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The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

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List of 7: Best Japanese Music Festivals This Summer

A look at some of the most exciting music events taking place in the coming weeks

By Matthew Hernon

It’s been a frustrating couple of years for music fans in Japan with so many events being canceled. Fortunately, things seem to now be back on track. Despite the record number of Covid cases, the central government says there are no immediate plans to return to restrictions observed during previous waves of the virus. As long as things stay that way, there should be plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks and months. Here’s a look at some of the biggest and best Japanese music festivals this summer.  

1. Fuji Rock

Japan’s most famous music festival is located nowhere near the iconic mountain it’s named after. It was initially, though, back in 1997. Red Hot Chili Peppers were the headliners on the opening night at the Fuji Tenjinyama Ski Resort in Yamanashi Prefecture. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis had a broken arm and a typhoon threatened to put a halt to proceedings. They played on, though, in a show that has gone down in music history. The following night was canceled, however, due to the extreme weather. The move to Tokyo in 1998 proved too humid, so a year later the festival found its home in the cooler mountains of Naeba in Niigata where it has remained ever since.  

Headlining the Green Stage this year are Vampire Weekend, Jack White and Halsey. Other names to look out for in Naeba include Mogwai, Foals, Cornelius, Tom Misch, The fin. and Bloodywood.  

When: Jul 29–Aug 31 

2. Rock in Japan

In contrast to festivals dominated by foreign acts like Fuji Rock, Rockin’On magazine founder Yoichi Shibuya wanted to create an event in Honshu led by Japanese groups. And so, he did, with Rock in Japan debuting in 2000. The first year, held in Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture, was a two-day event featuring just 16 artists that was cut short due to the weather. Organizers, encouraged by crowds of more than 60,000, added a third day the following year. A fourth was added in 2014 and fifth in 2019 to commemorate the 20th anniversary. Close to 340,000 people attended three years ago to see bands such as Sekai no Owari, The Oral Cigarettes and Perfume.   

Among those performing on the opening weekend in 2022 are Yoasobi and King Gnu. From the 11th to the 13th fans can see acts like Bump of Chicken, Hyde and One OK Rock.  

When: Aug 6–Aug 13 

3. Download Festival

Conceived as a follow-up to Monsters of Rock, the Download Festival was first held at the Donington Park motorsport circuit in Leicestershire in 2003. The large-scale heavy metal event eventually spread its wings beyond the UK, to countries such as France and Australia before debuting in Japan in March 2019. Held at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Ozzy Osbourne was announced as the first headliner but he pulled out because of pneumonia. Judas Priest subsequently topped the bill ahead of bands such as Sum 41 and Slayer. The 2020 event, slated to feature the likes of My Chemical Romance, The Offspring and Jimmy Eat World, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

This year’s event will be headlined by Dream Theater and Bullet for My Valentine. Also scheduled to appear are Mastodon, Steel Panther, Soulfly, At the Gates, Code Orange and The Halo Effect.  

When: Aug 14 

4. Rising Sun Festival

For the last two decades, the Rising Sun Rock Festival has welcomed some of the biggest names in the Japanese music industry. It kicked off in 1999 with acts such as Ringo Sheena, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, Dragon Ash and Sunny Day Service playing to crowds of around 26,500. Initially just one day and night, it expanded to two in year three. Since then, artists and bands like Eikichi Yazawa, Tomoyasu Hotei, Ken Yokoyama, Mr. Children and LiSA have graced the main stage. The biggest attendance at the large space in Ishikari, Hokkaido was around 80,000 in 2008. The second night always finishes shortly after 4am, when the sun begins to rise, hence the name.  

Performing on the Sun Stage on Friday are Asian Kung-Fu Generation, CreepHyp, Super Beaver, Sumika and Yoasobi. Highlights on Saturday include King Gnu, BiSH and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.  

When: Aug 12–13

5. Summer Sonic (and Sonic Mania)

With Fuji Rock having moved far from Mount Fuji, Creativeman Productions CEO Naoki Shimizu felt there was an opportunity to stage another international festival near Japan’s most famous tourist site. He established Summer Sonic in 2000 with one half of the event debuting at Yamanashi Prefecture’s Fuji-Q Highland amusement park and the other in Osaka. The opening weekend was headlined by Green Day and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Other big names included James Brown and Weezer, while lower down the list were up-and-coming bands like Muse, Sigur Rós and Coldplay. The following year, the festival was moved to Chiba. Sonic Mania, an all-night musical feast on the eve of the main event, debuted in 2011.  

Headline acts this year on the Marine Stage in Chiba and the Ocean Stage in Osaka are Post Malone and The 1975. Primal Scream will perform the Screamadelica album at Sonic Mania.  

When: Aug 20–21 (Sonic Mania takes place on Aug 19)  

6. Music Circus

An upbeat festival featuring a range of DJs, bands and solo artists, Music Circus launched in the spring of 2014 at the Kobe International Exhibition Hall. More than 50 acts performed across five stages including the likes of Steve Aoki, Showtek, Cedric Gervais and Deorro. In 2016, the festival moved to Tarui Southern Beach in Sennan City, Osaka, an artificial white sand beach with palm trees across the water from Kansai International Airport. Described as the biggest beach party in western Japan, attendees can splash around in the water or enjoy a barbecue while listening to some high-quality music. After sunset the Senshu Firework Festival illuminates the sky above.  

DJs performing this year include Jeffrey Sutorius, Yellow Claw, Banvox and former Exile member, DJ Makidai. Other names to look out for include Awich, Aklo, Electric Dragon Japan and Cream.

When: Aug 27–28 

7. Ultra Japan

While Japan’s summer season is said to be between June and the end of August, it’s still often very hot in mid-September when Ultra Japan takes place, so we’ll include this one in the list too. It began in Miami in 1999 before becoming a worldwide event when it debuted in São Paulo, Brazil in 2008. The first Ultra Japan festival took place in 2014 at Odaiba Ultra Park II in Tokyo. That year was dominated by Dutch DJs such as Martin Garrix, Hardwell, W&W, Fedde Le Grand and Afrojack. Big names that have featured since include Underworld, David Guetta, Carl Cox, Steve Aoki, Empire of the Sun and The Chainsmokers.  

The lineup for 2022 has yet to be announced.  

When: Sep 17–18