Fuji Rock Festival: A Fun Little, Big Town – Niigata, Japan

Peace, love, and music. Throw in some mud and an enormous little Japanese town in late July, and there’s a spectacle to be held.

fujientranceJapanese music fans are blessed with numerous festivals at their disposal each summer. But the granddaddy of them is the Fuji Rock Festival. Held annually since 1997, the somewhat inaccurately named festival draws music lovers to the otherwise dormant (in the summertime, that is) Naeba Ski Resort in rural Niigata Prefecture. The first Fuji Rock Festival was held near Mount Fuji, and despite the fact that only the first Fuji Rock Festival was held near Japan’s highest mountain, the name has stuck.

But Naeba isn’t the first place that shows the scope of the festival’s enormous popularity. Getting off the train at Echigo-Yuzawa station, vertical FRF banners hanging from the ceiling direct you to the shuttle buses transporting spectators to Naeba. As usual in Japan, those buses run efficiently as when one fills up, the next one is ready to go. But as hundreds and thousands of other folks share the same brilliant green idea of getting to the festival, it’s best to bring a book to occupy some time.

Roughly forty minutes after getting on the bus at Echigo-Yuzawa station, welcome to the Fuji Rock Festival. Upon first notice, the slowest moving line nearest the festival entrance is not for wristbands (which allow entrance to the festival and one’s accommodation), but the one for the Official Goods Shop, which sells t-shirts among other things.

pattismithAfter getting settled at your accommodation (or in my case, setting up a slanted tent that was seemingly always on the verge of collapse), perhaps the most difficult part of the festival presents itself: Whom do I watch?

Officially, there are twelve stages that host performances. Those stages range from the Green Stage, where the headliners (such as – at this year’s festival – Weezer, Oasis, and Franz Ferdinand) can entertain audiences of up to 40,000 to the Mokudotei (木道亭), a seemingly isolated stage in a forest adjacent to a boardwalk, where it’s possible to see the sweat dripping from a performer’s face.

Just as numerous as the number of stages are the different genres to be heard. A lot more than rock music comes to Naeba as rap, jazz, electronica, funk, punk, etc. are on display. The performances kick off each day at eleven a.m., and don’t stop until roughly five a.m. And with it being Japan, the performances always start on time.

fujicrowd1But the Fuji Rock Festival experience isn’t simply limited to outstanding music. The Oasis area features numerous food stands, some of which are located in the “World Restaurant” (where drinks and dishes from, among other locales, France, Britain, and Hawaii are available). For the insomniacs, a night on the movies can be on the cards as on Friday and Saturday, films were shown – one of them being Woodstock. For those wanting something socially conscious of the weekend, the NGO Village is the place to be. Information about environmental issues can be obtained and hemp products can be purchased. And at the nearby, solar powered New Power Gear field, in addition to hearing musical arts, anyone with aching muscles need not worry – a massage can be given under a big tent.

If three days in the pristine mountains of Niigata Prefecture sound like heaven, answer that question on days like Friday, when rain greeted concertgoers all day. Not bringing proper equipment to fend off rain is foolish as the festival often takes place in Japan’s rainy season. Throughout the festival, much of the area in front of the Green Stage was a mud bath (and unavoidable) and a good hour or two could spent in line waiting to shower at the on site onsen. And as expected, with an estimated 100,000 people in the area, getting from stage to another (especially after performances have just concluded) can take just a little bit of time.

However, Naeba is the right place for a party. Even after the stages have closed for the night, DJs entertain those looking to dance the night away and the food stands in the Oasis area are open throughout the night. Those unable to speak Japanese shouldn’t find it too difficult to make friends at the festival as a large number of foreigners attend. And for those who can speak a little 日本語 (nihongo), the relaxed atmosphere of three days of music provide a good opportunity to meet a lot of young Japanese people.

The Fuji Rock Festival is the perfect place for big city fun in rural Japan.

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