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POSTCARD FROM JAPAN

Asian rock fest, with hot Peppers

July 23, 2006|Audrey Luk | Special to The Times

In 1997, 30,000 people braved a severe storm at the first Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. Around 200 were injured. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were in the middle of their set when it was announced the second day of the festival would be canceled. After this less-than-auspicious start, Fuji will celebrate its 10th anniversary next weekend. As always, it will be a veritable Asian Woodstock but also draw a crowd that includes toddlers and middle-aged expatriates.

Audience participation

The fest now takes place in Naeba, 120 miles northwest of Tokyo, although it retains its name from its initial site near Mt. Fuji. Last year, 100,000 fans turned out for music on half-a-dozen stages. "Who wants to hear a cover?" Moby asked the audience. Deciding what to play by cheer volume, he and vocalist Laura Dawn launched into a rousing version of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."

Bands and more bands

This year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary, several festival favorites are returning to the picturesque ski resort of Naeba. From the original lineup, the Black Bottom Brass Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are making their second and third appearances at Fuji, respectively. With more than 200 acts confirmed, it will be impossible to catch everyone, so plan your time to maximize the amount of ground you can cover.

Going inside

At summer festivals, heat is often an issue. If it becomes unbearable, try cooling off at the canopied Red Marquee. It is one of the smallest stages, and bands sometimes stay to take pictures and sign autographs. It's a prime spot, partly because of its proximity to food and toilets. The sound booth is fenced off, so you can lean against it for some shut-eye.

Palace of Wonder

On the main site, the first stage you will see is the Palace of Wonder, which is just before the festival entrance. This is a good place to rendezvous if members of your group arrive at different times. If you are so inclined, you can easily party here until sunrise, enjoying the unsigned bands at Rookie-a-Go-Go, a coveted stage for up-and-coming Japanese bands that audition to play here, or sip Champagne in the 800-capacity Crystal Palace, a new venue that has acts scheduled until 5 a.m.

Valley thrills

Even though this is Fuji's largest venue, the Green Stage still feels quite intimate as the stage and audience are cradled in a valley between two mountain ranges, the sound bouncing off the peaks. Keep a tarp or lawn chairs here if you want to hear more than one band on the Green. If a feeling of awe hasn't hit you yet, it will at Tokoro Tengoku, an outdoor cinema located between the Green and White stages. Movies are projected onto a verdant slope that disappears into the night sky. Suddenly, you remember that you are in the middle of nowhere, listening to some of the best music in the world.

Where to stay

The only lodging nearby, the Naeba Prince Hotel, is expensive and books up quickly. For reservations, call 011-81-257-89-2211 because festival rates differ from published online prices. Staying in a hotel near Echigo Yuzawa station is also an option. The NASPA New Otani Resort Hotel, 011-81-257-80-6222, is $183.65 per night, double occupancy. An extra bed can be added for $30.61 a night. The shuttle between the festival site and the station runs round the clock, except from 1 to 5 a.m. Some of the bigger hotels provide transport between Echigo Yuzawa and the hotel.

Finding an ATM

ATMs are generally few and far between in Japan, with none on the festival grounds, where only yen are accepted. Plan on spending $15 to $30 a day on food and drink. T-shirts, which are $25 and up, and CDs of the performers, are sold in adjacent shops outside the festival entrance.

Get your tickets early

Three-day passes are sold out, but one-day tickets for Friday and Sunday were still available as of the Travel section's press time Tuesday. When possible, book your concert ticket at least two months in advance of the festival. This year, three-day tickets, valid from Friday through Monday, were about $350. One-day tickets, valid for that day to when the grounds close at 5 a.m. the next day, are about $150. Parking passes are about $18, and campsite tickets are about $22 per person and are valid for the entire festival period.

Getting there

There is nonstop service from LAX to Tokyo on JAL, All Nippon, Northwest, United, American, Korean and Singapore airlines. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $980. Once you arrive in Japan, take the N'EX train to Tokyo station (about $25 per person). Then switch to the JR Joetsu Shinkansen line and head to Echigo Yuzawa station. One-way tickets are $59 for adults and $29 for children.

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