be sent to a Japanese address or picked up at the festival entrance (3-day tickets only). If you’d rather have them in your hand before you go, JTB can arrange single-day or 3-day tickets to be sent to Australia with a $55 additional booking fee. Phone (03) 8623-0000
From Tokyo Station, catch JR’s Shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa for around $70 return (free for JR Pass holders). A constant loop of buses run from Echigo-Yuzawa to the festival site, which are free for festival ticket-holders.