During the Edo era the Tokkaido and the Nakasendo roads were the two main routes that connected the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo) and the old Capital of Kyoto, with the latter, as the name suggests, passing through the mountainous centre of Japan and the former following the coast. While there are today more convenient ways of traveling from east to west, there are parts of these old paths that are still well maintained, and they are a great way to enjoy Japan’s beautiful countryside as you take a step back into Japan’s history.
Just 90 minutes from Nagoya, the 8km (5mi) passage between Magome and Tsumago, respectively the 43rd and 42nd stops along the Nakasendo, is one such stretch that makes for a lovely day out, pretty much no matter your fitness level.
Probably the best way to take the trail is starting in Magome and heading towards Tsumago. The reason for this is that this direction is downhill for the most part (although it may not seem like that as you begin, more of which later). The town of Magome is quaint and charming in the rural Edo period style, although it has been mostly recreated to encourage tourism, and upon arrival you are likely to find that you are far from alone. When I visited there, dozens of us got off the local bus where we met a fair few tour buses of Japanese and Chinese tourists, and I was concerned that the trail would be quite busy, but after we walked to the top of the town, we found that most of those were there just to capture photographs of the view and buy souvenirs, after which they returned to their buses. Many websites will tell you that Magome is the more attractive town (hence the proliferation of tourists), and as beautiful as it is, you cannot escape the feeling that it was rebuilt only with this tourism in mind. However, the view from the top of the town, with the mountains ahead of you as the valley falls away below is quite breathtaking.
Perhaps the beauty of the walk to Tsumago, apart from its natural beauty, is its accessibility. For a start it is very well signposted, and at pretty much every twist and turn along the way you will find clearly marked directions in bth Japanese and English, so there is very little danger of getting lost. Also, it is relatively easy going. I walked the trail comfortably enough in running shoes, and I was joined by my parents, both of whom are in their 60’s, although admittedly they do a fair bit of walking back in the U.K. The first part of the trail is quite uphill and tiring, though it does afford some beautiful views. It is recommended that along with plenty of water you carry a small bell attached to your person to ward off bears, however we didn’t have one and as such made good use of the bear bells periodically stationed along the route.
While we fortunately didn’t run into any bears, we were lucky enough to come across a tribe of monkeys hanging out in a rice field enjoying the morning sunshine which absolutely made my father’s day. If you do the same, remember to keep your distance as they can become aggressive and are known to throw stones at people that they feel are encroaching on their patch. Monkeys, that is, not my father, although…
All along the route there are many shrines, for which there are some explanations of what they are in English, and for those that are not explained, you can probably find information on in the route map that you can pick up from one of the tourist stores when you start out in Magome.
The pathway to Tsumago is, for the most part, well maintained with paving, and there are even a few toilet stops along the way. One of those, my mother was flabbergasted to find was even equipped with the Japanese washlet seat, which is not something that you have at rest stops on any U.K. equivalent walks, where your toilets tend to be bushes, if you are lucky.
As the path very occasionally crosses main roads, if you are flagging in the energy stakes or should the weather turn on you, you have the possibility to catch one of the semi-frequent buses that serve the area. But if you do so, you should try to at least get as far as the waterfalls that are about two thirds of the way along the course. While they are not as remarkable as what you will find at Yoro, they are still beautiful, and the rushing sound of the water and the sensation of the spray helps you to cool down and reenergize you for the remainder of the walk to Tsumago.
While guidebooks will have it that Magome is the place to visit, in my opinion, Tsumago is the more attractive town. As mentioned, while the former has been recreated to affect the Edo era village, Tsumago is the real deal. While it is a little more rough around the edges, it is all the more charming for it. It is well worth an hour of your time walking around the town, basking in the old-world feel of the area and going into one of the many restaurants and unwinding with some local food and a couple of beers (if you are that way inclined, and after the walk, my parents and I were very much that way inclined).
But, as a word of warning, keep a track of time, as the buses from Tsumago to Nagiso station are few and far between, and my parents and I enjoyed it so much that we overstayed and had to get a taxi back to the train station.
Mind you, it was well worth it.
The closest train station to Magome is Natsugawa, from which runs a bus service taking about 25 minutes. Times on weekdays are 7:42, 9:10, 9:40, 10:15, 11:15, after which they are 12 minutes past the hour until 5:12pm, with the last bus at 18:30. On weekends and public holidays buses run at 8:10, 9:10, 9:40, 10:15, 11:15, then again at 12 minutes past the hour until 16:12, with the last bus at 17:45. (Magome map)
Returning to Nagoya from Tsumago you should take the train from Nagiso. Buses leave Tsumago to Nagiso station at 7:44, 9:14, 9:41, 11:16, 11:54, 13:51, 14:09, 15:26, 16:04 and 17:41. Should you not want to hang around or you miss the last bus taxis can be found at the bus station, although not so many outside of peak season. (Tsumago map)
Images: Mark Guthrie (own work)
With its combination of strength, stamina and flexibility, there are very few forms of exercise that gets your body into peak physical fitness like yoga. Having originated in India, the discipline has spread throughout the world and it continues to grow in popularity, with one 2016 study showing that 20.4 million Americans practice it, up almost 20% from 2004.
If you are one of the many millions who prefer posing as a mountain to climbing one, or for whom their favorite type of dog is the downward variety, living in Tokyo should not preclude you from continuing the pastime. There are many yoga schools in the city, a few of which hold classes in English. So, whether you are just a fresh faced new ‘warrior’ or someone for whom the ‘wounded peacock’ holds no fear, you are likely to find a studio that caters for you.
Yoga Jaya is one of the most popular yoga studios in Tokyo. Classes for all skill levels are held throughout the day and many of these are taught in both English and Japanese simultaneously depending on the instructor, with drop-ins welcome (though booking in advance is advised). They regularly host yoga workshops with local and international yoga teachers of different styles and backgrounds, and they even run teacher training courses for serious yogi.
There are just three class levels to choose from at Be Yoga, Japan’s first ISHTA yoga school, which means it may not be a place for beginners to start out, but if you know your Ashtanga from your elbow, it’s well worth checking out. With its opening hours being during regular working hours, its main clientele tend to be housewives with an average age of 40-ish, but these women (and a few men) know what they are doing. Don’t expect to spend your time gazing out of their floor to ceiling windows, be prepared to work!
For those of you who like it hot, the Aoyama branch (or one of the six other locations in the city) of the Bikram Yoga school should be right up your alley. While the originator of this studio, California based Bikram Choudhury, is considered somewhat controversial, his style of yoga continues to be extremely popular. Though practicing yoga in a 40 degree Celsius (104F) room may sound like torture to some, many devotees of the style swear by its ability to aid in flexibility and improve postures with no warm-up needed. What is needed during their twice weekly English language courses, however, is drinking water, and plenty of it. Not to mention a good shower afterwards.
If the heat of Bikram or the advanced level of Be Yoga concerns you, then perhaps you should try out Shizen Yoga. Ideal for beginners, they offer gentle, relaxed classes focusing on meditation and recovery, making it perfect for those easing their way into yoga or using the discipline as a form of rehabilitation. They also offer classes for post and pre-natal care and as they have family passes, they are one of the few studios that actively encourages you to take your children along.
Yoga Tree prides itself on being accessible for all levels of yogi, which is reflected in the fact that there are no initial membership fees and drop ins are welcome. Being in Hiroo, amongst the embassies, there is a distinct international vibe, and they offer classes in English, Japanese and a combination of the two. They don’t adhere to a single style of yoga, however they are strong believers in the value of practicing with attention to alignment, employing a method called Blueprint Alignment that helps them place you in a class that is befitting of your needs.
By Mark Guthrie
Baseball is considered the biggest spectator sport in Japan but if you find yourself at a Nippon Professional Baseball league game do not expect to merely sit and watch. In most of the Japanese professional sports there are “performance” sections where at the very least you will be expected to sport the correct team’s colors and are likely to be a participant in coordinated cheering led by cheer captains.
Baseball in Japan started in the 1870s when students returning from the United States and visiting professors and other Americans introduced the game. In Kobe the local franchise is the Orix Buffaloes. Nippon Professional Baseball is composed of twelve teams playing in two leagues; the Buffaloes play in the Pacific League. Unlike American professional sports, Japanese teams play in the uniforms of corporate sponsors not their hometowns. The Buffaloes baseball lineage traces back to 1936 when they were one of the country’s first professional nines operated by the Hanshin Kyuko Railway Company. The Buffaloes competed in the Japanese Baseball League at the time and later became a charter member of the Nippon Professional Baseball circuit in 1950.
The franchise came to Kobe in 1991 and became the Orix BlueWave. The 1990s were a time of glory for the team as Orix was led by Ichiro Suzuki, the greatest Japanese export to the Major League in the US. Suzuki set Japanese records for highest batting average and most base hits in a season while playing in the city where he was known as the “Hit Manufacturing Machine.” Suzuki’s lifetime batting average with Orix was .353. In 1996, Orix won its only Japan Series since moving to Kobe. In 2004 the league underwent a realignment and the Blue Wave merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to become the Orix Buffaloes.
The team splits its home schedule between the Kobe Sports Park Baseball Stadium and the Kyocera Osaka Dome, two completely different facilities. In contrast to the indoor stadium, Hotto Motto Field Kobe is one of the rare baseball fields in Japan that would be familiar to an American fan – the playing surface is all grass in the infield and outfield and there are dirt basepaths.
Japan loves its big furry mascots and baseball games with the Orix Buffaloes are no exception. Buffalo Bull was the first golden-horned cheerleader to take the field with his repertoire of antics. Bull was popular enough but he has been overshadowed as the lead team mascot since the arrival of his sister, Buffalo Bell. The city loves the pink-haired BuBell who is said to be the most popular of all the Japanese baseball mascots. Her merchandise outsells brother BuBull three to one. He wears uniform number 111, she cavorts about in #222.
Like baseball everywhere, food and beer are a big part of the Japanese baseball experience. You can find traditional American hot dogs at Japanese baseball stadiums but the local delicacies are most sought after. At Orix Buffaloes games that means Kobe beef croquettes. The beer comes from beer girls who roam the ballpark aisles with pony kegs strapped to their back, ready to pour a fresh cold one for fans. And when you go to a game, don’t forget to wear your gold and blue Orix Buffaloes colors.
At Japan’s one-of-a-kind Sand Museum, the art has as much in common with the sand sculptures built at the beach with a plastic bucket as the works of the great masters do with children’s finger paintings. The Sand Museum is located in Tottori across the peninsula from Kobe, known for its 16 kilometres of dunes on the western seacoast. But not that well-known, Tottori has the smallest population of any of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Not many tourists make it to the area as well.
The idea back in 2006 was to create a tourist attraction for Tottori based on its majestic natural dunes. The hills of sand are the largest in Japan, bits of earth carried for some 100,000 years by wind and the Sendai River down from the Chugoku Mountains. Sand sculptures were not only a natural fit for the area but also expressed the ethos of frailty and impermanence that is a Japanese virtue. The catch is that none of the sand in the great dunes can be disturbed since they have been declared a national park and natural treasure. But there were tons of sand around Tottori that had been displaced over the years during road-building projects.
So artists from around the world were invited to come and create art in the sand. The sculptures were protected by tents and crumbled in about six weeks. The project attracted about 100,000 curious sightseers. The sand art gained notoriety and after a few years a permanent facility – the Sand Museum – was erected to house the sculptures. Now the artists work with 3,000 tons of sand and the sculptures stand for eight months. There is no natural erosion and the artwork must be bulldozed down each year to make way for the next year’s artists and a new theme.
Katsuhiko Chaen is the artistic director of the Sand Museum, a former champion in the World Sand Sculpting Championships. He invites artists from around the world who come from the professional international sand-sculpting circuit. Their tool kits include shovels and chisels. So far Chaen has yet to invite a Japanese artist to present in the Sand Museum but he believes the local talent is fast catching up with its foreign brethren. Visitors to the museum are encouraged to try their hand at the sand-sculpting technique as well.
The annual themes are geographically based which encourages many architectural and historical reproductions. The treasures of Italy were the first to be depicted and since then Africa, Great Britain, Russia and Germany are some of the countries to have been explored in the sand. This year’s theme is the United States and sculptures include the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the New York City skyline.
Typically there are around 20 intricate works, taking weeks to create, for the annual 500,000 visitors to admire. The Sand Museum is approximately a 2 hour, 40 minute train ride from Osaka. There is no hurry – but you can’t wait too long because the sands of time will eventually run out.
Kobe is a city built on the water and Suma Seaside Park is the people’s link to the sea. Suma Beach stretches for two kilometres and offers white sand framed by pine trees; it is a fixture on the annual list of the country’s best beaches. Summer means sunbathing and swimming in July and August when the beach is officially designated to be open. At night the music starts playing and the beach parties commence. And it is free.
At the west end of the park is the Wada Misaki light station that once guided traffic through Kobe harbor from its location at the tip of Wada Misaki. Built in 1884, the historic hexagonal cast iron pyramidal tower was decommissioned and relocated to the park as a monument. But the big attraction at the beach is the Suma Aqualife Park.
The municipal aquarium opened in 1957 and today is one of the largest celebrations of underwater life in Japan. The park mixes education with recreational rides and a playground. The main building is home to a two-story tank holding 1,200 tons of sea water energized by an artificial wave maker to simulate familiar conditions for the sharks and stingrays and sardines that swim there. There are night time tanks and daytime tanks to accommodate species from different depths of the sea.
The star sensory experience is Japan’s first underwater tunnel called Amazon World. Here massive freshwater fish from the planet’s most mysterious river environment swim atop the visitor. Nearby in the Fish Live Theater, intimidating schools of carnivorous piranhas swim past. Next door the World Fish House amazes with some of nature’s most exotic creatures including four-eyed fish. Impressive skeletons of whales and orcas hang overhead in the Cetacean Gallery.
This is a place that takes aquatic life seriously. When it was discovered that turtles trying to cross the West Japan Railway railroad tracks were getting stuck in between the rails, small U-shaped concrete ditches were fashioned under the tracks to let the hard-shelled amphibians fall to safety where they are collected and brought to the aquarium.
Suma Aqualife Park is all about the shows. The Big Show Pool seats 1,700 people for the dolphin live shows that take place every ninety minutes or so. The Penguin Pool is connected to the pavilion and the aquatic birds often make their way onto the dolphin’s stage. The four times-daily feedings at the Sea Otter House always draw a big crowd.
The biggest summer show at Suma Aqualife Park begins every evening at 5:00 p.m. through August with the Kobe Suma Aqua Illuminage. This year’s theme is Aloha!! Hawaii with inspiration drawn from the tropical paradise. Images are projected onto the water of the Pavilion Pool and against the back wall. The illuminations react to the movement of the water and dance with the lights to create aquatic-themed light sculptures.
Suma Seaside Park is accessible from all over Kobe – the local trains even have their own stop there at Suma Beach Station. From there it is only a five minute walk to the fun.
For the first 40 years of her life Michi Ogawa was “an ordinary housewife with no experience working outside the home.” She prepared meals, looked after her four children, and drove her professor husband to his classrooms. She was well-educated and traveled often with her family. On her journeys, Ogawa was always drawn to the people and cultures rather than the monuments and architecture in foreign lands.
In her forties she decided to look for a job, but no one seemed interested in hiring an intelligent, well-traveled woman of her age. Instead of landing employment, Michi Ogawa created a group of twelve women much like herself who spent their lives as housewives while nurturing other skills. The Women’s Association of Kyoto (WAK) was born with the goal of “introducing foreign visitors to Japanese culture in daily life.” The year was 1997.
Twenty years on, WAK offers programs across a spectrum of Japanese life in flower arranging, calligraphy, origami, cooking, book binding, tea ceremonies, music, and Nihon buyo, traditional Japanese dance.
There are probably 200 different types of Japanese dances that stretch back hundreds of years in origin. Dances are performed in celebration of events important in Japanese culture – a successful harvest, a new life beginning, the arrival of springtime cherry blossoms, and so on. All, however, combine the elements of three styles of movements. Mai is a traditional style that emphasizes deliberate expressive motions. Mai is said to express the workings of the human heart from its participants.
Its long-time companion odori introduces lively steps and energetic leaps to tell a story. The physicality and freedom of movement in odori is more of an expression itself than a conveyance of meaning. Odori is often accompanied by music.
The third, and most modern, influence is furi that introduces meaningful gesture and pantomime that is intended for stage performances. The signature dances of the Japanese geishas are rooted in the furi style of Nihon buyo.
Those familiar with Western dancing know that dances are taught by learning steps which will eventually be built into a complete performance. Often Western dances celebrate the heavens with arms pointed toward the skies and bodies lifting on toes. Japanese dances are taught as a single expression – the entire dance is learned from beginning to end. Eastern dances are meant to express a love for earth and contact with the ground is stressed during the performance.
Instructors approach Nihon buyo in their own idiosyncratic styles. Some may inject Western music and influences into the teachings to make the art more attractive to foreign students. Others toe a strict traditionalist line to the Japanese arts, right down to the specific application of make-up to get into character for the dance.
When booking a traditional Japanese dance class through WAK it a matching of available instructors to schedules. However it is sometimes possible for individual instruction to be arranged during a vacation. For those living in Japan, Home Visit Programs can be arranged for short courses.
Check out this authentic Kyoto cultural experiences at: http://wakjapan.jp.
Only about 20% of the land in Japan is suitable for growing crops. Even so, most of the country’s population historically survived on subsistence farming. These days only a vanishing few Japanese are farmers and most of them are only part-time cultivators of the earth.
It is therefore a much-anticipated treat when the Farmers’ Market in Kobe Sannomiya opens in mid-April and stays busy until closing in December. The farmers leave their picturesque mountain farming villages and backyard greenhouses on most Saturday mornings to gather in Higashi Yūenchi Park. They bring with them fresh produce from the farm to sell from tents and the back of trucks.
The Kobe farmers are on the front lines of a movement in Japan known as chisan-chisho. Started in the late 1990s in the wake of several episodes of unhealthiness in processed food in the country, chisan-chisho seeks to promote the consumption of locally produced food. It began as a grassroots movement but is now embraced by local governments and farmers’ cooperatives interested in preserving and championing the country’s agricultural and rural traditions. The Farmers’ Market in Kobe Sannomiya is sponsored by Eat Local Kobe.
At the Farmers’ Market, city dwellers are encouraged to not only eat locally but simply. Visitors can meet the farmers and discuss the different foods on offer. The farmers are forthcoming with growing techniques and recipes to try with their fresh ingredients: grilled seaweed in seawater with wakame, a mekabu omelette, roasted root cake, and pork fillet with honey balsamico sauce among them.
So, you want to eat locally harvested products and cook with fresh ingredients. What should you look for at the Farmers’ Market in Kobe Sannomiya this summer? Eggplants, cucumber, cabbage, lettuce and bell peppers are all vegetables that are in season. Edamame is a popular Japanese bean that is boiled or steamed and then served with salt. Myoga ginger is a traditional Japanese crop whose large flower buds are sold to be shredded and used as garnish. Shiso is a Japanese herb in the mint family whose leaves are often used to hold grated wasabi.
Summer Japanese fruits include peaches, Japanese apricots, cherries and grapes. Seafood that can sometimes be found at the market this time of year includes eel, flounder and Japanese horse mackerel. Ayu is a fish found in Japanese ocean waters and some land-locked lakes that is often called sweetfish for the mild flavor of its flesh.
The Farmers’ Market in Kobe Sannomiya typically boasts between seven and ten farmers and another dozen or so vendors. Many do business in English although the language of taste is one of the most translatable. You can find pamphlets and books in English to help aide your journey through the local cuisine. The shaded nooks and market shops in the parks do not feature trash cans so observe the custom of tableware sharing and returning. In addition to the food stands, there is a Saturday morning breakfast at 9:30. There are also special events throughout the summer.
Find out more at http://eatlocalkobe.org.
By Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For Brits like myself, fireworks displays conjure up memories of cold winter nights, huddling round bonfires and oohing and ahhing as both your breath and extremities freeze. While this is possible in Japan, here fireworks festivals, or hanabi matsuri, are very much a summertime thing.
Hanabi matsuri is a very important season for Japanese. Fireworks themselves were brought to Japan by the trading Portuguese in the late 16th century, but since that time they have become as instrumental to enjoying the summer as cherry blossoms do the preceding spring. The hanabi season is a time when families can get together and eat drink and be merry. It is a time for gorging on festival food and for the blossoming romance of high school couples sitting under the sky with the lights mirroring the sparks of love in their eyes. It is also a time for the wearing of ‘yukata’, a casual and light summer kimono that is often decorated with bright firework pattern designs and are (at least traditionally) dyed with indigo as a natural mosquito repellant.
Throughout July and August there won’t be a weekend go past without a fireworks festival going on somewhere in Aichi. For a full listing of all the events going on in the area, check the ever excellent Kikuko.com. Below is a selection of our top recommendations.
Perhaps the most popular of the festivals is the Nagoya Port Festival, or Nagoya Minato Matsuri as it is also called. It began in 1946 as a celebration to help raise spirits and encourage positivity following the destruction caused by WW2. The festival runs from 12:30, but the main draw for the huge crowds is the display of around 3,000 fireworks as well as enjoying the cooling ocean breeze on the Umi no hi national holiday (Marine Day).
Another waterside spot oft-frequented by hanabi festival-goers is Utsumi Beach. The beach itself is one of the most popular, and since its recent clean up, one of the best beaches in the Tokai region. The fireworks festival features the rare “Suichuu Star Mine” fireworks that are set off from from the water’s surface as well as a 200m-wide “Niagara Falls” cascade.
” Oiden” is taken from the local Mikawa dialect. It means “Come on,” as in come on and dance! This festival brings hundreds of dance teams to the center of Toyota City to dance to the “Oiden song.” The festival itself takes place throughout the weekend and concludes with almost two hours of 12,000 fireworks set to music.
If a touch of the spectacular is what you have in mind for a hanabi festival (and it can be presumed that you have, as very few people go to see fireworks with a high ‘meh’ factor as their top priority) then the Gamagori festival is a must see. As well as 4,000 other explosions, the Shosanjakudama fireworks draw the biggest ‘ooooh’ as, with a radius of 650m, it claims to be largest fireworks on the Pacific coast of Japan.
While this fireworks display is in Gifu and thus outside of our Aichi remit, this pair of festivals is so highly recommended we had to mention it. Taking place over two consecutive Saturdays on the banks of the Nagragawa river, this immense fireworks competition is sponsored by the Chunichi newspaper is perhaps the most spectacular in the area. For the best seats join the massed crowds (up to 400,000 people) on the river’s northern bank to watch around 30,000 fireworks on each day.
The Kobe Love Port (Minato Matsuri) is an annual festival held on Dainitotte (the 2nd Pier) east of Meriken Park close to the Port Terminal station on the Portliner. The festival celebrates Marine Day, express gratitude for the blessings of the ocean, and hope for prosperity in the coming year. This festival has a distinct nautical theme, but in most other ways you will it a standard Japanese festival featuring delicous food and entertainment. Each year is different, but the festival hosts a dedicated stage where a wide variety of acts from taiko drum displays to bands and “talents” are invited to perform.
You can get there via a free shuttle bus between Sannomiya, Motomachi, and Kobe stations on the JR line and the festival, but the nearest station is actually Port Terminal Station on the Portliner. If you are highly motivated, getting to the festival takes 20 minutes on foot from Sannomiya.
July 16, 17th (Sunday & Monday) 2017, 10:00 to 20:00
The summer is here and for some people that means getting together with friends, family, and complete strangers, standing in a field and watching some of your favorite bands play live. Yes, summer means music festival season and in Japan we have one of the world’s best. We are talking about Fuji Rock Festival.
Fuji Rock Festival is a three day music festival that has been held annually since 1997, and this year it will be on July 28-30. The festival’s name comes from the famous Mt. Fuji, the base of where the first festival was held. Although after the first year, it has been held at Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa Niigata with up to 100,000 people attending. The festival site has seven main stages with some minor stages dotted around, showing a mix of Japanese and international acts ranging from underground artists to behemoth superbands.
As always Fuji Rock 2017 is a wildly eclectic event with music to push the buttons (or pluck the strings) of any music enthusiast, though it has to be said that there is a distinctively ‘naughties’ vibe going on this year.
Friday is perhaps the rockiest day of the weekend with British band Catfish and the Bottlemen bringing their distinct brand of Oasis revivalism to the White Stage, where they will be followed by immense tubthumpers Queens of the Stone Age. Keep an eye out for the unleashing of material from their new album ‘Villans’.
Things are getting a little less sweaty on the Green Stage where Japanese indie-pop heartthrobs RADWIMPS will be prompting the biggest singalong of the day with their ubiquitous hit Zenzenzense. Things begin to get a bit moody with beautifully dark Londoners The xx, but headlining the night is the amazing return of Gorillaz, showcasing their new hip-hop-heavy, and decidedly Albanesqe album. For a 2D band, they put on a spectacular live performance!
Saturday continues the rock fun, with The Amazons pumping out their earworm riffs and catchy choruses, while The Ramona Flowers take stadium rock and edge it towards the electronic side of the spectrum. If electro-rock is your thing, then you will no doubt be sticking around for New Yorkers LCD Soundsystem, whose recent track ‘Call the Police’ has been ever present on my Spotify list since it was released a few weeks ago.
From there the electronic sounds continue apace with The Avalanches returning with their huge box of sampled tricks, and the night concludes with the epileptic-electro-insanity of Aphex Twin, who shot to late-90’s fame with the track Windowlicker thanks to its equal-parts awesome-and-terrifying music video. Hip-hop heads will no doubt be seeking out A Guy Called Gerald, bemusingly low down the bill on the Tribal Circus stage.
The final day starts off with more lad-rock in the guise of leather-clad Aussie footstompers Jet, and perennially youthful ’60s enthusiasts The Strypes headlining the Red Marquee stage. For a bit of a calm down, you can try out the singer-songwriter folk stylings of Ron Sexsmith, and if you want to get your body winding, groove to the reggae fusion dancehall charms of Major Lazer.
But really, Sunday night is the time when the ladies finally take control.
The penultimate act of the weekend will see the younger generation flock to the Green stage to catch the disturbingly gifted, voice-of-the-Millennials, Lourde, with whom you can perhaps expect to see a singalong extravaganza with her sickeningly catchy (in the best possible way) hit ‘Royals’.
Following that would be tough for most acts, but not for the ever-exhilarating, ever-exciting, ever-eccentric undisputed pixie queen of pop, Björk, who will be bringing her bonkers brilliance to quite (possibly) literally tear the festival down. Do. Not.Miss!
Tickets can be purchased for either individual days or the full weekend, meaning you can do as much or as little as you like. For those wanting the full experience there are plenty of accommodation options, with many of the local ski lodges, ryokans, and minshuku welcoming the summer crowd.
For those on a tight budget or wanting to stay close to the action, the best option is to camp along with the 17,000 people who share one of three camping grounds of a nearby golf course. This being Japan, most people will be prepared with camping stoves and the like, so do not be surprised to find semi-professional kitchens sprouting up. If you aren’t well stocked, you can shop at one of the many food stalls, but be sure to recycle any rubbish to help the festival in its aim to be the greenest of it’s kind in the world. The festival site itself is large and varied, and some of the trails between stages can be long but often beautiful. The view from the Daydreaming stage at the top of the mountain, accessible from Dragondola, the longest gondola lift in the world, is staggering.
Shinkansen is the most advisable way of getting to the festival and it takes one hour and 20 minutes to get to Echigo-Yuzawa station from Tokyo. Shuttle busses run to the festival site from there. You can organize a special shinkansen reservation plan by calling the JR Reservation Center on 03-3843-2001. There are also plenty of official tour operators organizing trips to the festival. You can find many of them here (Japanese).
Summersonic and SonicMania Tokyo
Rock in Japan Fes.