Unsure what to expect and feeling out of my comfort zone — I’d never even been to Japan before last week — I attended my first ever Fuji Rock Festival with a mixture of excitement, intrigue and apprehension — how would it compare to the dozens of festivals I had been to in Britain, Europe and the United States?
I’d previously spent hours studying the official website and other Internet forums (geek alert!), but no amount of research can fully prepare you for what awaits and if first impressions count, then Fuji won me over quicker than you can say, “How do you use these chopsticks again?”
Upon arriving early Friday afternoon, the stunning mountain backdrop was as jaw-dropping as I was told, even if the altitude results in extreme weather that can change from glorious sunshine one moment to tropical thunderstorm the next — make sure you’re fully kitted out for the rain and, unlike this idiot, that your waterproof jacket is actually waterproof.
The real surprise came when I got on site. Like Japan itself, Fuji is a kaleidoscope of color and exquisitely decorated, especially at night. Maps don’t do justice to the vastness of the place, which is far bigger than you initially realize and begging to be discovered. Aside from the music, to get the full experience put aside a few hours to explore every corner of the site — you will be delighted you did.
The golden rule is even if you think the path doesn’t lead anywhere, just follow it because it will undoubtedly take you to some fascinating, quirky enclave. As I wandered round aimlessly, I merrily drank in the eclecticism of what was on offer: in among watching bands and eating food (more of which in a minute) I also, among other things, joined a mass percussion ensemble, strolled through the beautiful woods, took a cotton-spinning lesson, and even watched a pole dancing show while supping on a couple of delightfully refreshing mojitos. All in the name of research, of course.
There is something for everyone, in other words, much like the food on sale. Ah, the food. My waistline might have had a torrid three days but my taste buds went into overdrive with the sheer scale, variety and quality of the eateries. A huge food court near the entrance is a constant hub of activity, with more than 20 stalls offering all types of local delicacies, while just up the hill its international counterpart did likewise with foods from across the globe. It was all so tempting I was eating when I wasn’t even hungry — salad is on the menu for the foreseeable future.
The organizers are keen to promote a message, a la Glastonbury, of peace, charity and eco-friendly ways, and the festival has an admirable ethos running through it. Most areas of the site tend to have stalls to that effect, while recycling is not only encouraged but expected; to my shame, within hours of arriving I reverted to British standards of behavior and dropped an empty cup on the ground as I stood at the main stage, which was met with audible gasps of horror and disgust. Red-faced and suitably embarrassed, I took the cup to the nearest recycling point and vowed that would never happen again.
And it didn’t, because you are soon in tune with the atmosphere the locals create, which is one of respect, for each other, for the artists and for their surroundings. Even with limited English, the Japanese I befriended were as pleasant and welcoming as could be, and I couldn’t find any aggression or conflict at all.
Fuji is more civilized than the festivals I’ve been to, but that is not to say it is staid. Sure, you won’t see anybody face down in the mud in a pool of their own vomit like I have seen at some British events, but it’s not without its hedonism: alcohol might be expensive but you can take your own in and there were enough people wiling away the early hours in the Red Marquee and other areas to satisfy the party-goers.
There are small drawbacks; camping in the mountains means if you don’t arrive on site on Thursday chances are you’re pitched up on a hill, while when the early morning sun rises, you rise with it — fine if you’ve been sensible and had an early(ish) night, but far less welcome if you’ve been revelling in the Palace of Wonder until 6 a.m. (as I know to my considerable cost).
But they are small gripes in what is a festival that offers more than just the music, full of charming idiosyncrasies designed to maximize audience enjoyment. And as I left on Monday morning, I took a last look at the mountains and vowed I would be back one day: if you go next year, I’m sure you will come away with exactly the same sentiment.