newsletter / july '08
2008 Fuji Rock Festival: Japan's Volcanic Rock Celebration
The music event of the year is on! The 2008 Fuji Rock Festival, Japan's very own outdoor music festival runs from Friday July 25th until Sunday July 27th. Originally inspired by Britain's Glastonbury Festival, the Fuji Rock Festival acquired its name due to the first event in 1997 being held on the foot of famous Mt Fuji. Its current home is nowhere near Mt Fuji, but the name remains. Featuring international acts such as Underworld and My Bloody Valentine playing alongside the best of Japan's local talent, this promises to be an event not to be missed for any music lover. The 100,000 people set to attend this year's festival will certainly agree.
Since 1999, the annual festival has been held in Naeba in Niigata prefecture, 200 km north-west of Tokyo. A ski resort during the winter, it offers plenty to do and see, even for those who don't necessarily like rock music. The surrounding area is stunning, set amidst forested mountains, hills and streams. Dragondola, the world's longest Gondola lift will take you to the top of the mountain overlooking the festival site, enabling you to fully appreciate the area's natural beauty. High up in the mountains, far away from city life, fans love this festival and its unique atmosphere.
Reaching the festival from Tokyo is an experience in itself as you travel on the JR Shinkansen, reaching speeds up to 300 km/h. From Tokyo Central Station you will arrive at Echigo-Yuzawa Station after the 80 minute rocket ride, where a free shuttle bus will transfer you to the festival.
Hotel rooms around the resort sell out quick during the festival however, visitors can opt to camp at a nearby camping site for a total cost of 3000 Yen per person for the entire duration of the festival. There are plenty of inexpensive food stalls, toilets and washrooms available around the camping site. Many festival goers also find accommodation in neabe used for these areas which are situated en route. Some even find accommodation in the numerous orby ski resorts such as Tashiro, Asagai and Mitsumata. The free shuttle bus linking Echigo-Yuzawa Station to the festival site can ptions available in Yuzawa itself which is only 45 minutes away.
Fittingly for a country obsessed with golf, the campsite sits on a mountainside golf course. Campers stake claims to the flattest piece of fairway or pitch tents in sandy bunkers, with the only off limits areas being roped off putting greens. Surveying the pristine fairways and greens of the Naeba golf course where 30,000 happy festival goers camp for three days is a surreal experience.
This festival is by far the world's cleanest music festival with hardly any litter as everyone obediently uses litter bags handed to them upon arrival. This Japanese fixation on tidiness and recycling creates a pleasant space for enjoying the music. Japanese music fans watch performances and move between stages in a polite and friendly manner. Queues for the limited hot spring baths, cooling showers and toilets are inevitably long at peak times. For those willing to wait a little longer, there is even a hot spa loaded with soap and shampoos.
More than 30 food stalls from around the world are gathered at Oasis, the hub of the site. Oasis opens at 9 am and remains open until the final act has concluded. At the Red Marquee nearby, an all night rave continues until 5am. There are seven main stages as well as numerous minor stages, with the largest one having a capacity to hold almost 50,000 fans. The stages are dotted around the Naeba valley and everything is interconnected by winding paths, picturesque boardwalks and meandering streams. The acoustics are stellar as the stages are backed by green mountains, including one performance space which is reached only by a 5 km gondola ride. The distances between some of the stages can be long, and some of the trails can be hilly, but the walks are beautiful and well worth it.
On the night before the festival (Thursday night), there is an opening party with free entry. It features Bon-Odori (traditional Japanese folk dance), prize draws, food stalls and a fireworks display. There is even a steak eating competition with the chance to win a year's supply of beef. But of course, a music festival is really about music, and this year's line-up competes with any of the world's big festivals.
If it's your first time at a music festival, it will definitely be a new experience as you walk long distances from stage to stage, and try to see all the artists on the many stages. However, all the talent, audience and staff together make the Fuji Rock Festival a perfect place to enjoy good music, meet new people and rock out in the wilderness.
Essential Information & Tips
Rocketing the Rails: Japan's Shinkansen
Reaching speeds near 300 kilometers an hour (slightly slower than a Formula 1 car) and a rail network that spans 2,459 kilometers, Japan's Shinkansen is the world's leading high-speed inter-city train service. Japan's "bullet train," is well-known around the world for its speed, (some test runs have have reached speeds of nearly 450 km/hr!), but the Shinkansen lines also have an excellent safety record and are incredibly punctual. The average delay throughout the year of any train is 0.4 minutes, which includes delays caused by earthquakes, typhoons, snowfall, heavy rains and other natural disasters, and over 6 billion passengers have arrived at their destination safely in its 40-year history, as no deaths have been caused by derailment or collision.
The bullet train first got its nickname because of its bullet-like nose cone. Developed in the early 60's just in time for use at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the Shinkansen is set on standard guage rail lines (set wider apart than those used in North America). The wider setting is extremely level, and restricts the curves within the rail line, resulting in a straighter, more stable and safer path to achieve those blistering speeds. North American trains may weave a slower path to their destination, but the Shinkansen believes in wasting no time connecting point A to point B. The train moves so fast that there is often a "tunnel boom" (similar to a sonic boom) emitted as the train leaves a tunnel. When the train enters a tunnel at such a high rate of speed there is a sudden build up of air pressure. As there isn't enough room within the tunnel for the air to escape, a "boom" is created at the exit as the train leaves the tunnel.
There are currently six main Shinkansen lines linking most cities on the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The first section built and opened in 1964 was the Tokaido Shinkansen, which linked Tokyo to Osaka. The Tokaido Shinkansen is now the most heavily travelled, high-speed rail route in the world, and has reduced a journey that once took six hours to approximately two and a half. The city of Osaka is considered to be the laidback antithesis of Japan's hyperactive Tokyo, and is also where the Tokaido Shinkansen ends and the Sanyo Shinkansen begins, which continues on to the city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. The Kyushu Shinkansen is the newest addition to this network and connects cities on the southern island. With lines running through major and scenic centers like Nagano, Akita, Kakunodate, Lake Tazawa, Niigata to name a few, all of Japan's favorite sites can be seen in a blur as the trains race by.
Tickets for the Shinkansen can be bought at vending machines or ticket counters at the train stations, though it may take a little bit of riding around on local trains before switching over to the Super Express. Because much of the information at train stations is in Japanese, spending a little time at the Japan Railways Group website-where information is clear, easy to understand (and in English) is recommended, for the first-time visitor to Japan planning to take a ride on the high-speed trains.
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Travel Tip: Terminally Lost
As the number of air travelers continue to grow, so do the size and complexity of the world's airports. If you're like us, you like visiting new airports, checking out the amenities and indulging in some duty free shopping...or a lot of duty free shopping. But if you're also like us, you'll get off the plane after a 13-hour flight, sleepy-eyed, disheveled and disoriented with about 30, panic-filled minutes to find the connecting flight at the other end of the airport.
So here's our tip and it's brilliant in its simplicity…check out the airport before you land, relax and save yourself some time. Some airlines will post advertisements/directions on the flight prior to landing so keep an eye open for them. Or better yet, check out the airport's website, print off the map and keep it with your travel documents before you take your trip. Not sure of the website, check out http://www.airlinequality.com/Airports/AirportA-Z.htm. It lists the websites of most airports around the world.
Review of the month: Inna Grand Bali Beach Hotel, Bali
Reviewed by Katie Marshall
Grand Bali Beach is a lovely place to stay. The largest (and tallest) hotel in Sanur-views from the tower rooms are lovely-the evening low tides over the reefs are beautiful. The hotel lobby bar has a great four-piece band that plays most nights. Would definitely recommend the Bali Beach Burger and the pizzas by the pool. Sanur is very quiet but taxis to busier areas are very cheap-only 10000 rupiah more expensive if you use the hotel service (which is very convenient). Massage and water sports people working on the beach are lovely and give a great service-Wayan the reflexologist is fabulous, his sister Ita W (Massage No. 5) gives terrific manicures and her husband Katut is 'The Man' for jet skiing, fishing, snorkeling and trips on the Balinese outrigger canoes. I recommend learning a little Indonesian if you can-everyone really appreciates it. We had a terrific holiday and will definitely be back! Sanur is maybe not the best, perhaps, if you're after exciting nightlife (such as nightclubs), but the peace is nice and Kuta is a quick taxi away.