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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fighting for change the Fuji Rock way


Special to The Japan Times

Faced with the nation's worst disaster since World War II, Fuji Rock Festival founder Masahiro Hidaka had to make a choice back in March — whether to hold Japan's biggest summer music festival this year or not. He decided that the show must go on.

News photo
Masahiro Hidaka

"It may not be a very conservative Japanese way of thinking, but festivals are festivals, they create good things for people," Hidaka, president of Smash Corporation and chief producer of Fuji Rock, tells The Japan Times from his company's headquarters in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

This year will mark the 15th installment of the annual gathering. Though the inaugural bash was held with the iconic Mount Fuji as its backdrop, the party has since moved to the valleys of Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, more than 150 km away.

Over the years, Fuji Rock has become increasingly involved in social and environmental issues. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, the spirit of charity will take a noticeable turn toward the Tohoku region, with Smash's own Benefit For Nippon being a main beneficiary. The festival's NGO Village will also host the Atomic Cafe Festival, an antinuclear movement established to appeal to audiences through music. The event is returning after a long hiatus and will no doubt benefit from increasing concern over nuclear power following the disastrous chain of events at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It's an issue that Hidaka is passionate about.

"The idiot government is still protecting dirty companies," he says, referring to the firms running nuclear reactors. "If you go to small towns, most of the people don't even want a nuclear power station, but they don't have any power to stop it."

Atomic energy is certainly at the forefront of environmental issues, and Fuji Rock has always focused on building eco-consciousness. In 1999, the festival established a clean-up campaign that comprised around 300 volunteers. It was then dubbed "the clean festival" by international media. As with all aspects of the festival, Hidaka had a hand in the organization of the operation.

"It's problematic," he admits. "Our style of festival has to be in the mountains, in nature. But large-scale events create a lot of carbon dioxide and waste. The local animals may be scared off, too."

News photo
Natural one: Fans gather at the small Mokudo Tei stage at last year's Fuji Rock Festival. The stage is located on the forest boardwalk, and is powered by bio-diesel fuel and solar power. ALEXIS WUILLAUME

Hidaka's answer to that predicament was to use the festival to increase public awareness of environmental issues through the implementation of an ever-expanding recycling campaign, which is used to power three stages (The New Power Gear, Mokudo Tei and The Field Of Heaven) solely with bio-diesel fuel and solar energy. Additionally, there is the ongoing construction of the breathtaking forest boardwalk, which winds its way through the venue connecting several of the larger stages.

"When we first started out, I actually wanted to have a big green windmill on the Green Stage (the biggest stage at the venue) to generate electricity for the stage," says Hidaka. "But it just wasn't logistically possible."

Nonetheless, over the years Hidaka has tried to make up for the Green Stage windmill with countless other environmental initiatives.

This year, however, it looks like it will be the quake-related charities that will define Fuji Rock's social conscience.

"The events after the earthquake have hit everyone across the board pretty badly. I'm from Kyushu, where we have quakes all the time, but I had never experienced anything like that before."

The Fuji Rock team plan to place Benefit For Nippon donation boxes all around the festival site. "We have been collecting donations since March with a 'Benefit For Japan' concert headlined by Beady Eye (led by Liam Gallagher of Oasis fame) at the Brixton Academy in London, but this will be the first time it will actually come to Japan," Hidaka says. The London gig was a hit, and £150,000 (¥19 million) in donations were collected and sent off to the British Red Cross to be distributed among the worst-hit regions of Tohoku.

Through Fuji Rock's NGO Village, other grassroots organizations have a way of reaching out to Japan's quake-hit areas and helping foster national awareness. One such group participating this year is OGA For Aid, which was assembled after March 11 to support the tsunami-stricken community of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture. Damon Farry, a member of the OGA team, believes combining music and charity is helpful in connecting with youth.

"I believe the festival can help raise awareness not only of a particular charity, but more importantly, what charity stands for and how it is helping those in need," he says. "Music as a form of art can be an effective means of social change. We view Fuji Rock as the ideal place to boost awareness of the continued need for help in Tohoku among young and progressive individuals."

Hidaka appears to share this sentiment. With a large portion of the Fuji Rock punters being from a young demographic, he sees his brainchild as a way to connect with them and try to instill a sense of responsibility and respect for nature.

"There are some huge environmental problems right now, such as with the atmosphere," he says. "But there are many people who seem to think: 'So what? Maybe in 1,000 years, our world will disappear.' ... For me, Fuji Rock is a great opportunity to create a new national lifestyle."

Hikada seems to be succeeding so far, as the festival is now internationally renowned for having an eco-minded audience and being relatively clean for such an immense gathering, generally topping 100,000 visitors each year.

So what's the big man's continuing motivation for coming up with fresh ideas year after year?

"Maybe it's because I'm a drinker — or maybe because I'm a dreamer," he says with a slightly distant smile. "Some people around me thought I was crazy when I first said that I wanted to start a music festival."

No-one is doubting him now.

Fuji Rock Festival '11 takes place at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture, on July 29-31. A one-day ticket costs ¥16,800 and a three-day ticket costs ¥39,800 (there are additional costs for camping and parking). For more information, please visit www.fujirockfestival.com. The Atomic Cafe performances take place at the Gypsy Avalon stage. For more information about the charities that are mentioned in this article, visit www.smash-jpn.com/nippon or www.oga-international.com.


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