Get ready to Rock!

This week tickets for the third annual Fuji Rock Festival go on sale. Relocated into the mountains of Niigata-ken, it promises to be a truly Glastonbury-esque experience. It's bigger and better, rocking on for one more day than last year, with an even weightier lineup of acts from around the globe. But the road to Fuji Rock has been long and hard, through mountains of red tape and the odd typhoon. Our man Koichi Hanafusa, the Fuji Rock Festival webmaster, gives the inside story.

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Limp Bizkit

Even for just a relatively small festival, let alone a well known one like Glastonbury or Reading in the UK, the organizers of the first Fuji Rock Festival had to spend more than five years of negotiation, preparation and struggle to get over the huge piles of problems, obstacles and red tape - far too much to describe here - to get the festival off the ground. It was the hidden story of the first festival in 1997.

Part of the reason why they had to spend so much time and energy was simply because there had been nothing like this festival for more than a quarter of a century in this country. Most importantly, though, there are so many heavy restrictions and regulations forced upon both the organizer and the audience in this plastic country of the twenty-first century.

Most of those involved in the festival at Mount Fuji in 1997 would say that it was far from successful. In fact, it was a disaster, caused by an unseasonable typhoon running through Shikoku which - although it was several hundred miles away from the site - caused chaos, with an incredibly heavy storm and continuous rain for more than twenty hours. The thousands of kids experiencing their first-ever rock festival were completely unprepared for the weather. Against the advice of the organizers, many had turned up in high heels, short sleeves and mini-skirts. Over two hundred people were injured or became sick, and eventually the second day was canceled.

Then again, nobody could deny the extraordinary experience of witnessing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine giving the best performance ever, battling against the storm in front of a wicked audience. Like ex-Clash front man Joe Strummer said at the time, "The Japanese audience is ****ing great, man! The kids are rockin' in the storm." The festival has already become a legend of rock history in Japan.

After that fiasco there were many lessons to learn for both the organizers and the festival-goers. But no matter how thoroughly the organizers prepared, nobody could have coped with that typhoon, which was said to be one of the biggest in history. One Australian promoter, who had been organizing the "Big Day Out" festival down under, and who had been invited to Fuji, empathized. "The organizers did the best they could and, in this sense, I do respect them taking the heavy decision to cancel the second day."

With these lessons, the organizers tried to have a festival at the same location the next year and started working right after the cancellation of the second day in 1997. But they faced massive pressure from a small, unwilling section of the local authorities in January 1998 - despite the fact that the local people already expected it to go ahead. With only a little time to spare, they had to find an alternative site. A different location near Mt. Fuji proved wishful thinking to negotiate before March, when the details of the festival should have been announced. So the whole event was relocated last year to Harumi, right in the center of Tokyo.

Attracting about 70,000 people for two days, it was an incredible success, but there was neverthless a tremendous battle against stupid regulations and restrictions. For instance, the authorities considered the pouring of canned beer into paper cups to be "food preparation," which made it necessary to meet even more regulations. Life guards were needed in case anyone drowned in the tiny pool, where the quality of the water had to meet the standard of a public swimming pool. Many of the scare-stories from the mass media should be ignored. Without even coming to the site and covering the festival, some major papers and TV channels reported that "Several hundred people were injured at the rock concert." What a joke! The people they were talking about were the people who visited the first aid tent and most of them were there just to get a bandage or something. In this country rock culture is still regarded as some kind of crime, much like in the US in the 1950s.

But the Fuji Rock Festival is back again, this year finding a home in Naeba, Niigata, two hours by car from Tokyo. Unfortunately there is still no Mt. Fuji there, but the constant struggle to locate this festival near the icon it is named after is still on. I hear that even two years has not been long enough to complete the negotiations with the area's authorities. Still, Niigata is far closer to heaven compared to last year's location, surrounded by those grotesque symbols of consumerism. We should give a round of applause to the organizers who have demanded that the site owner get rid of a golf course, returning it to a wild field and peeling off the asphalt so there is enough space for people to camp and enjoy nature.

The good news is that the festival is now far bigger than last year. It will last for a full three days and there will be three stages and two big tents for music. On the main "Green" stage, which can hold about 30,000 fans, you will be able to check out, amongst others, Joe Strummer's new band, The Black Crowes, Rage Against The Machine and Ocean Color Scene. On the "White" stage - with a capacity of 15,000 - you will find Tricky, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the re-formed Happy Mondays and many more. One of the big surprises is that the hugely popular US band, (not known in Japan until now,) Phish, will be given the new "Field Of Heaven" stage for three days, with some guests appearances, which will drive their fans mad. In the Dance Tent there will be sets by the Boom Boom Satellites, Jon Carter, Kensei, Ken Ishi, Yas and others. Apart from the music, you will be able to enjoy ARCHAOS - a super alternative circus, a movie tent, a kids' field where they can play in these beautiful surroundings, an area for world restaurants and flea markets and so on. At the time of writing, details on the Newcomer's Tent have not yet been revealed, but there is no doubt this is going to be the top festival ever held in Japan.

The ticket price has gone up, which is understandable as there is one day more than last year. A three day ticket will cost JY39,000 and a one-day ticket JY15,000. Compared to a three-day ticket to Glastonbury in the UK, at about JY17,000, the Fuji Rock Festival is expensive. But it would cost almost JY10,000 to see a one-act show at Tokyo Dome with a horrible sound system and atmosphere. Considering that, the ticket is relatively cheap by Japanese standards. Be aware that ticket numbers are limited and they will probably be sold out soon after they go on sale.

Some might complain that they are organizing this year's festival so far from Tokyo. But why not? This is not just an open air concert but a festival which is a celebration of life. As Masahiro Hidaka of organizers SMASH Corporation put it, "If there is a theme for this year, it's a three-day celebration of nature and music - and hopefully a great memory of a few days escape from the boss." Let's enjoy this superb space of nature, beautiful music, people and vibe of togetherness. That must be the most important thing about the Fuji Rock experience. As Masahiro-san says, "This is an invitation for you to come and join in the celebration at the last great outdoor party of the century!"

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Atari Teenage Riot
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Rage Against The Machine
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The Black Crows
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Happy Mondays
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Ocean Colour Scene