Tokyo & Fuji Rock Festival
Posted Sat, Jun 09, 2012
Tokyo & Fuji Rock Festival. July 26 - August 1
Once back in Tokyo the 36 hours without sleep and climbing Fuji starts to take it's toll. Fortunately I have a skilled navigator from Holland with me who has been to Tokyo tonnes of times, but unfortunately he is a very loud, disrespectful and inconsiderate human being. While riding packed trains he continues to point out attractive Japanese women and comment on how "Fuck-able" they are. He does this without even lowering his voice, and with the assumption that no one on the train can speak english, or even understand what he might be saying. He obviously isn't the brightest crayon in the box, as it is pretty obvious that we are not the only ones on the train who can speak/understand english. We are going to the exact same hostel, so this makes it difficult to try and ditch him, and because he knows exactly where the hostel is and how to get there I just quietly tell him to lower his voice and pretend to have a sleep.
We arrive at K's House Oasis in Tokyo mid afternoon. I decide to fight the urge to go straight to bed as I could see myself waking up super early the following day and throwing my body clock right out of whack just before heading to Fuji Rock Festival. So in my half zombie state I take a walk around the area and hit up a small ramen noodle bar nearby for some sweet sustenance. This wakes me up a bit, so I spend the next few hours checking out the nearby Temple at Asakusa and exploring the surrounding area.
Finally I decide to call it a night around 8pm when I can no longer force myself to stay awake, which unfortunately meant missing out on "Free Drink" night at the hostel.
After a good 15 hr sleep, I make my way downstairs to find that one of the staff working at this hostel also works at the Kawaguchiko K's House. He is a great dude and rips out the map to help me decide what to do for the day. I also meet a guy who is sharing my room, who I only briefly met before going to bed the night before. He tells me that I had slept through an earthquake during the night! It was only small, but if it had been any other night I would have awoken at the drop of a hat.
Because I had slept in until almost 12am I decide not to venture too far away from the centre railway system and check out Asakusa a bit more and then head to Shinjuku for a bit of a poke around. While walking around the Asakusa markets a TV show crew approach me and ask If they can interview me for a local station. I oblige, and the topic turns out to be about what I think about how expensive everything is in Japan. But when I answer them and start explaining that it is actually cheaper than I thought it was going to be the presenter obviously realises its not the answer she is after she ends the interview quickly and thanks me for my time. After an hour or so of wandering around I also spot the famous Asahi building that is supposed to look like a beer apparently.
The 26th of July was the last day of my 28 day JR rail pass, but after noticing that most rail station gatekeepers don't even look at the inside where the date is, I decide to try and get through with the expired pass at the Asakusa station. After I finally find the nearby Asakusa station I walk past the station attendant and quickly flash my JR pass, but with no luck :( I thought I was in the clear until a few seconds later he ran up to me and tried to explain in broken english that it was expired, I just played dumb and payed the couple hundred yen for the ticket. Total fail.
For the rest of the Day I check out the Shinjuku area, The massive Camera stores where I searched and searched for the perfect photography bag. The Govt building Free observation Deck where you can Tokyo city sprawling out as far as the eye can see in all directions.
Then a quick explore around the nightlife/bar/adult entertainment area on the other side of the Shinjuku station. Just to the side of Shinjuku bar district is the Golden Gai, which is apparently the only part of old tokyo (idol) which still stands. The area is only exacters over 1 small block but houses about 200 teeny tiny bars. Most bars can only fit maximum 6 people inside, but they all have their own individual style and/or theme. The thing that makes this place really cool are the small alleyways connecting all of the bars, some of which are barely big enough for one person to walk through. Some bars in the Golden Gai no longer serve Foreigners and they promote it quite clearly on the door. Also Drinking at the Golden Gai is quite expensive, as almost all bars charge $10 just to get in. Even so, its a definite must see, and if you can afford it a unique night out.
Back at the hostel I have a chilled out night with a group of guys in my hostel who are from London and try to sort out what to do for my final days in Tokyo.
Because it is forecast to rain on the 29th I head to Euno Park for the day to enjoy the limited sunshine. Euno Park is a huge… err… park. Its kinda like Central park in NYC, but in Tokyo. There are heaps of street performers, food carts, a Museum, and art gallery, and art sculpture gallery.
Outside the Euno Park Museum sits a giant life size blue whale sculpture. Inside I come across the same ancient clock shown to me by the woman in Kawaguchiko which confirms that it is from the 1600's. The rest of the museum is ok, but nothing spectacular.
One thing I came across and didn't really expect was all of the homeless people living in makeshift homes made of tarps and trolleys in Euno park. I had only come across two homeless people in all of the cities I had visited up until this point, and hadn't really given the issue much thought.
On the other side of the park is a small lake which is filled with some awesome water repellant plants! Tipping water on them causes the water drops bead off in perfect little round droplets. So of course I spent 10 mins wasting what was left in my water bottle on them. After a quick snow cone I set off back towards the train station. On the way I stop to enjoy some street performers juggling, bending and dancing before jumping on a train for Shibuya, or as I like to pronounce it, Shibooyah!
As soon as I got off the train at Shibuya I knew I was going to like it. For those who don't know, Shibuya is a center for youth fashion and culture, and its streets are the birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. It is essentially a huge bar strip, with plenty of shops, art galleries, cafes, Venues (live houses) and a red light district. Some of the back alleys are also filled with Graffiti which slightly remind me of the alleyways of Melbourne. Its sparkly and somewhat seedy at the same time.
Shibuya is also home to the famous Hachiko statue directly outside the train station. If you are a Futurama fan then you may remember the episode where Fry had a pet dog who would wait for him outside the Pizza shop every day. When Fry doesn't return (after being frozen) the dog waits for him day and night until it dies years later. The story of the Hachiko Statue is pretty much that. The dog would wait for its owner at the station every day, but when he didn't come home one day he just sat there and waited for years.
Just a few steps behind this statue is the Famous Shibuya crossing, which is the busiest crossing in the world. I snap off a few photos and then attempt to get a seat in the 3 storey starbucks overlooking the street with no luck.
While exploring I come across a Massive underground comic book store, which i'm pretty sure is the biggest in the world. Its a massive bunker with some crazy awesomely nerdy stuff, about 100 glass cabinets with cool collectables and crazy toys. Even though i'm not a comic book person I can appreciate the nergasm that most Comic book fans would have walking in here.
I awaken to a pretty wet and miserable Wednesday morning. My last full day will be spent exploring Odaiba, which is set of small man made fort islands which now house a number of buildings and attractions. Here is where you can find the iconic Fuji TV building which looks like it is from the future because of its strange architecture. Below this building along the waterfront is a dock with a crazy futuristic looking ferry. And further along is a small scale replica of the statue of liberty.
Below the Fuji TV building is a small shopping centre so and I come across a cool looking american style diner and grab a burger and chips for lunch, While waiting for my food I start talking with a nice Japanese guy who's english is quite broken. When the food comes out I burst out laughing because their version of "chips" is potato chips, salt and vinegar potato chips to be precise! haha.
Circling Odaiba is a monorail which gives you an awesome view of the whole island. After jumping back on the monorail I notice a huge building in the shape of a ship, so I decided to disembark and check it out. It turns out that this building is actually the maritime museum and it turns out to be pretty awesome. Out the front of the museum are multiple mini submarines and old style dive suits, and inside is the entire history of japanese fishing industry, War boats and ocean exploration. There are scale models of thousands of incredibly detailed ships, boats, diving rigs and submarines. The museum is split over 4 levels, and on the top floor there is even a remote controlled boat pool where you can pay 200 yen to remotely pilot some toy boats around for 5 mins. This proves to be extremely fun and I waste a good 20 mins perfecting my boating skills and chasing down and smashing into Japanese school children's boats who all give me a high 5 on the way out.
Before leaving Odaiba I also come across a Hello Kitty mini theme park which is blindingly pink, and also another cool looking Cat Cafe which has a huge cartoon cat as its shop front and to get inside you walk through the mouth!
Before leaving the hostel in the morning I had done some research into finding a live house in Tokyo and come up with a few in Shinjuku. So in the early afternoon I head back to Shinjuku station and spend a few hours wandering the streets, taking photos and doing a bit of a pub crawl. Come 8pm I head to the live house. The entry fee is about $20 but it includes 3 drink cards. Instead of handling cash at the bar they instead sell you drink cards for about $3-4 and then you cash them in for drinks, much like all music festivals these days. The venue isn't all that big, and is in a basement but has a good atmosphere. All of the bands are pretty impressive. There is one Japanese punk band that has a crazy lead singer, he is quite big for a Japanese guy, and while on stage skulls a whole bottle of wine and hangs from the rafters while singing.
I spend my first two drink cards on beer, and then decide to try and order a bourbon and coke with my last one. Up until now I had just been ordering beer as the japanese word for beer is beeru, but unfortunately I don't know the Japanese word for Bourbon but figure its worth a try. I shout to the guy behind the bar for a Bourbon and coke and he gives me a blank stare for a second before turning around, picking up a bottle of Balentines and filling the glass to the top, with straight Balentines. Before I could even say anything he takes the one drink card from me and I walk away with at least $20 worth of Balentines in my glass sans the coke. Still a little shocked that I scored a full glass of Balentines for a couple of $ I contemplate finding a vending machine outside to mix it with, but before I do the final band starts and from what I had seen of them on youtube I didn't want to miss their set, so instead I sip on the Balentines throughout their set.
The final band remind me of the Hives, and its plain to see that the Hives are one of their major influences. They dress in suits and strip off during the set to reveal matching striped red and white shirts (and sunglasses). They also have a similar stage presence and their music although in Japanese, is the same sort of grungy punk rock sound.
By the time the band finishes i'm pretty drunk, I end up having a broken conversation with a Japanese guy with a mohawk who asks me a hundred questions about my dreadlocks. Before everyone leaves something quite strange happens that would never happen in Melbourne. Everyone in the bar is asked to come up on stage for a group photo. All of the bands, and pretty much all of the crowd gets up on stage for a couple of group photos. This was really strange, but kinda cool. Something like this would usually be impossible to orchestrate at a gig in Melbourne because of all the drunken tomfoolery going on, but not here in Japan, here it seemed quite normal.
I barely make it to the last train back to the hostel because the path to the station leads directly past the red light district. Instantly I get swamped by young thai and Japanese women asking if I would like a "massagi"! At one point there is one on each of my arms and they are very persistent, bringing their offers for massage lower and lower as I tell them no thank you. After the swarm of women in the red light district I also get asked by a barrage of african guys if I am looking for somewhere to drink, and they try to persuade me into their strip clubs and bars with offers of beautiful women and good times. I make it back to the hostel and fall into a drunken slumber sometime past 1am eagerly awaiting Fuji Rock Festival the next day.
July 30 - Fuji Rock Festival!
One of the reasons I had timed my trip so that I was back in Tokyo at the end of July was so that I could go to Fuji Rock Festival. Fuji Rock Festival is held at the Naeba ski resort (about 1.5 hrs from Tokyo) and is held over 4 days. It is one of Japans biggest music festivals and was definitely worth the trip. I only bought a ticket for the one day, but because the acts pretty much go non-stop I decided I was going to pull an all nighter.
To get to the festival you have to take a Shinkansen North West from tokyo for about 40 mins. Then from the station there is a shuttle bus that takes you the hour or so into the mountains to the festival. The festival is set up in a great spot, with mountains surrounding you in every direction. There are 4 major stages with several smaller stages scattered throughout the festival grounds. all of the stages are connected by a major path, and also connected by a smaller raised wooden walkway that winds through the forest. In the middle of the forest is even a smaller hidden stage that had acoustic and blues bands playing.
Towards the end of one of these raised platform sections there is even a bridge that crosses a river which has a thin layer of fog that stretches out to the tree line. And further down the main path a bigger bridge crosses the river. Beside this bridge is a chill out area with projector screens running movies 24/7 with hundreds of bean bags. Later in the night this area also opens up as the street performer area and has tonnes of fire twirlers and buskers. and the projectors turn their attentions to the pine trees using them as a projection surface for some awesome triply projections. Beside this area you can also access the river very easily and clean off any mud.
Never have I seen so much colour at a festival. This is mainly due the the on and off drizzle and rain throughout the day as everyone ponchos are bright pink, blue, green, red, or white. At the biggest stage thousands of people had set up deck chairs and picnic rugs on a hill overlooking the stage, and once again here I saw hundreds of sleeping japanese people!
One of the stages is called the "green" stage and is the obviously the hippy stage. A trail leading off from this stage brings you to a hammock area and then swings back around to a market area where you can buy dream catchers, trinkets, soaps and clothes made from natural materials. This market park of the festival was the most affected by the rain, and it was incredibly muddy, so much so that I just ended up walking around bare foot.
The next stage on was the funk/reggae stage, and some more market stalls. Here I come across a small shop selling custom made bob marly shirts and have a good talk with the artists who explains the designs behind the shirts. I end up buying one that is a collages of several different pictures including a dragonfly, mother Teresa, the dali lama, a lizard and a number of other images which all come together to make the image of Bob Marley's face. Its pretty cool, and I end up staying and chatting with the guy for ages, who lived in Jamaica for several years.
The last major stage is pretty massive and called the orange stage, and here I watch an awesome 10 piece latin reggae / ska band. This stage has huge sculptures surrounding it and is pretty impressive. For the rest of the day I scuttle from stage to stage catching as many acts as I can, I will let these photos do a bit of the talking:
Once night falls I return to the main stage to catch Tokyo Paradise Ska Orchestra who are amazing, and then see Incubus for the first time who do an hour and a half set. By this stage it is about 1am and all of the big stages start shutting down for the night. So I go to the chill out area, grab some food and a beer, and watch most of a samurai movie while comfortably curled up inside the wheel of an old water wheel. It starts to get pretty cold and I layer up with the extra thermals that I was glad I bought with me.
A walk through the raised wooden walkway proves to be a pretty awesome choice, as the forest has been littered with hundreds of disco balls all along the way. The deco balls have spot lights pointed at them and as they spin around they light up the forest with a thousand tiny reflections of light. It's amazing! I had anticipated that it was going to rain a little bit so I didn't take my DSLR camera with me, but this was the one point which I regretted not bringing it. Also back at the little hidden stage they had set up a triply art installation which consisted of cool swirling oils that had been placed on a projector and projected onto some stretched sheeting in front of the stage. Behind this were a a couple of dancers who's shadows were being projected onto the sheeting. The dancers would use the swirling bubbles of colour and pretend to interact with them and make it look as if the were moving them around. I sat and watched this for about 30 mins before moving on.
At this point I was starting to get pretty tired so I went in search of music and booze. Back at the main stage there was no one, the area was completely deserted. But further along near the front entrance was a section that was shut during the day and only opened at night. This are was for the people like myself pulling all nighters. Here they had set up a cool saloon looking bar which has bands running all night until 7am. This area also had a heap of cool sculptures made out of car parts, including a beetle, some weird dog thing and best of all a tree made out of mufflers, which also had a fire inside it. There was also a small tent for the ravers, and the worlds smallest club called "Ministry of sound" and only held 3 people at a time. In the old saloon I met a guy from the UK who had been working as a teacher in Japan for several years. He was a cool dude and spent the next few hours drinking and watching some cool reggae and funk bands.
More photos to do the talking, unfortunately the disco ball photos aren't that great because this is my phone camera, but trust me, they were amazing!
Before I knew it light starting to peer in from the cracks in the roof and I decide it was time to say goodbye to Fuji Rock Festival and make my way back to the bus. I managed to get a good 30 min nap on the bus, but back at the train station I realised how filthy I was and found a tap to clean the mud off my legs, feet and face while waiting for the Shinkansen back to tokyo. I was still a little drunk, and at this hour the only thing that was open to get some food was a strange little stall outside the train station. I have no idea what I ate that morning, but I remember my choices all seemed to be some sort of seafood on a stick and the one I chose was chewy and fishy, not my favourite.
The Shinkansen gave me another 30 min sleep and time to reflect on the night. There were a few things that really made this festival different and much more enjoyable than Australian music festivals and these are the reasons I don't think I will return to another Australian music festival.
- The lack of security, no D barrier or ridiculous security measures. I guess this is due to the good nature of most Japanese people. I didn't see any arguing, fighting or trouble at all.
- No drugs, not even the whiff of pot in the air. This could easily be seen as a negative for most people, but drugs are usually the cause of the fights and arguments at Australian festivals.
- So, so organised. I had no trouble moving between stages at all.
- Japanese people are so damn polite! I couldn't get over how easy it was to get to the front of the stage. Everyone is so polite in the mosh pit, to the point that they will clear a path for you all the way to the front. I didn't come across one person who didn't offer me to stand in front of them.
- Japanese people generally are shorter than me! haha, so it didn't matter where I was in the crowd, I could always see the stage.
- Atmosphere. from the art installations to the markets, from the people to the bands. There was something for everyone and the setting was amazing. I have never seen something like it in Australia. Most festivals in Australia are usually like, sleep here, watch bands here, drink in this designated area here, after 4 days you go home.
By the time I got back to Tokyo it was only 8.30am and I had a whole day to kill before I could return and re-check into my hostel. The remainder of this day I found myself wandering the streets of Akihabara and Shinjuku like a zombie in a half drunk and half asleep stooper trying to buy presents and trinkets for jerks back home. I also managed to come across a DVD library and checked in to have a nap for another hour.
I also make a stop in Harajuku to see if I can spot any Harajuku girls. Harajuku is the place where teenagers dress up and hang out in crazy cosplay outfits. Their outfits are crazy, and awesome, Crazy-Awesome even. So when I arrive I keep my eyes peeled for some cool costumes, and hopefully a photo or two but am pretty disappointed when I only spot one Harajuku girl. Instead of the Harajuku girl drawing attention, I seem to be drawing more form the Young Japanese locals because of my dreadlocks, and throughout the afternoon I stop to have my photo taken at least 6-7 times. Apart from the girls, Harajuku is pretty cool, as the main stretch consists of a big wide winding alley way that runs for a few blocks. This is obviously the place to come for crazy japanese outfits, makeup, shoes etc. I also come across thius strange fellow...
Before leaving Harajuku I actually do some shopping in a body piercing store and get some trinkets to add to my dreadlocks before randomly running into a guy who I climbed mount Fuji with a few days earlier. He suggests to go and check out the Meiji Shrine. The intersesting thing about the Meiji Shrine is that when the 2011 Earthquake hit the Shrine took some damage, but instead of closing it to the public they left it open and covered the damaged parts with covers while they worked on repairing the damaged sections. These covers actually have photos of the original Shrine printed on them!
finally 4pm rolls up and I checked back into the hostel for a much needed shower. After this I was feeling a little more together. Considering it was my last night in Japan I decided I should at least go out and do something. So I had a nice early dinner and decided I was going to treat myself and get a massage, considering I was supposed to be on a holiday after all. The only massage place I could find however was a thai massage pallor around the corner. I had heard about how rough Thai massages are, but decided a thai massage is better than no massage at all.
The Masseuse was a young japanese woman, and she was really nice. We started off with tea in true Japanese tradition and after a hundred questions about my dreadlocks she got to work cracking, pushing, pulling, twisting and even giving me chinese burns! I was surprised how much strength this little Japanese woman had, man was it painful! After it was done I did feel better and definitely more awake, but during the massage I almost had to shout mercy a few times. haha.
August 1 - Final day in Japan :(
Unfortunately the only flight i could get home on this day was all the way back in Osaka, which is back neat Kyoto. So I get up early and do a quick walk around the Asakusa area and but some last minute presents before reluctantly jumping on the Shinkansen to Osaka.
I make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare in true me fashion. In the extremely long checkout line I get to know Sarah in front of me and Tom behind me who are both flying back to Australia. Our flight ends up getting delayed for about 3 hours, so we hang out and grab some dinner and spend a few hours trying to waste the remainder of out yen on duty free booze and smokes, vending machines and massage chairs in the airport lounge.
On the plane ride home Sarah gets a full double seat to herself so sleeps like a log, until we hit turbulence and she freaks out a bit. With the new Jetstar planes they have chat functions inbuilt into the computers behind each chair, so Tom and I attempt to calm her via awkwardly bad touchscreen chat.
Back on the ground we part ways. The first thing I do is go to the hungry jacks in the lounge for some breakfast, and this is where I have my first encounter with a rude and loud person for the first time in 6 weeks (apart from the belgium guy on the train). A woman in the line at hungry Jacks, screaming and carrying on about how someone pushed in front of her, calling the staff idiots, shouting, ranting, blerrgh. This encounter makes me cringe, and I already want to get back on the plane and fly straight back to beautiful, polite, efficient, crazy, awesome, Japan.