Japan summer music festival guide 2015

Where to rock, pop, dance and fall in love this summer


Scorching heat, troublesome travel and exorbitant prices, sure, but Japan's many summer music festivals also provide an astonishing variety of settings, styles and genres, along with appearances by many world-class bands and a healthy dose of anarchy otherwise so rarely found on these shores. Mega-events like Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic aside, the supply ranges from refined indie fests and relaxed beach parties to fine-tuned techno and taiko celebrations, so all you have to do is check out our list below, choose your favourite, and get ready to rock out in the great outdoors (or indoors, we don't mind).

The Big Three

Fuji Rock Festival '15

July 24-26 | Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa, Niigata

The biggest and most beautiful of Japan's summer music festivals, Fuji Rock will once again return to Niigata's Naeba in the final weekend of July, welcoming around 200 bands and artists. Foo Fighters and Muse will be headlining, while further highlights can be expected to come from the likes of Motorhead, FKA Twigs, Happy Mondays, Ride, Todd Rundgren, Belle and Sebastian, Wilko Johnson, Hiromi Uehara and Tamio Okuda.
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Summer Sonic 2015

August 15-16 | Makuhari Messe

Held in the concrete expanses of Chiba's QVC Marine Field and Makuhari Messe, a half-hour train ride from Tokyo Station, Summer Sonic makes up in convenience for what it lacks in atmosphere. As is to be expected from this most commercial of festivals, the lineup again looks confusingly random – but at least it's packed with a fair amount of star power. Pharrell Williams will obviously be the most hyped name, while '90s kids can revisit their formative years thanks to the likes of Marilyn Manson, The Chemical Brothers and Manic Street Preachers. Fresher faces include chart-toppers Ariana Grande, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Imagine Dragons and All Time Low.
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Rising Sun Rock Festival '15

August 14-15 | Tarukawa Wharf, Ishikari Bay New Port, Otaru, Hokkaido

You'd be surprised how many Tokyoites make the pilgrimage to Hokkaido for this two-day affair, where the main stage keeps going until dawn on the second night. The lineup at Rising Sun consists purely of domestic acts, with local veterans Anzen Chitai and rock old-timer Motoharu Sano (with his Coyote Band) scheduled to appear this year, along with regulars like Scoobie Do, Dohatsuten, Hanaregumi and 10-Feet. The festival is also a gastronomic delight: look out for stalls selling locally farmed produce, seafood and craft beer.
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For a relaxed outdoor vibe

Earth Celebration 2015

August 21-23 | Shiroyama Park and other venues, Sado Island, Niigata

Though they spend much of the year touring Japan and overseas, renowned taiko drumming troupe Kodo return to their base in Sado Island each summer to host this festival, an annual event that's been taking place since 1988. Earth Celebration centres around three evening concerts in Shiroyama Park, not far from Sado's Ogi Port, where Kodo perform signature pieces and one-off collaborations (this year with fellow drummer Leonard Eto and Bali-based bamboo percussion ensemble Suar Agung). However, the highlights are often found elsewhere, be it the drumming and dance workshops, the musicians' seminars, the fringe performances, or even the bustling, DIY-style Harbour Market.
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Sukiyaki Meets the World 2015

August 21-23 | Nanto Helios and other venues, Nanto-shi, Toyama

Japan's biggest world music festival takes place in Nanto, Toyama in late August. Going on since 1991, Sukiyaki Meets the World welcomes a diverse crowd of performers from African, Asian and Latin American countries. Art exhibitions, workshops and film screenings are also taking place, while the World Food Market will ensure that revellers stay in good spirits. Finally, Japanese artists with 'a worldwide outlook' play on the second night.
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World Happiness 2015

August 23 | Yumenoshima Park

The family-friendly World Happiness is one of those rare festivals going on right here in Tokyo. The play-it-safe lineup is veteran-heavy (think Yukihiro Takahashi with his new project Metafive and Keiichi Suzuki's Controversial Spark), with a few less long-running but still hardly fresh acts (rap old-timers Scha Dara Parr, '80s metal heroes Kinniku Shojo Tai) thrown in for good measure. There's a special discount for parents with elementary school-age or younger children.
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Slow Live '15 in Ikegami Honmonji

September 4-6 | Ikegami Honmonji

Adding to the selection of outdoor fests in the capital, Ikegami Honmonji is hosting its annual Slow Music Slow Live for the 12th year. This is your chance to enjoy some laidback tunes at a traditional temple right in the heart of the city. Most of the lineup announcements are still to come, but confirmed acts include Original Love, Trio Ohashi, Tomoyo Harada and Ego-Wrappin's Yoshie Nakano. Smooth and relaxing, once again.
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New Acoustic Camp 2015

September 12-13 | Minakami Kogen Resort 200, Gunma

Take a break from modernity and head out to the forests and mountains of Gunma for this acoustic-only weekend that's been going strong since 2010. Built in the form of a small village, the festival area is filled with stalls selling mainly organic goodies, and a variety of workshops are also taking place. If you're into laidback singer-songwriters and a semi-hippie atmosphere, this is the party for you.
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For a full-on party atmosphere

Freedom Nagoya 2015

June 28 | Odaka Ryokuchi Park, Nagoya

Nagoya's lush Odaka Ryokuchi Park plays host to this supercharged free music festival taking place over one June Sunday. The lineup is packed with names only the most knowledgeable fans of Japanese indie and idol culture will have heard about, but don't let that scare you away: you just might find a few diamonds in the rough here.
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Join Alive 2015

July 18-19 | Iwamizawa Park, Iwamizawa, Hokkaido

Often overshadowed by the aforementioned Rising Sun, this one takes place in the mountains of Iwamizawa, not far from Sapporo. The lineup ranges from bubble pop (think Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, 'vocaloid' Hatsune Miku and idol group Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku) to rock (metal veterans Kinniku Shojo Tai and alt foursome Spitz), plus domestically flavoured Latin tunes courtesy of Naoto Inti Raymi. Camping in the great outdoors is highly recommended here, as is the superb local food.
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Sonicmania 2015

August 14 | Makuhari Messe

Held as a warm-up for Summer Sonic each year, the all-night Sonicmania party caters to dance kids who aren't so well served by the main festival itself. This year's edition will see appearances by the likes of veteran electronica juggernaut Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, EDM loudmouths Krewella and trippy DJ/producer Dillon Francis, plus Japan's very own '90s dance warhorses Denki Groove.
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Rock in Japan Festival 2015

August 1-2 & 8-9 | Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki

Few music magazines have a better grasp of what the public wants than Rockin' On, the influential periodical behind this most repetitive of music festivals. Held at an attractive seaside park on the Ibaraki coast that seems to have been entirely purged of drunk people, Rock in Japan consistently sells out in advance each year, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that the lineup has more repeat performers than any other summer music fest. This year marks the festival's 16th birthday and the second year that Rock in Japan is held over two successive weekends.
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Sweet Love Shower 2015

August 28-30 | Lake Yamanaka Kirara Plaza, Yamanashi

Music channel Space Shower TV is behind this lakeside festival taking place in the shadow of Mount Fuji and featuring a mostly uninspiring lineup of domestic rock and pop, including rockers Elephant Kashimashi and CreepHyp, disco jokesters Denki Groove and afro-comedian Rekishi, as well as the always busy Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. In addition to the risqué name, Sweet Love Shower does get one thing right: no simultaneous gigs take place, so the schedule allows for catching every single performer – if you have the stamina.
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Ultra Japan 2015

September 19-21 | Odaiba Ultra Stage

Say what you want about the actual quality of the music on offer – the first Tokyo version of Miami-born EDM spectacle Ultra was a smashing success last year. It's no surprise, then, that expectations are already high for the 2015 edition of Ultra Japan, which looks set to eclipse last year's party with a lineup headed by David Guetta, Armin van Buuren and Skrillex.
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For an underground experience

The Labyrinth 2015

September 19-21 | Naeba Greenland, Niigata

Once you've tried Labyrinth, there's no turning back. Revered by techno nerds worldwide, it must be one of the most fastidiously crafted dance parties on earth: attendance is capped at a few thousand people, the high-end Funktion One sound system is EQed to shimmering, pin-drop perfection – and they only bother to book acts who know how to make the most of it. No word yet about the lineup for this year's event, but count on quality.
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Rural 2015

July 18-20 | Mountain Park Tsunan, Niigata

'Rural', indeed. Since starting life in the mountains of Yamanashi in 2009, this self-styled underground dance party has emerged as a pint-sized progeny of the more established Labyrinth. Much like its most obvious spiritual forebear, Rural offers an alternative to Japan's major dance fests. There's only place for 1,500 eager fans, and the lineup is an eclectic mix of artsy electronic music, including names like Brooklyn techno innovator Shawn O’Sullivan, experimental dance rebel Helena Hauff and Munich 'sound architect' Cio D'Or, along with domestic powers like electro genius Wata Igarashi.
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Ova Nu Village

July 11 & 12 | Ojiranomori Camping Ground, Yamanashi

Camping with the fam, great music, clean air and majestic views – all of these come together at Ova Nu Village, a laidback festival held on the vast expanses of the Ojiranomori campsite, which offers stunning vistas of nearby Mount Kaikoma and the Ojira River. Take a dip in the natural hot springs, take part in the eco-friendly workshops, munch on healthy grub and enjoy mellow tunes courtesy of Tokyo scene regulars DJ Kensei, Shhhhh, Altz, Iryoku and Dr Nishimura.
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Mountain Massive 2015

August 29-30 | Iwate Kogen Snow Park, Iwate

Still looking for some summer rave action in late August? Make the trip up north to Iwate, where the Snow Park ski resort on the hills of Mount Iwate turns into a massive party under the direction of local dance strongman Nob. Tokyo scene regulars like Takaaki Itoh, Gonno and underground hero DJ Sodeyama top the solid lineup.
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By Time Out Tokyo Editors
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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