The Gathering 2003. Vision Quest Tokyo’s showcase event. Our summer would not be complete without it. What you are about to experience is Plan B. And it may be the best one yet.

Until just over a month ago, almost everybody — including Vision Quest — thought we would be returning to the Hiwada Kogen campground for Gathering 2003. But as has been happening all over Japan this summer, various required permits didn’t come through.

Foreseeing what was about to happen, the staff at Vision Productions “shifted into backup mode,” according to Tania Miller, Vision Quest co-founder. And they emerged from a near crisis with a long-term deal on a venue that’s two hours closer to Tokyo.

“We didn’t sit around. We went scouting for a new place and gave the Hiwada Kogen side a certain number of days to get the authorizations,” said Miller. “When they couldn’t do that, we signed a deal with (Koumi Resort City) RE-EX. And this place can hold up to 30,000 people.”

Not that Vision Quest is expecting that many people for the Sept. 13-15 event, but it’s comforting to know they are actually planning for it, and that space is more or less reserved for at least a couple more Gatherings after this one.

More or less. Remember that Hiwada Kogen was also supposedly reserved.

Over in VQ’s modest Roppongi office, Miller explained some of the extra measures they are taking to stay on the best terms with the local populace, such as hiring or renting locally where possible. “We have to be a benefit, not a burden,” she said. “We want them to want us back next year.”

All around me, an endless string of simultaneous meetings are taking place on the Seven Dwarves stools, locations and numbers are kicked around. It’s hectic but not chaotic. The logistics for this event have grown a new head because of the incredible interest — ticket presales are through the roof, visitors to the VQ Web site in the past month have doubled to nearly 1 million. I believe Tania when she tells me that they will be ready for anything. “It’s been an unusual summer. We have to be ready.”

Online advance ticket (10,500 yen) sales are expected to end Saturday due to high demand. The Web site and flyer have a list of all the shops for remaining advance tickets. It’s 12,500 yen at the gate.

So, where is Koumi Resort City RE-EX?

Get your maps out, campers! Or just click here for a scrollable Java map at JNTO.

If you didn’t click on the link, find Matsubarako Station on the JR Komi Line in Nagano Prefecture. (Chuo Expressway, Sudama exit, Route 141 north.) Notice the little blue lake of the same name; somewhere west of that is Koumi Resort City RE-EX. The Kansai crowd can take the Suwa exit and pick up Route 299. RE-EX is on 127.

(For JNTO users, you can zoom by clicking the “+” magnifying glass above the map.)

If you’re not going by car, click on the “Bus Tour” button on Vision Quest’s home page for info on buses and trains. Buses to the event will be running from JR Kobuchizawa Station.

A few more things before we get to the lineup

* The RE-EX Web site (www.reex.co.jp/KOUMI/) offers a few clues in thumbnail-size photos about the camping conditions. Shade looks a little scarce in some of those shots. It sure won’t be snowing, but it will be cool at night. Plan ahead.

* The parking area (3,000 yen) has room for at least 3,000 cars and is an easy walk to the entrance.

* There is no general re-entry to the event. Plan to carry everything in one trip. There is, however, expected to be shuttle-only access to a nearby spa.

And now for the music

The first thing I noticed about the lineup for Gathering 2003 was the absence of perennials X-Dream and The Delta. But Marcus Maichel & Co. were just here in early July and are rumored to be coming back in October. Exaile will also be missed.

Then I started drooling over the list of 12 live acts and 10 DJs whose names are listed on the flyer. At least eight hot album releases have come from this grouping of artists since Gathering 2002. We’re talking almost straight A’s here.

Vision Quest has already done a really good job with the individual artist profiles on their Web site, in English and Japanese, so I don’t need to.

But here is a shortlist, alphabetically, of sets that should not be missed:

Astrix — Played a mind-blowing first-day morning set last year.

G.M.S. — Riktam and Bansi simply have a blast with their Gathering sets. You will, too!

Infected Mushroom — Psychedelic morning music at its absolute finest!

Skazi — These guys stole the show last year. Their punk-flavored trance really works up the crowd.

Space Cat — Avi Algranati always delivers, and my notes on last year’s performance are marked with clusters of little stars.

Jorg — Nobody can read the Japan crowd, or get you stomping, like Jorg.

Joti — I also put stars next to Joti’s set last year for the way he got the early crowd moving.

In the spirit of celebration

The Gathering is a celebration of the human spirit, it belongs to all of us. At an event this size, the age-old raver’s creed — Peace, Love, Unity and Respect — especially applies.

That’s probably better advice than a laundry list of “dos and don’ts.” Because when it comes down to it, the organizer and the artists just set the scenery. We create the party. Let’s make it great so we have a chance to do it again next year.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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