With July just around the corner, Japan is gearing up for another sultry summer. Since the sizzling-hot days only last until early September, people make the most of the season by getting outside — that includes going to film festivals, art and fashion events or outdoor musical gatherings.
In fact, there’s so much fun to be had, it can be daunting trawling through the full range of summer events that Japan has to offer. To help make things a bit easier for fun-seekers, we’ve put together a guide to the best of the season.
And what better way to kick things off than with some beats. Recent years have seen a boom in summer music festivals, or natsu fesu, and with sonic gatherings happening almost every weekend through September, music fans are spoilt for choice.
Let’s start with the “everything fests,” which showcase every genre from jazz to noise, and country to electronic. The two premier bashes of the year are Fuji Rock Festival and Summer Sonic. Celebrating its 20th birthday, Fuji Rock will return to its roots and welcome back two of the festival’s inaugural headliners, Beck and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to a lush valley surrounded by mountains, whereas the more metropolitan Summer Sonic will host U.K. powerhouses Radiohead and Underworld. Although these monster festivals may not please the most cynical music junkie, they will no doubt be highlights of the summer.
Although rock fans will be able to do some solid headbanging at the festivals listed above, they might want to cut to the chase and head directly to the nation’s largest J-rock gathering, Rock in Japan Festival, and Sapporo’s Rising Sun Rock Festival. These two events are more focused around local acts. Rock in Japan features an encyclopedic lineup of J-rock and Rising Sun has a carefully curated selection of bands, with the likes of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Suchmos and ONE OK ROCK performing in a park on Hokkaido’s west coast.
If throngs are not your thing, then you might want to try something a little more alternative, and altogether more easygoing. Happy Farm Music Festival and Ringo Fes are two intimate gatherings that create a cozy experience for friends and family alike. The eclectic Happy Farm will feature psychedelic fest faves Dachambo, as well as a special collaborative performance by Soft and earthy electronic beatmaker Kuniyuki Takahashi. Ringo Fes will be home to veteran punks Eastern Youth, netlabel scene pioneer tofubeats and local techno legend DJ Nobu for the weekend.
Representing electronic music, Rural and Labyrinth are the cream of the crop when it comes to quality beats. Techno connoisseurs looking for their yearly dose of outdoor dancing will want to work these two into their schedule.
Jazz and classical
Want to cut a rug, but don’t want to trek out to the mountains to do it? Try Blue Note Jazz Festival in Japan, which this year features George Benson and Earth, Wind & Fire. If you prefer your jazz sitting down, there’s also Sapporo City Jazz and Tokyo Jazz Festival, two events that will bring some cool, smooth sounds to a sweltering summer.
Done with the dancefloor for the year? Then these tranquil gatherings could be for you. Fans of classical music should make a pilgrimage to Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, whereas world music fans will want to head to Sukiyaki Meets the World and Earth Celebration, an unparalleled wadaiko (Japanese drum) showcase on Sado Island. Anyone who has been to the latter will testify to the sheer power of the drumming, as well as the event’s intimate and distinctly Japanese surroundings.
And if a cultural experience is what you are seeking, then perhaps some of Japan’s traditional festivals, or matsuri, need to be added to your diary. Your inner culture aficionado will be satisfied by the massive water fight that is synonymous with the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, the super-scale dance-off that is the Tokushima Awa Odori — and its sister event in Tokyo, the Koenji Awa Odori — or the flamboyant costumes at a newer festival, the Brazil-themed Asakusa Samba Carnival.
Eating and drinking
After sweating it out on the streets and mountains of Japan, you will likely have worked up an appetite. Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park is the go-to spot for world cuisine, with events representing different countries and cultures rotating each weekend. Look out for events themed around Brazil (July 16-17), Taiwan (July 30-31), Nepal (Aug. 6-7), the Caribbean (Aug. 20-21), Arab countries (Sept. 10-11) and India (Sept. 24-25). Ramen fans will be happy to know they won’t have to wait until the Tokyo Ramen Show in October to get their noodle fix. The Yokohama Iekei Ramen Festival and Yamagata Ramen Festa are two slurp-fests that will undoubtedly parch your throat, in the best possible way, this summer.
After filling up, you might want to wash down that soul food with some suds. The Beer Fes and Oktoberfest series of events take place across the Japanese archipelago all summer long — you can slake your thirst at venues in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Okinawa and Kyushu. The Nippon Craftbeer Festival is another great choice for drinkers who like their beer with character.
Art and fashion
After a summer’s worth of food, drink and dance, it’s time to discover your new favorite flick. Anime buffs should make a beeline for the International Animation Festival Hiroshima, Francophiles will enjoy the French Film Festival in Japan and the indie-inclined will get their fill at the Fukuoka Independent Film Festival. Celebrating LGBT culture, the Aomori International LGBT Film Festival and Rainbow Reel Tokyo — previously known as the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival — are two top outings that will crown a cinematic summer.
Art fanatics will find inspiration at the excellent Echigo-Tsumari Art Field and Setouchi Triennale. The latter promises to be the art event of the year, inviting hundreds of artists to a festival that spans 12 islands in the Seto Inland Sea including Naoshima, Japan’s art mecca.
Taking the saying “fashion is art, and you are the canvas” seriously, Japan has its fair share of events that honor the rag trade. Fasionistas will be looking forward to Vogue Japan Fashion’s Night Out, and those in search of summer threads will find what they’re looking for at T-shirt! That’s Fighting Words!
It’s time to finish off your summer with a bang, and Japan’s fireworks competitions are the perfect way to celebrate the season. For the full experience — those events where you’ll be able to see more than 10,000 shells being fired — you will want to find a spot to view the Omogari National Fireworks Competition and Nagaoka Festival, as well as the capital’s Sumida River Fireworks Festival and Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival.
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