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It’s 9 a.m. and the gentle rolling piano intonations of the Rajio Taiso theme start up. A man stands at the foot of a hill on a small raised platform and begins the count: “Ichi, ni, san, shi . . .” The hill is covered with tents from which several thousand people slowly emerge. They twist sideways, bend down and stretch up — obeying the commands of our PE instructor this sunny Sunday morning in the foothills of Mount Fuji.

And as soon as he’s finished, we crack open the beer.


Asagiri Jam is not your regular music festival. It’s more like a school outing or a family get-together. And the kids obviously love the informal vibe because all 8,000 tickets sold out in this, its third year.

We arrive on Saturday afternoon in a car loaded with what we think is enough booze to keep an army intoxicated for the two-day event. At the parking lot we wait for an hour to board a bus that shuttles us to the festival site. We dump our bags on the ground to claim a tent space and rush down the hill just in time to welcome Ego-Wrappin’ on the main Rainbow Stage. Singer Yoshie Nakano looks divine — hair piled up and clad in a tight light blue top and a skirt that looks like it’s made entirely out of huge white ostrich feathers. Ego-Wrappin’ play a kind of pumped-up ’60s-style lounge-pop, a perfect soundtrack to Sean Connery-era Bond movies.

We quickly construct our tent while feverishly draining our booze — we don’t want to be sober when Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra play their party anthems. Asagiri Jam has always pushed an ethnic groove while also celebrating Japanese music. That’s why the Orchestra fit in perfectly: A Japanese band playing Jamaican music with a vocalist who sounds, during the more laidback tunes, like a 60-ciggie-a-day Tom Waits. It’s best when the Orchestra pick up the pace, and the climactic moment is when they play the theme tune from the famous anime “Lupin the Third.” The field is instantly turned into a 6,000-strong mosh pit of frenzied dancing.

There’s about a dozen Skatalites on the stage, and as they boast a combined age of nearly 2,000 we don’t expect these veterans to keep up the pace. In fact we don’t want them too as we lie back on the grass and chill to the band’s classic ’60s ska, saving our energy for The Chemical Brothers.

But before then it’s Television and five songs in a stranger jumps on my back screaming “F***ing genius!” at singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine as the guitar intro of “See No Evil” kicks in. Television rely on their classic “Marquee Moon” album for their greatest moments and an epic 10-minute version of the title track has grown men wiping away tears. Verlaine looks very much the same as he did on the cover of that debut album more than 25 years back — i.e. one of The Evil Dead. If you look that wasted in your 20s, aging holds no fears.

DJ James Holroyd then lays down some pretty cool hip-hop influenced grooves with devastatingly heavy bass and the odd flourish of tornadic trance.

By the time the Chems hit the main stage for their DJ set at 9:30, 8,000 kids are in the field. Several meter-high jugs of nihonshu are being passed through the crowd. I pass on my bottle of sake to a stranger and within seconds there’s a tap on the shoulder and a guy I’ve never seen before is handing me a bottle of vodka.

A great thing about Asagiri Jam is that you can bring your own booze. There’s no one at the gate confiscating your bottles. You never bring enough, of course, but at least you save some cash.

Obviously, the whole crowd seems to be wasted and near the end I remember hoping the Chems would spin New Order’s “Blue Monday” into the mix, and then, minutes later, we got a New Order — or was it a Joy Division song beefed up on big beat. I dunno. I didn’t care. I was in heaven.

One of the things I was looking forward to the most were the spontaneous parties that erupt at the various bar tents and around the huge bonfires. But, just like at Fuji Rock Festival, this didn’t happen. The clouds erupted instead, and only the brave stayed out after the Chems finished their set at midnight.


What makes Asagiri Jam my favorite music festival in Japan is its simplicity. There’s just the Rainbow Stage and the DJ Field Moon Shine, separated by a hundred meters of dirt path. It’s a relief when you’re starting to feel wasted not having to worry about making it to the Purple Stage in the A Field to see your favorite band when you’re miles away at the Pink Stage in Z Field watching your second favorite. There’s no rushing around or getting gridlocked in a sea of bodies. The only thing that is crucial to the success is the promoters choosing the right kind of bands to create a totally relaxed but fun vibe. They haven’t got it wrong yet.

On the second day, though, this is put to the test — the only artists I’ve heard of are British dub pioneer Mad Professor and chief Boredom DJ Eye.

The good thing about getting an early night Saturday is that I was up at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, polishing off our supply of beer. After our Rajio Taisho session ends we get the taiko of Jinba no Takidaiko at 10 a.m., and if they failed to rouse you from your sleeping bag then it was time to call an ambulance.

Ohayo-garymasu. Is everyone dai-jobbu today? We’re the Donavon Frankenreiter Band from Southern California.” More used to catching perfect waves on Californian beaches, today these surfer dudes plug into the blissful vibe and turn it up to the max.

OK, I agree that with all the good vibes going around, I was kind of being gently hippiefied, but maybe that’s one of the pleasures of growing old: Enjoying acoustic early ’70s L.A.-style rock music while lying under a blistering hot sun in the mountains. The Donavon’s pal Bonnie Pink joined them for the final song and then the band strolled into the crowd to sign autographs — and sell their own CDs.

Three local farmers well into their 60s turned up to shake their hands while dogs — yes, every other punter seemed to have dragged along a pet pooch — yapped at their feet. Some locals complained last year, which is why there was a midnight curfew Saturday. So it was especially good to see the local landowners with grins splitting their faces.

Next up was Japan’s Double Famous, who defy categorization. It’s instrumental with a Latin edge, but is that some Ukrainian folk in there? The Coral would love them.

By this time the booze is kicking in again big-time. The mainstream rock of Sogabe Keiichi, the acoustic meditations of Jack Johnson and the dancey funk of Tony Allen become pleasant background music as we carouse with new friends at the bars and collect telephone numbers.

I make my first venture into the DJ Field for the final act of the weekend — Mad Professor. Swaying to his slices of deep dub is the perfect winding-down exercise, preparing us for that long journey back to urban reality.

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