If Fuji Rock Festival could be embodied in one person, Masahiro Hidaka is the perfect choice. When the man who founded the country’s premier outdoor music gathering meets up with The Japan Times, he is wearing a Pogues T-shirt and taking drags off a cigarette in the rain — after all, what’s Fuji Rock without rain?

Hidaka is known for being a free spirit with a progressive streak. He created the anti-nuclear Atomic Cafe events in the 1980s and battled a conservative status quo to establish Fuji Rock in 1997. He adds that as a child he was as unrestrained as he is now.

“The people around me liked me,” says the president of Smash Japan, the company in charge of the festival. “But I used to get in a lot of fights with the other kids, and clashed with the schoolteachers, too.”

Raised in Kumamoto Prefecture, Hidaka says he can’t remember his first musical experience.

“I used to live in the mountains, with no TV, but there was a radio,” he says. “There were also a few stores in town that played wonderful pre-war music, like jazz, and kayōkyoku (traditional Japanese pop). That stayed with me.”

This appreciation of music stuck with Hidaka into adulthood — he is now 67 years old — and famously led him to England to meet Michael Eavis, the founder of the Glastonbury music festival.

“I knew Michael from before the first time I went to his festival,” Hidaka says. “I was running the Atomic Cafe, and I met him in London then. He loves the blues.”

Hidaka has fond memories of his first time at what is arguably the world’s most famous outdoor music festival.

“I knew Van Morrison’s agent, Paul, so I was able to check out the backstage area of the Pyramid Stage, the biggest stage at Glastonbury,” he says. “Back in those days, there were no Triple A passes. When the band went on, the show was so good it brought tears to my eyes.”

These experiences with Eavis and Glastonbury inspired Hidaka to think bigger than the Atomic Cafe, but he mentions that it wasn’t quite the time to act.

“It was too early to do a festival in Japan,” he explains. “You couldn’t dance, or eat or drink in theaters at the time, and I thought that it was incredibly strange. I wanted to do something different. But I had a lot of issues with uptight venue owners. It frustrated me to the point that I wanted to punch some of them. I actually did — you can write that if you want, it’s in the past.”

After around two years of negotiations, the inaugural Fuji Rock Festival was held at the foot of Mount Fuji, and the country’s longest-running festival was born.

“Festivals are inconvenient, but it was my dream to do one where you could camp,” Hidaka says. “I was concerned that no-one would even turn up at the event.” Twenty years later, however, it’s clear the effort was worth it.

Fuji Rock Festival takes place at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture, on July 22, 23 and 24. For more information, visit www.fujirock.com.

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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