the brilliance of Fuji Rock

By Fuko Suzuki

Let's get together, people!

You learn a lot about a culture when you put a lot of people in the same place for over seventy-two hours. Music festivals do this all the time and I have learned a lot, and not necessarily nice things. Go to any festival in America and you’re asking to be vomited on, groped, by both sexes, and surrounded by people who are clearly out of their minds. And I mean, they literally seem out their minds—their eyes are popping out of their sockets and they’re doped up on who knows what. You just ask yourself, why am I here, why am I here, and again, why am I here.

It helps to understand that the world doesn’t have to be like this and I had the luck to see and experience how the Japanese, who are habitually polite, do the rock music festival. In the end, it is a question of values. Fuji Rock is a rock music festival held in Naeba Ski Resort, in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Organized by Smash Japan, this three day festival features more than two hundred Japanese and international musicians. Making the event the largest outdoor music event in Japan. (I don’t know what the largest outdoor festival in the US is, but once you’re over one hundred thousand people you’re officially in the world of big).

Held in the midst of the most beautiful conifer forests Japan has to offer, the festival encourages not only good times but also good manners. The organization of the space is respectful, and even sustainable (all trash stations located on site are monitored by extremely dedicated workers who thank you and bow when you recycle). This year’s headliners include Muse, Foo Fighters, Motorhead, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Ride, Royal Blood, Deadmau5, FKA Twigs, and Belle and Sebastian. And a host of other well-known artists, including Flume, Rudimental, Happy Mondays, Johnny Marr, The Vaccines.

Of course, it is a rock festival
The early arrivers first encounter the hectic process of finding the best camping spot on a first come, first serve basis. However spacious the campground is, the tents start crowding up closer to the entrance for convenience. The distance between some of these tents are only about a couple inches. Despite the closeness, these spaces are treated like temporary homes. In America, theft is always the issue. These tents aren’t walls, but they might as well be. I guarantee you: everything you leave at the campsite will be there when you return, just the way you left it! These claimed spaces are respected. The Japanese make sure that you keep your bearings and that concern makes you in turn show a concern for others.

At the Palace of Wonder, a sub-area built just outside the festival, you can find your religious Fuji Rock goers. It is the most bizarre place I have ever encountered. The area is basically a playground for the disturbed. It’s constructed out of multiple mini stages and huts. The "Invisible Wall of Death" is a spherical structure built for bike stunts (like that one in the Ryan Gosling movie). There are the usual circus acts: a fairly well built tattooed guy swallowing a sword and breathing fire. But there’s also a middle-aged guy with dwarfism, walking around stage, dragging the end of a vacuum and putting it in and on places where a vacuum should never go. It can’t get any more uncomfortable than that: and yet there is a feeling of safety and containment that you don’t get in America. Even in “The Smallest Club Ever,” which is just a shoebox room, the organizers manage to keep things ordered and safe.

Food. There’s so much food. When your stomach is empty from grooving to your favorite bands, you’d eat anything, even a small child. It says something about the Japanese that they anticipate the needs of this many concertgoers. Unlike in America, where you can go to an event where they’re expecting one hundred thousand people and all they have is expensive gourmet hot dogs and a diminishing supply of Perrier, the Japanese are always head of the game. Instead of a riot for food, at Fuji Rock food vendors are open all night and they serve food from all over the world. From fish and chips stands to fresh paella, you name it. It’s like being in Oakland, where an artisanal bakery opens every hour.
Look at the beauty all around
The crowd at Fuji Rock is like no other crowd around the world, especially the States. The Japanese aren’t only respectful in terms of using the venue in a sustainable way, but they respect each other’s space even more so. They even get drunk politely. What’s amazing is that in midst of this drunken mass, the majority of the crowd marks their territory with picnic blankets and prop up chairs. In this atmosphere, people politely get drunk and stay contently in their chairs with their Asahi spilled artfully over themselves. If space is respected, then even drunkenness doesn’t cause problems.

I think that the reason why this festival works so well is the fact that graciousness is embedded in Japanese culture. The needs of the concertgoers are always anticipated and that’s incredibly satisfying. It makes it easy to be fully present and enjoy the music. No matter how worn out and hung over you are, you want to relive it all over again the next day. Fuji Rock is not only about music, but it’s also a space where you can be fully immersed in the art of Japanese hospitality. It’s definitely worth the experience.

©Fuko Suzuki and the CCA Arts Review

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