Plum Rain Season

Rain. Thunder. Probably, in some far off corner of the sea, lightning. The gutters have been broken since the house was built, leaving great lakes, veritable Superiors and Hurons of water stagnating around my house. The rainy season does not prevent one from doing anything in particular. It merely makes it damper.

Islanders possess a unique outlook on the seasons, as they relate to one’s ability to enjoy the island’s essential island-ness. There is always some reason, not to be swimming, diving, or otherwise acknowledging that one is surrounded by water. The newly minted JET Programme Participant arrives on Kikai in a sweltering hellstorm of summer. Death is prayed for. The unsuspecting youth sweats through their heavy wool suits, and liquifies red-blue striped ties under an unceasing onslaught of sweat and misery. Every collar the participant owns is a black, greasy mess. But at least you can swim. The island will never feel more island-y, than these brief moments spent in an oven, slowly roasting at 350 degrees.

Thing will go strictly downhill in the swimming department from here on out. Each season is a series of compromises. Summer heat is traded for the occasional typhoon. Your first typhoon lives in the nebulous region between excitement and terror. You buy emergency water. You ensure that your flashlight has batteries. When the power inevitably fails, you cook dinner by candle light. The longer you’re on the island the more you start to root for the typhoon instead of fear it. Please Typhoon Mawar, swerve just a little bit to the left so we can have a day off of school. How dare you lose strength at such a key moment. Last year’s typhoons never had these problems.

Typhoons are exchanged for “cold”. Your first winter is inevitably underwhelming. Minnesotan shorts weather. Then you get used to it. Puffy bubble coats in 45 degrees weather. Layer upon layer of heat-tec, and micro-fleece. Long days huddled in front of your tiny electric heater, cursing Prometheus for not snagging the secrets of home insulation while he was busy stealing fire for the humans of Japan. Irresponsible deities. Your only consolation, is that every single one of your mainland friends is having to live under their tiny heated kotatsu tables. Their world, is considerably smaller. We consider their misfortune, thin-lipped Grinch smiles cracking across faces, and the islander’s heart is warmed.

Winter comes to a close with the most beautiful two to four weeks of your life. Island spring. Still too cold to swim if you’re a thin-skinned island native, but perfect for the hairy, blubber-laden American or European. Flowers bloom. The sun shines. Cats have wild, extraordinarily loud and angry sex outside of every window. Life is good.

Until the rain starts. Tsuyu, a word poetically comprised of the characters for plum (梅) and rain (雨) is when shit gets real on the islands.  Even if it doesn’t rain, you can be sure that it threatens to. Weather forecasters rejoice, and go on extended vacation after blocking out cartoon clouds angrily pissing down rain on whole months of the Japanese calendar. Everything molds. In some cases actual mushrooms sprout from perfectly good menswear. Right when things were threatening to get good, Punxsutawney Phil’s distant cousin Tsuyushi the Unlicensed Weather Ferret pops out of his hole, sees his shadow, and predicts 2 more months of unpleasantness.

It’s a wonderful time to catch up on some reading, rediscover old hobbies, and make flimsy excuses not to attend social functions because you cannot reasonably be expected to get to the venue without getting slightly to severely damp. A serious problem for the average JET, inevitably saddled with a Wicked Witch of the West-like allergy to water. No one likes a half-melted gaijin.

Which brings us to the present day. Slow crawl out of bed to torrential bullshit, canceling plans to bike around the island in an effort to start conditioning myself for a misguided, potentially dangerous, and totally fucking awesome cross country bike trip when I get back to America. I resolved to make the most of it by writing, watching other people play video games on the internet, and reading comic books about astronauts. And by god, I succeeded.

You come to a tropical island, expecting a tropical island. No one ever imagines a tropical island in the middle of a typhoon. I doubt anyone ever moves to a tropical island excited for all the possibilities of island winter, or really jazzed to sit their first rainy season. But as I find the months slipping away, counting down lasts, remembering firsts, it’s the sound of rain popping off my concrete stoop, and the thrill of biking through flash-flood rivers and overflowing-drainage-ditch lakes, getting soaked to the bone under my flimsy rain jacket, that I think I’m saddest to see come for the last time. I have thoroughly enjoyed the misery. Far more than I could have possibly enjoyed 365 days a year of sunshine and ocean breezes. It’s just not Kikai without the rain.

Lest We Forget

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Ira Glass

The Segregation of Church and State

I’m 250 words into a tripey little rant about lawn mowing which is somehow coming back to the meaning of life the universe and everything and I want to shoot my computer out to sea and let the turtles have it. Lawnmowing as a metaphor for procrastination. Lawnmowing as a metaphor for laziness. Really, really painfully dishonest stuff.

Long story short, I mowed my fuckin’ lawn for the first time today. I am a paragon of self-improvement, and you all should be really really jealous that you’re not me. Sigh of relief. That’s better.

Here’s the deal. I want to write things. I don’t expect to make a living writing. But writing, unlike just about everything else I’ve picked up over the years, is something I want to keep doing, and to keep getting better at, even if I never make a single cent off it. It would be pretty cool to get something published though.

I’m absolutely awful, bolded and italicized, at honesty. I am terrified of what people will think of me, and what I write. It’s why the blogs never get off the ground. It’s why my journal projects tend to devolve into long lists, sometimes lists of other lists. Today’s accomplishments. Highs. Lows. I don’t even plan to show anything in that book to anyone but myself. I am afraid of what future me will think of past me.  I have never read a single page of any of my old journals. Not one.

So, in the spirit of honesty, most of what I do is carefully orchestrated to provide a maximum of benefit with an absolute minimum of effort. I am not working hard. Not even a little bit. And while there is certainly something admirable about learning to complete the unpleasant nasty bits of work efficiently to free up your time for things you’re actually passionate about, based off of my free-time usage over the last few months, I am pretty damn passionate about bad American TV, video games in which you collect blocks and other items to rearrange them into blocks and other items, and articles on

But not writing.  When it’s good. When it’s a good writing day. When I’m not worried about what future me, or anyone else will think about it, and I can write like myself instead of pretending I’m going to be famous. I can work hard, and enjoy the feeling of working hard at something I’m passionate about.

So. I’m going to write more. I’ve got a new blog coming up fairly soon where I’m going to keep track of it all. I’m writing a million words of stories, fiction and non-fiction, and then seeing where I’m at. It will probably take at least a few years. I’m ok with that.

This blog is going to stay up as more of a journal. The ill-advised introspective rants, and the more mundane “what I had for breakfast” type nonsense. The experiments in progress and the life updates. An exercise in honesty, because sometimes I need to be reminded. My theory is that freed from the burden of actually producing readable, worthwhile content, the updates will be significantly more frequent on this blog. Granted, at the current average of 1 post per month, that shouldn’t be too hard to beat.

So all of the journal/life blogging stuff here, fiction and non-fiction stuff there.

I’ll have a url for you fine folks as soon as I have something other than a blank wordpress template up on it.

…some kind of pithy ending remark, I’m tired of looking at this box.

The End of the Road

Like all entitled, white, recently graduated 20-somethings, I was perfectly happy to delay figuring out where my life was going for as long as humanly possible, convinced that if I were to actually try for a few minutes, jobs would rain down like manna from heaven.

Turns out that I was wrong. They don’t.

30 seconds after signing the “I’d like to go home now” documents, watching the ink dry, it began to occur to me that 3 years living in the most isolated, god-forsaken (albeit gorgeous and pretty awesome) chunk of land in all of Japan had done a pretty poor job of preparing me to do anything except chat up toothless old men and get repeatedly punched in the dick by excited 6-year-olds. While I’m I’m sure there is a career in there somewhere, possible connected to a very specific fetish found only in Japan, It’s not exactly how I imagined making my rice money.

It turns out that no matter what you do, you’re probably going to have to work yourself into an emaciated heap of bones to get it. There is, in the words of the crotchety Economics saints of yesteryear, no such thing as a free lunch. So if I’m going to have to work hard as balls at it anyway, I sure as shit am going to do something I love.

My name is Adam Golder. And I’m a writer.

Even if it kills me.

Some Art That Happened

Before winter break:

Ingrid Dearest

After winter break:

Ingrid finished

And let no man denounce me an unproducer.

I’ve been working on this particular drawing since Tokyo. It has traveled on at least two international flights, and lived in three different homes, not counting some brief stops in hotels, and the homes of certain parents who shall not be named.

All told, I’d been staring at it in all it’s half-finished glory for about 4 years. Note to future self: get that time management thing hacked before embarking on any further gratuitous acts of art. You have been warned.

The girl in question is a singer, who I am no longer all that into. Another one of the hazards of drawing on a geological time scale. However, she still has a pretty voice, and is still named Ingrid Michaelson, if you’re interested.

It is good. It is good enough. It is good.

Snapshots of Japan: Umiushi Off the Coast of Kikai

Our time underwater is brief. The moments from descent to decompression measured into a few hundred breaths. One tank at a time, we race towards 10 dives. 50 dives. 100. 1000. The schools of fish which can only be described as “teeming”, the rays and the squid and even the sea turtles, they become familiar sights. Old territory. You are aware on some level that you’re “underwater” but there is a dullness to your senses. You’re floating by and you’re seeing, but you’re not really…there.

But every now and then, something snaps you out of it. I’m not underwater. I am in outer fuckin’ space. I have landed on a strange new world. The plants here are hard, and some of them sting. And the bugs. Oh god, the bugs:

12-18-11, Kikai, Nudibranch2

We float for a few moments above this strange planet of psychedelic glowing space slugs.

12-18-11, Kikai, Nudibranch

And suddenly even the lowliest little fish is an ugly grey miracle. We remember why we’re in love.

It’s a sickness, this diving business. Gets in your bones, and doesn’t let you go. Sends you back under, back to the craggy expanses of an alien world, searching. They say once you pop the cork on your 100th tank…there’s no turning back.

December 18th, 2011. Kikai-jima, Japan. 96 tanks of pressurized air. And counting.

Every Language Learning System Is Wrong: Total Immersion & the JLPT

You might think from the title that this would be a story of me walking in to the testing hall, 4 weeks of nothing but Japanese on my mind, waving to the only other white guy in a room of 60 Taiwanese high school kids, then sitting down to obliterate the highest level Japanese test they’ve got.

Man, it would be great if I could write that post.

I won’t say I definitely failed the test. People have a habit of low-balling their expectations as a coping mechanism.  I will say that there came a point about half way through the kanji and grammar section where I decided reading the question was only taking up valuable time which I could devote to less pointless questions.  Maybe it helped me, I can’t say until I get the results back in February.

So what does this mean for the idea of total immersion as a language learning tool?  Well, maybe nothing.

There are a number of ways to view the situation, depending on where your loyalties lie.

Bombing the JLPT, as Explained by:

A total immersion “input” learning  supporter

“See, this just goes to prove that the test isn’t really testing your ability to speak and understand Japanese. It’s just studying your ability to memorize obscure grammar points in a book.  It’s also a completely unnatural way of accessing the information.  When, but a test, will you have to answer 70 questions and read 10 reading passages within a 2 hour time limit?  Failing the tests just means you’re bad at tests.  Besides, eventually your Japanese will be native level fluent if you keep accessing native materials, and then you can walk in and pass the test on intuition.  Suck it up, and go read something in Japanese while listening to J-pop to make yourself feel better.”

A textbook/studying learning supporter

“See, this just goes to prove that you can’t learn higher level Japanese without going out of your way to  focus on and study it.  You can’t have enough exposure to higher level Japanese by randomly stumbling across it, even if you make a flashcard or two to represent that grammar point, or word.  There just isn’t enough random exposure to progress to a deeper understanding.   Studying can be unpleasant, but the idea that you can do nothing but fun, fluffy stuff and expect to make serious high level gains is ludicrous.  Suck it up, get it done, thank me later.”

An immersion “output” learning supporter

(I don’t know exactly what to call it, but that comes close. This would be the work of Benny over at Fluent in 3 Months.)

“See, this just goes to prove that you can’t internalize a language into your subconscious unless you are actively using it in conversations. Massive output is the only way your brain can really come to understand all that information, and if you do it right you can be speaking fluent Japanese, which is the fun part anyway, not reading books, a hell of a lot faster.  As far as the test goes, tests throughout history have always suffered from a profound disconnect from reality.  Suck it up. Learn the test. Study specifically for the test.  Treat it as something separate from your real studies if you have to.”

Why Immersion Is (Mostly) Wrong

Let’s start with the total immersion crowd, since that’s the one I was specifically playing with this month.  Did it help my Japanese? Sure it did.  I learned all sorts of interesting words, from hand grenade, to indecisive.  I’m also sure hearing and reading the same grammatical structures thousands of times, helped to imprint them into my subconscious Japanese brain.

Using native materials is also a great way to get native sounding Japanese.  If nothing else I think the decision to favor materials designed for Japanese people was infinitely better than anything designed for people learning Japanese, because you are guaranteed natural Japanese.  Too many textbook learners sound like robots.


At a certain point, I am forced to acknowledge the writing on the wall:  fun and progress are detrimental to one another if you try to combine them. If all of my fun is tainted by work, then I enjoy it less.  If all progress is filtered through repeated exposure in the name of fun, then I progress significantly slower from all that redundant effort.  The point is not to disguise work as something fun, so that you can eat it 24/7, 365.  Fish oil in a glittery capsule with a cartoon dog mascot still tastes like death.  Similarly, even if you can get something good out of it, junk is still junk.  Chocolate chips and sugar is still bad for you, even if you sprinkle in some granola.

Also I think it begs mentioning that the guy who came up with this idea reads almost exclusively non-fiction.  If you’re, say, the type of person who doesn’t happen to like self-help books, you might find that there’s a certain range of Japanese you just don’t get enough exposure to.  That is, unless you force yourself to read something, well, kind of unpleasant.  And even if you do, you still suffer from the same wasted effort problem.

Admittedly the idea of total immersion works fantastic for the first 90% of a language.  Really. If you’re aiming for functional fluency, I think grabbing a bunch of native materials and stewing in them is probably the most absolutely painless way to bring your abilities up. 

It’s definitely not the fastest. It assumes that you cannot actually get anything done if you’re not constantly having fun.  It assumes you will give up if it’s hard.  Personally, working 24/7 is unsustainable, even if it’s fun.  I’m sure people would say I’m missing the point, that it’s not supposed to feel like work.  But there’s a balance.  If the returns and progress I’m getting on my invested time are too low, then even if it’s supposed to be fun it instead becomes ungodly frustrating because of all the missed opportunities, all the other stuff I could be doing with my time. Learning is fun unto itself for me, so the efficiency of the system is a big part of whether I’m enjoying my time, or forcing myself.

No one likes to work hard, and achieve nothing.

But I think for people who have a hard time motivating themselves to do anything, it is an amazing way to overcome that hurdle. The system seems designed for people who have been chronically bad at making any kind of progress in their lives. It removes all the barriers. For most people who’s idea of studying Japanese is lamenting the fact that they should be studying Japanese, this is an incredibly powerful place to start.

So, Does This Mean We Have to Study?

Yes and no.  If your goal is to pass the JLPT, I suggest you approach it with the following mindset:

The JLPT is not Japanese.

Study for the JLPT as an exercise in learning the test.  Assume that after you are done you will maybe have learned some new Japanese, but mostly you will have learned to pass the JLPT.  It’s like the SATs, or whatever arcane testing system they threw at you in high school.  You’re not really learning all those words, or how to do all that math, you’re just learning what they like to throw at you, how they think, and how to beat them.  How else could income correlate so strongly with test scores? Rich kids get all the cool toys, that’s why.

The JLPT is basically the SATs, in Japanese.

When it comes to actually learning Japanese though, the “suck it up and study” crowd is, in my opinion, just as wrong.  You’re just as likely to have tons of wasted effort by studying.  After a certain point, hell, even from the very first page in some cases, most textbooks for learning Japanese don’t use vocabulary you actually want to know, or will use frequently.  The grammar is equally hit or miss.

And the drills and exercises are absolute garbage.

There’s a difference between using something 100 times, and applying something 100 times.  The best (musicians/athletes/scholars/etc.) in the world aren’t the best because they’ve put in the most time, it’s because they’ve put in the most quality time.  And every textbook I have ever seen is just too simple to engage your brain on the level it needs to be engaged.

The monotony of it all, one of the things which the immersion system goes out of it’s way to overcome, not only leads to slow progress, it leads to a pretty high degree of burn out.  Especially if you’re out of school, and don’t have a grade to motivate you.

If you’re finding that the textbooks are working, by all means plow ahead.  Personally, I can’t handle them.

There has to be a better way.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

Total input immersion “works”, but it’s inefficient.  This is actually something Khatz over at All Japanese All the Time himself seems to be coming around to.

Textbooks probably don’t work, unless you’re a textbook type, because your odds of quitting before you reach fluency are rather high, and also because they are, all said and done, pretty irrelevant to what you actually want to use the language for.

I think the solution might lie somewhere in between All Japanese All the Time and Fluent in 3 Months.  I haven’t talked about Benny and his craziness yet, because I’m extremely conflicted about the man.  His basic shtick is to speak the language as much as possible, massive output, rather than read or listen to the language, massive input.  On the one hand, he gets results. Crazy results.  On the other hand, he writes at you, not to you. Like I’m a 4 year old. Like anyone who doesn’t speak 8 languages by the time they’re 30 is not only a failure, but a stupid one, because it’s all your fault.  I also get the feeling lately that a lot of what he’s preaching now doesn’t work nearly as well if you haven’t already learned at least one language.  There are certain fundamental truths he has begun to take for granted.

Regardless, for now I think it might be time that I shelled out for his language hacking guide, and see what the man has to say.  I will admit, the curiosity has been building.

Ultimately what I come up with is probably going to be a mix of all sorts of different systems, as it should be.  I think people can get really devoted to systems and teachers that have given them some results, so much so that they never take the time to evaluate what parts of the system are working, and what parts aren’t. Take the best parts, and leave the rest.

I learned a lot from All Japanese All the Time, and am really grateful for how much it moved me forward. If I hadn’t stumbled across the site, I’d probably still be poking my JET program Japanese textbook and swearing I’ll catch up tomorrow…on the year and a half of backlog.  But while I totally agree that native is the way to go, I definitely disagree with the “all the time” part, and think the input/output question still needs to be worked out.

Stay tuned.

This being a blog about Japan, and Japanese being a pretty big part of living in Japan, I don’t think this is the last you’ll hear on the language learning front.  Being a language learner, and also a language teacher surrounded by frustrated students, it’s something of an obsession of mine.

Snapshots of Japan: Fuji Rock 2010

So folks, here’s the deal. I’m all well and done with the immersion business but I’m still taking a few days to sort out the “well, that was fun. What do I do now?”  So hopefully I’ll have the post for the immersion, and the JLPT up this weekend. In the mean time, here’s another entry in the Snapshots series.  This one is about the day and night I spent at Fuji Rock, an all together awesome and terrifying experience, as you will soon read.  Enjoy, and I’ll be back to regular updates by next week at the latest.




It’s eight in the morning and you’ve somehow managed to haul yourself out of bed, and get yourself to a tiny little hot spring town called Echigo Yuuzawa in the middle of the middle of nowhere. Despite this, it manages to be just about an hour and a half away away from the heart of Tokyo.  Bullet trains.  Japan is strange like that.

The station is surprisingly busy, all kinds of young people looking all sorts of out off place.  Everyone is wearing big plastic rain boots in the full range of rainbow colors. Hell, there’s probably more than one pair of straight up rainbow ones.  Big floppy hats, rain ponchos ranging from elite camping gear to plastic bags, and a truly alarming amount of leggings.

We, the shuffling mass of youth, are eventually herded into something resembling a line, and loaded up onto buses.  No one is here to take in a hot spring or two.  We’re all headed to Naeba, another town about a half hour away which is home to some world class skiing.  Too bad it’s the middle of summer.

Naeba is probably a pretty sleepy, charming little place in the off season.  But for 3-days out of the year Naeba is host to something so horrible and wonderful the locals would be calling the exorcist if they didn’t know it’d be long gone before he’d arrive.

You step off the bus.  Let’s get a few things straight:

Fuji Crowd

  1. See those dots in the distance? Yeah, those are all tents.  Hundreds and thousands of them. On a ski slope.
  2. The thousands of people walking around near by, caked in mud, sunburned, and buzzing like they just downed a 2-liter of red bull?  They just got here about 10 minutes ago.  They’re waiting to get in.  On the other side of the 30 minute entrance line it’s pretty much the same.  Only a hundred times more people, a thousand times more mud, and a million times more energy.

Welcome to Fuji Rock.

Japan’s premier music and mud fest.

If you’ve been to any music festival in America you have some idea of what to expect.  It probably pales in comparison to most of the real major ones America has to offer.

But there’s something special about Fuji Rock. It’s in Japan.

A Special Kind of Unhinged

This is a music festival happening in Japan.  Most of the concert goers are Japanese.  Perhaps you think, given the general impression of Japanese people as quiet, reserved, and polite, that a concert attended primarily by Japanese people would be boring.  If so, this is because you’ve never spent 5 minutes in a karaoke box with an otherwise sane Japanese person.  But I don’t think you can grasp the degree to which Japanese people can and do loosen up when put in an atmosphere designed solely for that purpose.

It is absolutely, terrifyingly, awesome to watch hundreds of Japanese kids screaming their heads off, throwing their fists up, and starting mosh pits at the drop of a hat.  You can strike up a conversation with anyone, even if you speak absolutely no Japanese.  Dan started dozens of conversations just by walking up and playing rock-paper-scissors with people.  People are dancing really really badly all over the place. No one here is even remotely worried about how stupid they look anymore.  They’re too busy having fun.

Oh, and did I mention it goes all night?  Music starts up some time in the late morning, and keeps going until well past when the sun rises the next morning.  It shuts down briefly so that people can try to clean it up, and keep the entire venue from being swallowed up by mud.  Then it’s right back on its feet a few hours later, ready for day 2 and 3.

Let It Rain, Let It Rain

Every single thing which would normally deter one from having a music festival seems purpose build into Fuji Rock’s basic framework.

It always rains.  Always.  It has literally never not rained. [citation needed]  Since the festival’s stages are sprawled over a few kilometers of muddy forest, this means that after about 20 minutes there are knee deep puddles of mud.  Not only does no one care,  everyone is strangely happy.

Because it’s so spread out, hiking from the first stage to the last stage takes well over a half hour. I can’t give you the exact timing because I got worried that by the time I made it all the way to the other end of the festival, I wouldn’t be able to make it back to the main stages in time for one of the bands I really wanted to see.  They were going on stage in about an hour. Furthermore, there are stages tucked into some really weird places.  There is one small stage literally in the middle of a forest.  There is almost no way to watch this stage, except by standing next to a tree.

The arguably unwieldy size, and the fact that nature itself seems hellbent to stop Fuji Rock from happening on literally a yearly basis paradoxically adds a strange sort of magic to the place.  The whole time I was there, I couldn’t believe it was happening.  Not in the “oh my god, I’m finally here!” sense of the world. I mean it was literally so odd my brain was having trouble squaring it with reality.

What About the Music?

There were some truly spectacular performances by some really amazing bands, ranging from complete unknowns to super rockstars, both Japanese and foreign.  But since this isn’t a blog about music, it would take forever and be kind of boring to detail every single performance.  And it almost doesn’t matter.  The music and the festival are almost two separate entities.  For sure, one couldn’t exist without the other.  But even if you didn’t know a single band there, I would still say it’s worth going at least once, just to experience the atmosphere. And the mud.

I probably only knew about a quarter of the bands I ended up seeing, and got introduced to some really cool Japanese bands as a result.  I also found that not having a main stage concert to get to every 30 minutes freed me up to do some really worthwhile wandering.

The best performance I saw that day was not one of the main stage superstars (although they were awesome), but a band playing homemade percussion instruments and pipes from the Solomon Islands.  They were playing at the forest stage, and the crowd watching them grew so large that they actually choked off the pathway, causing a huge traffic jam.  This actually lead to more people being near the stage for longer, and deciding it was worth hopping off into the forest to stick around and watch.  They spoke pretty much no Japanese, although they did a cover of a really famous Japanese folk song at one point which everyone got really into.

It was incredibly fun, all the more so since I had no idea that there was even a stage back there.  In this, as in all winging it type adventures, it’s the unexpected bits which always seem the most interesting.

Fuji Rock After Dark

As awesome as the entire day of concerts was, the oddball phenomena of Fuji Rock: Day Version, were nothing compared to what it becomes after the last main stage concert finishes their 3rd and final encore.  The buses away from Fuji Rock stop running at around 11-12, meaning if you stick around past then you’re there for the long haul.  Dan and I parted ways here.  Dan made his way back to the train station, to duel hundreds of Japanese kids in rock-scissors-paper for a slightly more comfortable patch of concrete to sleep on until the first train started.  I decided to stay up all night dancing to techno music in my giant orange hiking boots, and find a way back to civilization in the morning.  I was not the only one.

At first everything is pretty normal.  There are two or three stages which have some pretty world famous DJs hosting spastic techno rave parties right near the entrance.  All the food stalls keep running all the way till sunrise for some reason, so if you desperately want some paella at 5 in the morning, they got that covered.  I danced for a little while, then went and hung out with some of the Japanese kids who were working at Fuji Rock I met earlier via the “Oh holy wow, you speak Japanese! Wanna hang out after we get off work!?” trick.  At some point they did the sane thing and went off to bed, and I decided to go exploring and find the fabled 4th stage, in the back of Fuji Rock.

The minute you leave the comfort of the main area, with its mostly cheerful and upbeat ravers, Fuji Rock: Night Version shows its true face, breaking the boundaries of your fragile reality which had already been seriously tested by a day of weirdness.  There are people sleeping everywhere.  Curled up in chairs, on tarps, or sometimes just in puddles of mud, having apparently lost the wherewithal to do anything more than collapse where they stood.

All the tiny little paths winding through the forests have been decorated by giant multi-colored light up snowflakes.  Eventually the snowflakes give way to an entire forest of disco balls.  An entire forest of disco balls.

The backstage is a mud puddle, more so than any other part of Fuji Rock thus far seen.  People are just going crazy dancing in it, and this seems totally normal.  The later it gets the less people look like they’re dancing.  They’re just kind of swaying, half-asleep, to the music.  It’s an entire mud filled field of zombies.  Dancing to techno.

This was too much for my brain to handle.

I went in search of somewhere to pass out until morning.

For a while I am seriously considering jumping several feet off the raised wooden walkway and cutting through a couple hundred meters of dense underbrush to try and get to the now shutdown Fuji Rock kiddie park.  I assumed there would be less techno music there.  But the Fuji Rock security personnel were quick as bunnies, and just as numerous.  Also I’m pretty sure they were cheating, by being well rested.

Then I tried sleeping under a bridge, but the ground was made of bundles of rocks held together with metal netting.  Also the organizers of Fuji Rock, in an effort to stop people from doing exactly what we were doing and sleeping rough, made sure that every square inch of Fuji Rock was filled with either loud techno music, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory playing at full volume, interspersed with clips of random Japanese festival dancing.  The hallucination worthy after-party continues!

I eventually gave up and managed to wander all the way back up to the front, which was starting to devolve into the same zombie-filled mud pit I had just left.

A quick search of the area turned up a plastic chair which no one seemed to be using, so I dragged it under some pine trees, turtled up inside of my rain jacket, and tried to get a little sleep before morning about 30 meters away from the loudest techno dance party in Fuji Rock.  Perhaps even the loudest techno dance party on the planet, for all times past, present, and future, in this and any other as of yet undiscovered dimensions.

Moral of the story: Fuji Rock is totally awesome, but the human body was not designed to process music, dance, and sweat for a solid 18-24 hour period.  Do yourself a favor, and shell out the ¥3000 for a campsite ticket. I’d honestly consider it even if you don’t have a tent.  They have a free hot spring, and a place to sleep which is not immediately adjacent to a whole lot of strobe lights, bass and Gene Wilder.

But I’d Totally Do It Again

Despite the night being a total horror-show, it was one of those vaguely traumatic experiences which I can look back on fondly now, 4 months in the future.

Regardless of whether you stick around for the night, Fuji Rock has a lot of really amazing music, and is just a damn good time.  If you’re not a total idiot you can even base yourself out of a lovely little campsite on a ski slope with a few thousand other concert goers.  I bet the tent town is a ridiculous experience unto itself.  If you’re really on top of things you might even be able to find a hotel in the area, but I can’t guarantee it will be nearly as fun.

After my JET contract finishes up, I’m planning to take a run at the full 3-day festival experience.  Tent shanty-town and all.