Japan’s borders have opened to foreign tourists. That may be bad news for Mount Fuji, which is now completely booked this summer, but it’s good news for Fuji Rock as the music festival pulls in some major international names. Drew Damron and Patrick St. Michel join us to discuss Japan’s two favorite Fujis.

Hosted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Dave Cortez.

On this episode:

Shaun McKenna: Articles | Twitter | Instagram

Drew Damron: Articles | Twitter | Instagram

Patrick St. Michel: Articles | Twitter

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Transcript note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.

Shaun McKenna 00:08

Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I’m Shaun McKenna. Four years ago, I made my debut on this podcast, then hosted by Oscar Boyd as he recorded my first ever trek up Mount Fuji.

Oscar Boyd 00:21

Shaun McKenna, you’re standing at the top of Mount Fuji in 2 degrees temperature, ferocious winds. Do you remember how we got here?

Shaun McKenna 00:31

I, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can remember anything right now.

Shaun McKenna 00:36

The climb was thrilling, challenging and definitely one of the highlights of my time here in Japan. The peak is 3,776 meters high, and it’s an active volcano. So the hike is not a walk in the park by any means. Though every year people of all ages attempt the ascent between the beginning of July and into mid September. This year in particular, with COVID-19 measures easing and the borders opening to international tourists, it seems like everyone is attempting the ascent. So much so that authorities are warning crowd control is needed to manage the numbers. This week, Japan Times contributing writer Drew Damron joins us to discuss Fuji’s crowds, climbing alternatives and other aspects of the adventure tourism that Japan has to offer. And after we speak to Drew we’ll welcome Japan Times culture writer Patrick St. Michel to the podcast to talk about Japan’s other famous Fuji, this weekend’s Fuji Rock Festival.

Drew, welcome to Deep Dive.

Drew Damron 01:38

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Shaun McKenna 01:39

I guess the first question I’ll ask is, I know you from your writing as doing some pretty athletic activities in Japan. But have you ever actually climbed Mount Fuji?

Drew Damron 01:48

I did. Yeah, I did in 2017.

Shaun McKenna 01:51 How many times have you climbed it?

Drew Damron 01:52

Just the one time. May be going out again soon. But yeah, for now, I’ve just climbed it once.

Shaun McKenna 01:58

What was the experience like?

Drew Damron 02:00

It was fun. My best friend had come to visit me and we both decided to go challenge the mountain. And that was before I really got into regular hiking and trail running. But yeah, it was, it was a really unique experience. And the mountain landscape is very different from a lot of other places that I had been. Just kind of more volcanic soil and scrubby-type plants around. And I remember being up at a pretty high elevation and looking out over the clouds and seeing a distant storm with like lightning flashing. And being above the lightning and watching the storm like below me. That was when we were staying at the hut and I was really pretty. Yeah. And Shaun, you climbed it for this podcast, right?

Shaun McKenna 02:40

I did. I thought it was a fantastic experience. Definitely a challenge. I’m really not a hiker or a climber. Well, I wasn’t before Fuji. But I sincerely recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of coming to Japan or who already lives here.

Drew Damron 02:55

Yeah, it’s definitely a unique experience. And it’s an important icon for Japan and the people who live here. When I climbed, I didn’t go straight up the mountain. I stayed at the eighth hut on the Fujinomiya trail on the south side of the mountain, and then woke up about three in the morning and caught the sunrise at the top.

Shaun McKenna 03:14

OK, we took a break as well. I am pretty sure we climbed the Fujinomiya Trail, which is like a little tougher, but shorter. Is that right?

Drew Damron 03:23

Yes. Steeper but quicker to the top. Yeah.

Shaun McKenna 03:25

  1. And then we rested at the 9.5 station cabin. And actually, that’s a good segue into today’s topic. The cabins on the mountain are all apparently booked already this season. And that’s causing concern that visitors may attempt something called “dangan tozan,” which is bullet climbing. Drew, can you explain a little to us what bullet climbing is?

Drew Damron 03:48

Yeah, so this term for bullet climbing, it’s particularly used for climbing Mount Fuji. But it’s essentially going straight from the base area up to the top without stopping to rest or like acclimatize to the elevation as well. Yeah, it’s a popular way to climb up. But it only accounts for maybe less than 10% of the number of climbers who actually go up Mount Fuji. But the concern is that with so many people booking out and these huts that are already reducing the number of people who can stay, the capacity is lower and more people coming still want to climb up and so they may be resorting to this bullet climb technique of going straight up to the top. And while there are people who do it, it’s risky in that if you’ve never been up to that kind of elevation, you don’t really know how you’re going to experience the altitude if it’s going to affect you pretty significantly or not. And there’s just a lot of risks with the increased number of tourists and climbers coming as well as the decreased capacity of the huts’ occupancy.

Shaun McKenna 04:47

What kind of risks are involved with climbing Fuji?

Drew Damron 04:49

The first one is altitude sickness. Generally that can kick in in anywhere above 2,500 meters and Fuji’s summit is at 3,700. So it’s quite high, and the air gets thinner as you go up. And it’s hard to know how you may respond to that. Another one is simply just slipping or twisting your ankle. The trail is very gravelly up towards the top as it’s kind of volcanic-type rocks. And a lot of times that people are rushing up to catch the sunrise at the summit. And that just kind of increases the chance of slipping and twisting something. And then also being up at that high altitude, it’s very cold, and there is a concern about hypothermia if you’re not particularly prepared. And even though the climbing season is in July, and August, which are the hottest months of the summer, a general rule of thumb is like every 100 meters up, it’s one degree colder. And so, at more than 3,000, it can be close to zero degrees on occasion, even during the summertime.

Shaun McKenna 05:46

Actually, when I climbed Fuji, I overprepared, somewhat. But I was definitely warm until it started raining. And then yeah, then I wasn’t. But when I descended the mountain, we took the easier Yoshida trail for the descent. And I saw people wearing jeans and sandals and like no other equipment.

Drew Damron 06:07

Yeah, definitely make sure that you do your research. And the Yoshida trail is maybe three times more popular than the other trails around. So a lot more people take that approach up, and it is generally more accessible and a longer time, but it’s not as steep. But yeah, I also saw people in jeans going up and was wondering how they’re going to be up at the top. I guess as long as you don’t linger, and you really kind of hustle then it’s fine. But yeah, it’s very risky. And another thing that the authorities are worried about is that if the number of people are expected to be climbing are higher, and they’re basing this off of the number of reservations, but there are like laser gates on these trails that are counting it. And it looks like as of now there’s a 40% increase of the number of climbers on the mountain this year. And all of those extra people on the trail are kind of knocking rocks loose, and there’s a concern of rock slides and trail damage as well in a conservation aspect.

Shaun McKenna 07:01

Are the authorities doing anything other than just warning people not to bullet climb up Mount Fuji? A warning that I imagine a lot of tourists aren’t going to hear.

Drew Damron 07:11

Yeah, and there are some articles that are being translated into English. But for the most part, there’s a call to try to refrain from the bullet climb. There are talks and I think they are reducing the hours of accessibility to the Subaru Line, which is the road that goes up to the fifth station on the Yoshida trail that used to be open 24 hours and now they close it at night to try to discourage people from going up. But they really can’t impose restrictions on what the people can do. But Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, which kind of share the mountain, are putting these calls out. And I think a lot of that is out of concern for the huts’ staff as well. Because when accidents like this do happen, the people managing and working at the huts are the ones who are going out to provide first aid or trying to bring people in. And if they’re trying to take care of the people staying in the hut and run those operations and go out at the same time then it is risky, all of the chance of incidents rises. So just before you come, be prepared and do your research.

Shaun McKenna 08:22

Drew, you recently wrote a piece for The Japan Times titled “Five climbs around Tokyo to get your Mount Fuji fix.” Did the problems we discussed in the first segment influence that by any chance?

Drew Damron 08:33

It did in a way. And I also think that Japan has a lot of beautiful hikes around, and a lot of tourists who come fixate on Fuji and one of the best things about climbing around Japan is having that view of Fuji from the top, too. So I really wanted to highlight all of these other great mountains that are nearby that are easier to get to and maybe don’t exacerbate this issue that the prefectures are dealing with on Mount Fuji.

Shaun McKenna 08:55

Getting a shot of Fuji in the background is always great for your social media accounts. What were the mountains you chose for the piece, and how did you go about choosing those particular ones?

Drew Damron 09:06

So I had to narrow it down to five. I chose to feature Bonomine

and Tonodake and Mount Kumotori, Mount Akadake and Mount Yarigatake. I chose to feature them and curate them kind of a level of easier to access to more difficult classic climbs. Bonomine is great because it takes you through this really beautiful, like, waterfall surrounded gorge through these like deep ferns and in a very sanctuary feeling — very Ghibli movie down in there. And so that one’s not necessarily about getting up to the top although the view is quite nice but that there are beautiful views along the way that are refreshing during the summertime. Tonodake, I chose, that was kind of the first mountain that I climbed that really made me fall in love with hiking. And there’s just a really beautiful view of the mountains and in between that peak and Mount Fuji with Fuji kind of dominating the horizon there. It’s really, really beautiful. Kumotori is the highest mountain in Tokyo Prefecture. And that one is pretty easy to get to by public transportation. And it’s one of the hyakumeizan, which is a kind of list of the 100 famous mountains in Japan. And so, that one’s quite interesting to go up and experience and see that monument there. Akadake is a part of the Yatsugatake, which is like an eight-peaked mountain that’s in Nagano. So it’s a little bit further away, but that one is very much like the classic hiking area since like the ’50s here in Japan. So it’s really been the place where people cut their teeth and start to prepare for alpining. And then Mount Yarigatake is one of the iconic peaks of Kamikochi, which is sort of like Japan’s Yosemite Valley. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Japan, and Yarigatake, which means “Spear Peak” is one of the most iconic peaks in Japan as well. It’s a long approach, there is some pretty sketchy climbing in the last 20 minutes where you’re scrambling up pitons and ladders and you’re pretty exposed. But that is the classic hike and it’s kind of one of those where you can say that you’ve climbed Mount Fuji, and that’s one thing, but if you’ve climbed Yarigatake, that’s really something else.

Shaun McKenna 11:16

Right, right. Bonomine, that’s 969 meters. So that’s still much higher than Tokyo Sky Tree, which is 634 meters. Is it OK for a beginner to kind of take that one on?

Drew Damron 11:29

One thing you have to consider is the starting elevation, too. And so, starting that hike, you’re already around 400 meters. So it’s about 500 meters up, which is kind of an average beginner hike. It’s about a two-hour approach. And I think that as you’re going through that waterfall gorge, you’re not really feeling that taxing hike as much because it’s just so pretty around you. But, yeah, there are other ones like Mount Takao or Mount Tsukuba that are nearby that are much more popular. But Mount Takao has a, there’s a chairlift going up to the top and it’s paved sidewalk along the way.

Shaun McKenna 12:04

Isn’t there a beer garden at the top?

Drew Damron 12:05

There’s a beer garden. There’s ice cream up the summit too and it’s a great mountain and very popular as well. And a very old shrine. Very historically important area for the Shugendo kind of yamabushi practicing monks out there as well.

Shaun McKenna 12:20

Is it possible that like a good hike isn’t always one that comes with some kind of superlative attached to it? So like, you don’t need to necessarily climb the highest mountain in Saitama or, you know, the place with the most spectacular view of Tokyo?

Drew Damron 12:35

Yeah, yeah, of course. I mean, there’s that list of the hyakumeizan that I mentioned is the 100 famous mountains of Japan. But there’s a lot of mountains on that list that people question like, “Why are they even on there?” No beautiful view. It was a long approach along kind of a dirt access road. And there’s thousands of trails in Japan. And it could take you years if you did a different one every weekend. So there’s a lot of different kinds of views and valleys to explore. And, you know, sometimes you don’t get that payoff at the top, and even if you’re expecting it, sometimes it’s cloudy and you don’t get any view at all. So just go out and try different things ... and one thing that I’ve recently come to enjoy is that there’s this concept of the “yama no kokoro,” or the heart of the mountain. And a lot of times with hiking and trail running, the payoff is the summit and the view from the top. But there’s something about getting deep into the valley where that clean, crisp stream is going through with the fish and there’s deer everywhere and there’s thick moss and these really deep, beautiful parts of the mountain that are the source of water that’s going down to the irrigation and the towns. And that’s another really special type of beauty here in Japan that can also satisfy something aesthetically that the summits can’t quite do, I think.

Shaun McKenna 13:56

Have you checked out any trails in other parts of the country?

Drew Damron 13:59

I have been out to Kamikochi, that’s in deep Nagano area. I’ve been hiking around Tohoku up in Iwate. It’s a pretty, kind of low-altitude highlands area, but really deep, beautiful part of the country. Hokkaido is great as well, and Kyoto has some really nice hiking around that city as well.

Shaun McKenna 14:22

So another story that you wrote that I really liked was on sawanobori. Can you explain to us what sawanobori is?

Drew Damron 14:29

Yeah, so sawanobori is this kind of niche type of rock climbing that’s only done in Japan. And that’s climbing up the streams and the mountains and climbing up the waterfalls. For some people, they may know canyoning and canyoning is kind of descending down. But here in Japan, they’re actually climbing up. And I think it’s done in Japan it started out with like fishermen trying to ascend these to find trout and the freshwater fish, and it changed a bit more with the kind of golden age of climbing in Japan that was like in the 20s, where people started to go and climb for submitting the peaks, whereas before it was maybe the realm of the gods and unless you were yamabushi accessing these areas.

Shaun McKenna 15:11

So I know kami means “gods.” I wonder, this is the second time you’ve said yamabushi, what are “yamabushi”?

Drew Damron 15:15

Yamabushi, it’s a type of like Shinto follower and as a part of their religious practice, and as a part of their meditation and prayer, they would hike up to the top of these mountains. I don’t know if you’ve seen them. They have these sandals, and they blow the conch shells. And they kind of have these long noses that look like the tengu spirits that live out in the mountains. They were developing some trails up along the top, but during the golden age of hiking, and people trying to just go up in the alpine style, like the Europeans and trying to reach the summits, the streams were usually the way that’s more clear and not quite as steep. And you didn’t have to hack through and build your own trails. And it provided water access. You could get water along the way. And you could get your fish along the way, too. And so, these trout fishermen would use gear like the waraji, so like these, these woven straw sandals to help them grip the stone as they go up. And so the hikers would start to use them too. And then along comes rock climbing, where people can start to apply climbing gear to climb these waterfalls and get deeper into these valleys. And so it kind of evolved into this exciting adventure sport, where you’re deep in the mountains in the summertime, it’s really hot, but you’re cooling off in the stream, and you’re climbing up these waterfalls, and you’re applying rock-climbing skills, but you’re also hiking and swimming in these deep pools, foraging for mushrooms, and you’re fishing and camping and you’re in wetsuits just kind of pulled from like rafting as well. And so it’s this interesting, like kind of emerging holistic activity that’s done here in Japan and nowhere else. And another part of that, too, is that Japan has a relatively young landmass, geologically speaking. So it’s, it’s kind of small, but has these really steep mountains and the rivers in Japan are quite unique and that they’re very short and very steep when compared to a lot of other rivers around the world. And so that makes them very conducive for climbing up.

Shaun McKenna 17:07

Right? Where did you do this sawanobori?

Drew Damron 17:09

I often go in Chichibu, in Okuchichibu area. It’s also done in Tanzawa, kind of northeastern Yamanashi Prefecture as well. That’s where supposedly that’s kind of where sawanobori started. Was in like, where Yamanashi connects up into Chichibu area. But you can also go out in Nagano, the Southern Alps, and it’s quite popular in Hokkaido as well. And it’s starting to occur in Taiwan and New Zealand as well, which are other kind of mountainous island areas. But in the summertime, it’s really hot outside, it’s a great way to cool off and still practice your climbing skills.

Shaun McKenna 17:43

So if someone wants to, if someone listens to this and wants to try it, where would they start, where’s the best place to start?

Drew Damron 17:48

There are some approachable streams for climbing and Okutama that are just off of the bus line if you’re heading out to Lake Okutama. Around Takao there are some streams too. And it’s possible to just walk in the stream and kind of hike up along your way and cool off that way. It doesn’t necessarily require climbing up waterfalls, but there are some accessible ones there. Okuchichibu are a bit more dangerous. And actually, I broke my hand last year doing it. That was kind of where the story came from.

Shaun McKenna 18:15

So you’ve written about other outdoor activities. Were you always into this kind of adventure travel before you came to Japan?

Drew Damron 18:23

No, no. So Michigan, where I grew up, is totally flat. So I never knew this about myself that I liked mountains so much until I came here. But it was kind of like a lot of other people during the pandemic. A lot of stuff was closed and there wasn’t much to do. And I was getting a bit stir crazy in my apartment, and I went out and started hiking and I found it to be really what I needed at the time. And that turned into trail running and trail running turned into ultra marathons. And then rock climbing turned into ice climbing and then waterfall climbing and skiing in the wintertime. I think that’s one thing that’s really nice about Japan is that not only do you have the mountains, but you have all these seasons with these unique activities, too. So you know, in the fall, you’re out doing multipitch climbing on rock faces, and then excited for winter when it comes because that means ice climbing.

Shaun McKenna 19:08

Is there anything along these lines that you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Drew Damron 19:13

I think just getting out and getting more experience with the gear. Ice climbing is a relatively short season here in Japan, and that seems to be getting shorter with climate change as well. So just trying to get more comfortable with the gear and trying to set up good lead routes for my partners, whereas usually I’m the one following them. But for now, the next kind of big activity that I’m planning for is a wedding. So wedding planning is the new ultra marathon that I’m working on.

Shaun McKenna 19:38

Right. Well congratulations on that and good luck with it. Thanks Drew very much for coming on Deep Dive.

Drew Damron 19:44

Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me.

Shaun McKenna 19:52

So we’ve talked about Mount Fuji. Now, we’re here to talk to Japan Times culture writer Patrick St. Michel about a different kind of Fuji.

Patrick St. Michel 20:00

Yes, Fuji Rock.

Shaun McKenna 20:02

Fuji Rock indeed. So this is one of Japan’s biggest outdoor music festivals, and it’s most well-known internationally. It takes place this weekend, July 28 to 30. This year is probably going to be different, right? Because overseas tourism is back. Tell us a bit about what happened to Fuji Rock over the pandemic.

Patrick St. Michel 20:21

Sure thing. So like many events and festivals in 2020, Fuji Rock was, air quotes here, “postponed” in 2020. That was really just PR talk for “canceled.” They just didn’t want to make it look like they had given up on an entire year. So there was no music festivals at all in 2020, let alone one of the biggest in the country. In 2021, they decided to try an experiment. During this time, there were still, you know, numbers were still relatively high in Japan, we had all sorts of COVID variants running wild and, most importantly, the borders were still closed. So foreign artists, who traditionally are some of the biggest pulls for people who are going out to Fuji Rock every year, they couldn’t play. So to put on an event, they decided we have to have an all-Japanese lineup. This is the first time they’ve ever done that, and it was a neat little experiment that, you know, got some good press but also came about at this weird time for the live music industry where there’s just a ton of media scrutiny on festivals like Fuji Rock, or even their main sort of competitor in the space, Summer Sonic.

Shaun McKenna 21:42

Because they were kind of seeing these concerts as superspreader events, right?

Patrick St. Michel 21:46

Yes. And there were actually a few notable attempts at festivals that summer in 2021, most notably a rap festival in Nagoya, Nami Monogatari, that was documented on social media as: “Nobody was wearing masks,” “Everybody was drinking,” “Social distancing? What’s that? They didn’t know!” So everyone got super angry at that event, and it really impacted every other festival. So yeah, the media in particular and social media users were kind of looking for things to ding any summer events. And Fuji Rock was actually the first major festival after that Nagoya event. So they were especially under the spotlight, but they got through it. Everything was OK.

Shaun McKenna 22:31

So now we’re back to normal Fuji Rock. Let’s talk a little about who’s playing normal Fuji Rock, let’s start with the headliners. The acts playing the main Green Stage, we have The Strokes, Foo Fighters and Lizzo. What do you think of these choices for headliners?

Patrick St. Michel 22:48

The first two, the Friday headliner The Strokes and Saturday headliner Foo Fighters, are very traditional-ish Fuji Rock headliners.

Shaun McKenna 22:56

In that they’re rock bands.

Patrick St. Michel 22:57

Exactly. It’s right in the name. So, Foo Fighters have headlined in the recent past just a few years ago. I remember it was whenever Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the group, had broken his foot. So it was a big thing where he was, like, sitting the whole time, but still soldiered through it. The Strokes have never headlined Fuji Rock, they’ve headlined other Japanese festivals, but they’re a perfect fit. They’re an early 2000s rock band, so there’s the perfect mix for aging rock fans to come out and be like, “I remember that.” Those two make perfect sense for Fuji Rock. One of the dilemmas that has faced Fuji Rock, and honestly all music festivals around the world, is trying to find the next wave, if you will, of headlining festival acts. And in Japan in particular, it’s been tough for the international ones who often lean on these like familiar ’90s names. So that’s what makes Sunday’s headliner, Lizzo, so interesting. She’s an American pop star who came to prominence in 2018, maybe 2019? She was one of the first artists I can remember that was really pushed forward thanks to TikTok. She’s a very charismatic performer, dabbles in a variety of genre, but she’s a real example of a very 21st-century pop star, let’s say, the sort of act that doesn’t typically headline Fuji Rock. So it feels like a real effort to see, like, hey, can this performer stick, you know? And Lizzo has developed a decent following in Japan. She’s part of a major label of course, and they’ve promoted her over the years. And yeah, they are hoping this is like the start of a new era, a new star who can be part of Fuji Rock moving forward.

Shaun McKenna 24:47

Additionally, the sub-headliners — so Daniel Caesar, Ellegarden and Bad Hop — out of these acts, personally, I’d be really interested in catching Daniel Caesar. He’s a Canadian R&B singer who will be promoting his new album “Never Enough.” And there’s this whole setup with the timetable where you can catch Tohji, a Japanese rapper on the White Stage, head over to the Green Stage for Daniel Caesar, and if you’re not up for The Strokes, you can head back over to the White Stage for Denzel Curry and NxWorries. That seems to be the more Gen Z approach to Friday, whereas millennials may want to do the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs at the Red Marquee before hitting up The Strokes.

Patrick St. Michel 25:27

So yeah, you have a real chance to revisit your Brooklyn youth that you imagined in 2002. I would probably personally go for that Gen Z route, because that’s a really interesting trio of artists you mentioned and it actually also reflects one of the other developments playing out at Fuji Rock. It started a couple years ago, but it feels very pronounced this year, which is a greater emphasis on rap music, especially Japanese rap. You mentioned Tohji, who’s a really, like, up-and-coming, almost genreless kind of performer, but rooted in rap. He’s a real firecracker. But one of the biggest additions that came very late at Fuji Rock, actually, I believe, as a way to replace Lewis Capaldi ... replacing him is the Kanagawa rap group Bad Hop, who have been one of the most popular and influential rap groups in Japan over the 2010s. They are currently on their last tour ever. They will officially disband in September, I believe. And they’ve had a very interesting career, they’re kind of a good representation of 2010s-era Japanese rap, which is drawing a lot from American rap, especially like Atlanta-born sounds, but also kind of interpreting it in a Japanese way. And funny enough, they actually were the headlining act of that Nagoya festival we talked about earlier, that was such a media flurry, and they got in trouble because of that and that threw their career off for like two years. So this final tour is almost like a final hurrah for them after this weird period where they became, not quite scapegoats, but received quite unfair criticism when it was really an organizer’s fault. It’s also the type of rap music you usually don’t see at Fuji Rock, especially on the Green Stage. When I think of, like, Green Stage hip hop, I’m thinking like the Beastie Boys or Eminem.

Shaun McKenna 27:38

Yeah, I was thinking Jurassic 5.

Patrick St. Michel 27:40

That’s yeah, it’s very, “let’s throw it back,” which is great in its own way. But this is very 2010s, very Gen Z — as we talked about — very like, “this is what young people in Japan are listening to.” I sound like a grandpa saying that ... but it’s OK. It’s true. And it’s really interesting that they’re that high up. And I think it’ll be a really interesting not just a musical milestone for the group, their first time performing at Fuji Rock, but also a really interesting evolution for the festival itself, as it kind of faces a new audience and tries to figure out what kind of artists are going to get the kids out here. Like, it’s such a pain for a young person to get up to Niigata and find somewhere to stay. So like, you got to find the artists who are worth it. And I think they might be a good test case to see, you know, if we bring these type of rappers out, is this gonna stick? Kind of alter the way the lineup is constructed moving forward.

Shaun McKenna 28:36

In terms of Japanese bands, are there any others that you’d suggest checking out at Fuji this year?

Patrick St. Michel 28:42

Oh, definitely. I think this is a good year to kind of get a sense of the next wave of Japanese rock artists and also forward-thinking creators, for lack of a better term. Maybe the biggest name plays the White Stage Saturday night. That’s the artist Vaundy, a rock artist who over the past four or five years has become one of the most prominent young artists in the country. Their songs are just always on, like, Spotify Top 50 Japan lists. Beyond that, some good bands to check out: Hitsujibungaku, on the Green Stage, is a real up-and-coming name making this really slow burning cinematic rock. A long running, indie pop band that I am a personal fan of, Homecomings, plays the White Stage on the weekend, great band.

Shaun McKenna 29:39

I think that’s on Sunday.

Patrick St. Michel 29:40

Sunday ... Thank you. Thank you for having the schedule up Shaun. Last, in terms of Japanese artists, I highly recommend — even if you don’t go to the festival, check this person out — Hakushi Hasegawa, who is an electronic producer. They’re playing Saturday on the Red stage at night. This week, actually yesterday, it was announced that they’ve signed with Brainfeeder, the prominent electronic label in LA — home to Flying Lotus and a bunch of other prominent experimental electronic artists. They’re the first Japanese artists to ever be signed to this label and they are fantastic. Just this absolute blitzkrieg of like, electronic sounds mixed with jazz, mixed with piano fusion, mixed with inspiration from Disney ballads. It’s great, highly recommend it, real forward, like, this is the future and you want to listen.

Shaun McKenna 30:30

How about non-Japanese acts?

Patrick St. Michel 30:31

The one that jumped out to me the most is the South Korean band, Balming Tiger. They are, on paper, a rock band, sort of a traditional collective of people playing with instruments, you know, but they’re also very freewheeling and open to smashing in other styles, whether it’s rap, electronic elements, whatever. They’re very high energy and they ... I’ve never seen them, but based on YouTube videos I’ve seen, put on a really like nearly chaotic show. So I think that’ll be really fun.

Shaun McKenna 31:07

So Fuji Rock is the closest thing Japan kind of has to something like Glastonbury or Coachella. Summer Sonic also produces good lineups. This year, it has Blur, Fall Out Boy, Liam Gallagher and Kendrick Lamar headlining. But apart from the main stadium stage, Summer Sonic is usually held indoors and then, like, Fuji Rock is all outdoors. So what are some other things that people should do if they check out Fuji Rock this year?

Patrick St. Michel 31:33

Fuji Rock is always a great chance just to kind of soak yourself in nature. As somebody who’s not a big fan of the outdoor world, even I can appreciate how beautiful Naeba — the little ski resort town where this plays out in — is in the summer. Just lots of trees all around you, lots of rivers running through. I’d recommend anyone who goes there, especially if it’s your first time, just spend some time going off the proverbial beaten path. Whether that’s kind of like just wandering from one end of the festival to the other to kind of take in the entire terrain. Or, my biggest recommendation is just shell out the, I think, ¥1,000 to get the little gondola pass that takes you up to the ... there’s a stage up in the mountains basically ... you have to take like a 15-minute gondola ride to get up there. But it’s gorgeous, a great place to just relax. There’s usually lots of good downtempo electronic music so you can zone out. So I’d recommend you know taking some time out of the usual, like, “I have to see this, I have to see that” and instead just enjoying the scenery because that is ultimately what makes Fuji Rock so special.

Shaun McKenna 32:43

All right, well, Fuji Rock will take place this weekend, July 28 to 30 at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture. And if you don’t make that one, Summer Sonic will take place in Tokyo and Osaka over the weekend of Aug. 19 and 20. Patrick, thanks very much for coming back on Deep Dive.

Patrick St. Michel 33:00

Thank you for having me. I’ll be camping at Fuji Rock this year. If you see somebody lost and hopeless please help them, it’s probably me.

Shaun McKenna 33:11

My thanks again to both Patrick St. Michel and Drew Damron for joining me