There are certain things you come to accept about going to a music festival: You will probably not sleep well; you will spend too much money; you will get filthy. The grime is itself a part of the festival look — unshowered hair matted with sweat, body browned from a layer of dirt. Happily, this is less true of festival life in Japan, where natural hot springs improve the situation greatly, and, in fact, add an unexpectedly pleasurable dimension to the party culture.
I’m not a hardcore raver or festival-goer by any stretch. At Balance, a pared down version of a well-known electronic music event in Gunma Prefecture in the fall of 2021, I felt out of my element, yet very much in the elements. Relatively new to Tokyo, I’d decided on a whim to travel to the festival with three new acquaintances, and as I lay on my back in my tent, sleep deprived, overstimulated and fairly hungover, I wondered if I’d made the right choice. It had been almost two years since I’d been to any kind of live music event, and the cold and the anxiety were settling into my joints.
I ventured out of my tent and saw a short line outside a cabin marked “coin showers.” Seeing people holding their toiletries and towels, I shuddered at the thought of paying for a 30-second blast of cold water. It was then that I was informed that some of the people my group had met up with were leaving for the onsen (hot springs).