The longing to experience Glastonbury, bucket lists, and how music festival tempted us dearly got it all started. My friend and I realized we both had a dormant dream – to dance and jump around with our shirts sticking to our skin in a music festival. And boy did it happen.
Back then, I wanted the full music festival experience, no doubt. Yet I also wanted to survive it with my bodies (and wallets) intact. Fuji Rock’s lineup seemed awesome, but it was also going to be held in Niigata, a bullet train and thousands of rupiahs away from the nearest airport, at a ski resort, where you sleep inside a tent for three days with no hope for a shower. Take it slow, I reminded myself, I don’t think I’m ready for Fuji Rock just yet. And that was when I found Summer Sonic line up for 2016 (I MEAN HELLO RADIOHEAD, WEEZER, THE OFFSPRING, AND BABYMETAL!).
Summer Sonic is Fuji Rock‘s smaller, more urbanized younger sibling. It is an annual music festival usually held for 2 days in August, the hottest month of the year in Japan (tss). Gates opened at 9am and closed about 11pm. You can take your pick from the Makuhari venue in Chiba, Tokyo, or Maishima Arena, Osaka. Most, though not all acts, from the Tokyo stage perform in Osaka, and vice versa. We chose the Osaka leg, because we believe Osaka will have lesser crowds, and somehow the people of Osaka has its own charm. (Cough, Kei if you read this, it’s not about you).
First order of business was securing the music festival tickets. In their official website, they provided 1 page dedicated for overseas fans and it was enough for me to understand everything. The two-day pass was JPY28,500 (around IDR 3,3mio+ for a 2 days festival, with the similar price of a single 4 hours ticket price of my fave Kpop group? I’d say Summer Sonic is dang cheap!). It was also very easy to purchase ticket if you are not in Japan. I bought my tix via Rakuten, their official overseas ticket sales, and voila, in just 30 mins, I secured my tickets, our tickets.
What to bring, what to wear, and other rules.
Written from the experience I had, it was a simpler list than I imagined before.
- Everyone knows that all you really need to fit in at a music festival is a pair of shorts and a band t-shirt, but for the majority of fans—even in style-savvy Japan—the ones who want to stand out have to put in a little effort. If you don’t bother to stand out, wear the most comfortable thing you have. And that goes double for shoes. There will be a LOT of walking. A cotton tee (you’re gonna sweat an ocean), shorts, sneakers, sunglasses, a hat, and you’re all set. Some people came in bikinis (not required), matching outfits with their gangs, some in their Coachella boho chic, some with flowers on their hair and paint on their skin. This is Japan, after all. Do what you will.
- It’s going to be scorching hot so yeah, sun protector is your saviour. I carried my SPF 30+ Vaseline Sunblock everywhere I go, even though I still had sunburn on some places I didn’t know I would get. A more traditional favorite among festivalgoers in Japan is the gig towel. Most bands sell towels at their merch booths, which fans drape around their necks to mop up sweat from dancing HARD, and you can also use it to protect yourself from the sun.
- Other essentials: wet wipes for cooling off and wiping the grime away, spray sanitizer, cash (credit cards are useless here).
- Our real best friend throughout the event was Pocari Sweat. Ever had an ice cold bottle of Pocari Sweat after jumping up and down under the angry Osaka sun? No? It was heaven.
- Dying of hunger is not a possibility, they have food stalls in strategic locations inside. They have fries, burgers, noodles, takoyaki, ice cream, wraps, and all sorts of yumminess. Oh and alcohol. Mmmm Asahi and Smirnoff. We bought our own Suntory Whiskey and had breakfast with it.
How to get there.
If you go for Osaka, there’s no train that’ll take you directly to Maishima Sport Island, but there’s an official shuttle bus from the nearest train station to the venue (Sakurajima station, or Cosmosquare station). Get off that stop together with about the entire contents of the train in their music festival best. You will be welcomed by rows of Summer Sonic signs. Follow the streaming mob. Summer Sonic staff (maybe interns, because nobody would choose to stand alone under the scorching heat holding up a sign) were also strategically planted like breadcrumbs on the way, bearing their This Way to Festival Site signs.
You will exchange your ticket confirmation for a wristbands, GUARD THIS WRISTBAND WITH YOUR LIFE, but maybe don’t pull it too tightly around your wrist like this idiot (waves hand) did. Anyway, do not lose it because the organizers won’t replace it. This is your pass to all the stages for the next two days. (The wristband does hold up even if you shower with it, in case you’re wondering).
After getting the pass, it’s time to go around the stages with the trusty map (they give this to you with your wristband, containing the schedules of all stages), and the ever helpful Summer Sonic staff to guide us. It’s a humongous space, be prepare to walk.
The stages (or, learn to plan ahead).
There are four separate stages at Summer Sonic Osaka: Ocean, Mountain, Sonic and Forest Stage (in 2017, they changed it into White Massive). Performers do their thing on different stages, at the same time—meaning you’ll need to work out who you want to see before you roll into the venue. Scout out the fastest route between the stages so that you can dash back and forth between shows. The gates open at 9am, and the music starts an hour later.
What to expect.
The Japanese do music festivals like no one’s business. Below are some things I thought I’d never see in my life in a setting where music, booze, food, and hundred thousand people congregated:
- No trash or food scraps in sight. People ate virtually anywhere, but made sure their trash hits the trash bin, and the right trash bin at that. Summer Sonic staff stand guard to make sure everyone segregate their trash properly. Japan being Japan, you know.
- The toilets are clean. Sure you’d see some soil and gravel on the floor, but the toilet seat sanitizer dispenser is full (there is such a thing), and so is the tissue rack. And did you know that Japanese toilets had bidets for ladies? Look it up.
- You keep your personal space. Yes, even while moshing. True that the closer you move to the stage, the less space you have, but people don’t push you around, or jump so hard on you they break your neck. This is a safe zone, sisters! Some people even bowed to me asking for forgiveness(?) or some sort after a moshing session or where our bit of skin touched each other. Japan being Japan, again.
- Lines are sacred. And go really fast. Lines for the free shuttle bus, lines to get in stages, lines to get out of stages, lines to get merchandise, lines for food and drink. All these go really quickly, and are respected by everyone. No chance someone will skip the line and push you off, unless of course they are drunk.
- Time is gold. Acts were simultaneously playing on eight stages across that effing wide expanse. So if you want to see two of your favourites at the same time, you have to make a decision and let go some songs so you can catch your other bands at other stage. Go easy on yourself, you won’t be able to make it to EVERY performance. It takes you about 10 minutes to go between stages (some even more farther, yeah OCEAN Stage I mean you).
- All sets are worth it. They last at least thirty minutes, to one hour and thirty+ for the main acts (i.e. Radiohead, Weezer, The Offspring). You will discover more new acts, perhaps a Japanese band that you never heard of before but got the huge crowds that you’ll ended up loving (Sakanaction, I’m with you all the elfin way!). Also Hyukoh, damn that was my first time seeing Oh Hyuk!
They say if you’re a music festival virgin, it’s best to have your first time in Japan. They were right. Osaka summers are a bitch, but nothing a tropical girl drenched in sunblock can’t handle. If you’re lucky, the sun would hide some minutes under the cover of gray clouds, and the breeze would sneak in to toss your hair around. The people are nice, courteous, and very disciplined, qualities that don’t make dancing around with them any less fun.
The two-day fest ended with firework exploding, light rain cool on our skin, and a full moon on the darkening sky above us. The host says his farewell, and the screen flashes the same words already spinning in my head: