Since I began getting interested in music festivals, I've been hearing about this popular one in Japan that originated at the base of Mt. Fuji. The Fuji Rock Festival has been around for more than 10 years, and is the largest outdoor music event in Japan. But year after year, I keep putting it off for one reason or another.
Well, since 2019 is the year I turn 40 and that I promised myself I would do something adventurous, I finally followed through. And I was going to do it alone. As this would involve a substantial financial investment, I did a lot of research just to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I thought I had it all figured out. Boy, was I so wrong. It really isn’t for the faint of heart.
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For the uninitiated, the Fuji Rock Festival isn’t actually held at Mt. Fuji anymore. They had to move after a few years because the event got too big. Despite the name, it isn't all rock. All genres are represented. This year even had a bagpipe cover band, The Red Hot Chili Pipers. It’s a three-day festival held at the Naeba Ski Resort usually in the last week of July. This year, it was from July 26 to 28, and featured the likes of Sia, The Cure, Jason Mraz, Janelle Monae, Death Cab for Cutie, Martin Garrix, and The Chemical Brothers as headliners along with a slew of other international and local acts. Unlike some music festivals in the US and Europe, women will feel safe and secure here. Fuji Rock or FRF, is considered the one of the safest and cleanest festivals in the world. The Japanese are well-known for their discipline and all of us gaijin are expected to follow the rules, too.
Still, this isn’t really for those who dislike crowds, walking, or dancing in the rain. Despite all the research I did through blogs, vlogs, YouTube videos, and comment boards, I was still not prepared for how overwhelming the whole thing would be.
Depite that, I would still recommend this to anyone who is into the whole concert and music festival scene. If you're planning on making that pilgrimmage next year, here are some tips:
Do it while you're young
I really wished I took this trip when I was younger and had the energy to spend three days mostly doing a lot of walking. And I mean a lot. There are four main stages: Red Marquee, the only one that had a tent; Green Stage, where all the main acts are; Field of Heaven, a breathing space where not a lot of people go to; and White Stage. There are a lot of smaller stages as well with interesting things happening. Former attendees say that it's about a 15 minute walk between Red Marquee, Green Stage, and White Stage, then a 20 minute walk to the Field of Heaven. But in reality, it’s more like a 30 and 45 minute walk because you’re going with a lot of other people. Attendance this year was estimated at 130,000. Even if Naeba is pretty sprawling, that’s still a lot of people.
You can choose to just stay put, but then you won’t see a lot of acts just sitting in one area. So, yes, there is a need to pace yourself. Sit down whenever you can to rest; some people bring picnic mats and portable seats. Hydrate. Explore the other non-stage areas since there are a lot of activities and places to visit. You can even get a gondola ride away from the crowds and up the mountains. Just remember, you’re going to do this for three days so take care of yourself if you want to enjoy it.
Dance until you drop
One thing I noticed about the crowd—about 80 percent locals and 20 percent gaijin—is that there aren't a lot of phones up in the air. You barely see wannabes who are just posing and taking selfies rather than actually listening to the artists. Here, everyone seems to be really into the music no matter who’s playing. Even if you’re alone, as I was, you will not feel any shyness about busting dance moves or singing at the top of your lungs because, well, everyone is doing it. And despit the many mosh pits, I still felt like I won’t be trampled on or groped. Everyone just wants to have a good time and not harm their fellow concert goers.
And even if you don’t talk to anyone for three days, there’s still a warm feeling of camaraderie over the whole resort. Sure, you’ll run across the usual obnoxious foreigner or you’ll still see some fashionistas who are just there for the ‘gram. But even all those things you’ll just ignore because of all the amazing artists that you get to listen to and all the good vibes flowing around.
July is peak summer in Japan and so you know it’s going to be hot. Coming from a country like ours, that should be easy, right? Well, no. It's harder when you're up on a mountain, it's humid, and there are a hundred thousand people with you.
And happens when you have humidity? You get rain. And at the FRF, there is a lot of it. Like most music festivals, umbrellas aren't allowed here so attendees have to make do with raincoats and ponchos. Some would rather make do without. And, since we're on a mountain, it gets pretty cold at night. So yes, you better dress up for any and every weather scenario and drink vitamins before going to sleep before going there.
If you don’t mind sleeping on what may be soggy ground, and if you're okay with either a long line at the shower area or not showering at all, then the best option would be to just set up camp at the Naeba grounds.
Why? Aside from the lovely outdoors, you can stay as long as you want at the festival grounds. You can watch all of the artists you want without having to worry about catching the shuttle out of Naeba. The last one leaves at 1am. Main acts usually start at 10pm and finish at midnight and so the line for the shuttles are really long. And if you don’t get on that last shuttle, there’s no other way to get out.
So why not just have an amazing experience at the grounds where you can also meet fellow campers and even party until the break of dawn? So as long as you are comfortable with those conditions, you’re better off camping there.
While I will probably not do Fuji Rock Festival anymore (unless I suddenly get a magical dose of energy next year), this has been an unforgettable experience that I don’t regret trying. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were with other people—that’s one other tip I highly suggest—but I did learn a lot about myself because of this. There are times I have to accept my limitations and that’s okay, and how I should never underestimate the sheer breadth of things like this.
Still, for a music lover like myself, watching all the artists I've dreamt of seeing live and discovering new genres and artists that I never thought I’d be dancing to makes the whole experience worth it.
For more infomration about the Fuji Rock Festival, visit FujiRockFestival.com.