One of the things that is taking some getting used to about life in Japan is my work schedule. I work a similar amount of hours to most 9-5 jobs, and still work five days a week; however that’s where the similarities end.
Our schools are open seven days a week, and weekends are actually our busiest days which means that your two days off are likely to be midweek, and if you’re unlucky then they might not be consecutive. Thankfully, mine fall on a Monday and Tuesday, so I do still have a weekend of sorts.
There other main difference is that we start work at around midday, and don’t finish until 9 or 10pm. This isn’t too big a deal, as we get a lie-in in the mornings or indeed can actually do productive stuff before work: fancy that!
This would all be well and good, if the rest of Japan worked to a similar schedule. However like the the rest of world, the majority of Japan treats Saturday and Sunday as a weekend and – as such – good stuff happens on those days.
One such ‘good thing’ is Summer Sonic – a two day music festival split between Tokyo and Osaka. The lineup itself was largely – for want of a better word – shite. However, my attention was grabbed by the fact that the Manic Street Preachers would be performing their iconic (and my favourite) album ‘The Holy Bible’ live in full for the penultimate time at the Tokyo gig, and for the last time the next day in Osaka.
Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I’m something of a Manics fanboy. Unfortunately for me, the gigs were split over the Saturday and Sunday so I put it to the back of my mind; after all, I’d seen them play The Holy Bible just a couple of months ago in Edinburgh. Ah well, what can you do?
Obon – My New Favourite Buddhist Festival
Before moving to Japan, I had no idea about Obon – a Buddhist custom in which people honour the spirits of their ancestors (thanks Wikipedia!) – and I was still as clueless until we got a week off work after a gruelling one whole week on the job for it.
Some fellow new starters and I decided to use this opportunity to explore Tokyo and be tourists in our new home. Plenty of time was spent checking out the famous areas of Shibuya and Shinjuku, as well as watching an impressive firework from Gaienmae, visiting the Senso-ji Buddhist temple in Asakusa (where we bumped in to Hugh Dennis on the subway – small world) and, of course, sampling plenty of bars, izakayas and restaurants along the way.
The highpoint of our culinary adventure however, was the Uobei sushi restaurant in Shibuya. This restaurant has decided that waiters aren’t exactly necessary, and decided to get rid of them completely. I’ll let the video do the explaining.
About midway through the week, however, was when I came to the realisation that the holiday actually lasted longer than I thought and I wasn’t due back in work until the Sunday. Guess what? The Manics were playing in Tokyo on the Saturday – result!
Summer Sonic: My New Favourite Musical Festival
After a couple of failed attempts to buy a ticket for the Saturday online, I decided the venture down to Lawson – a local convenience store where you can also buy gig tickets from a machine.
Buying tickets for a gig is usually a fun, satisfying experience but in a foreign language you are yet to grasp, it can be bloody stressful. The English-language Rakuten ticket website only sold tickets to people outside the country, and apparently didn’t have an English-language alternative for those living in Japan.
Lawson was a slightly less irritating experience, as they had a list of ticket numbers on their website which you just key in to the machine when you get to the store. Again some of this is left to guesswork as the English language setting only goes as far as about the second screen, which means it was a ¥15,000 (£77) gamble on whether I’d bought the correct ticket, or just deprived an Osaka native of a day out.
Saturday soon rolled around (accompanied by a crippling hangover) and it transpired that I had indeed bought the correct ticket. The aforementioned hangover meant that I missed the large majority of the day, and with it the only other band I wouldn’t have minded seeing in Circa Waves.
The festival itself was split over two venues in close proximity to each other: the Makuhari Messe convention centre which would host the majority of the stages, and the QVC Marine Field – a baseball stadium which was where the main stage was based. Seeing as I would rather listen to myself fall down the stairs than listen to Macklemore or Ariana Grande, I decided I would pitch up at the Makuhari Messe, where the Manics would be taking to the Sonic Stage in a couple of hours’ time.
On my way to the Sonic Stage, however, I passed the Mountain Stage and decided I’d check out who was playing there as they sounded decent. Upon entering the room I was shocked to hear that this mid-noughties, very American-sounding slightly emo music was indeed coming from a Japanese band (with an American bassist who addressed the crowd in fluent Japanese – a bit of a head-fuck when you’re hungover).
Despite singing in English with an authentic American accent, it seemed that this band were indeed Japanese and judging by the crowd, were rather popular with the teenagers. I didn’t get any strange looks, but people may have wondered what a mid-20’s little pasty slaphead was doing there. I regret nothing, although having listened back to them I’m not entirely sure they’re my cup of tea.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Perhaps feeling the need to regain a bit of credibility (and start acting my age) I headed to the Sonic Stage where I would spend the rest of my night. When I arrived there, I was greeted by a huge wave of a mix of blues, rockabilly, and flat out rock and roll music. This was The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
I’d never heard of these, and quite frankly I couldn’t believe that just three people were making such a huge noise. I was initially a little taken aback, and unsure what to think but as the set went on from song to song with little to no crowd interaction, I found myself being dragged in by the music. It’s a thumbs up from me.
After the pleasant surprise of the previous act, Kodaline were something of a necessary evil before the Manics took to the stage. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t a terrible band, but they’re just a bit dull.
Every song sounded a little bit like hold music in a call centre, and was it not for the lead singer’s insistence on saying “TOKYOOOOO” between each song it would have been difficult to know where one song ended and the next one started. Not for me.
They did end on ‘All I Want’ however, which is the one song of theirs that I do like. Redemption, of sorts.
Manic Street Preachers
This was it then; the moment I’d dragged myself out of bed hungover for.
The crowd descended on the Sonic Stage really quite quickly, and I was surprised how much of a following the Manics seemed to have in Japan. The amount of MSP t-shirts I saw from previous tours, as well as scarves and Welsh flags was really quite impressive and left me feeling a little under-prepared! By the time the band had taken to the stage the building was fairly packed out and I was glad to have made my way to the front early on.
As an aside, I’d seen plenty of people at the back of the room lay down sleeping through the other acts. These people were clearly waiting for whatever band they wanted to see, but my question is more about how they manage to sleep through a live gig! I mean, Kodaline were dull, but even I couldn’t have slept through that!
The crowd bounced through The Holy Bible with great enthusiasm, and took part in some great singalongs. As an Englishman, it’s hard to know what James Dean Bradfield is saying at times due to the sheer amount of words he is spitting out, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for a non-native speaker! As a man jumping about on my own screaming most of the words, I must have been quite a sight. The four extra non-Holy Bible songs at the end of the set were a nice treat and really got the crowd going. Great work from a great band.
I took the opportunity to film one of the very few mellow moments from the album, and the entire gig to be honest, which you can see below.
A little under a year ago, I was absolutely gutted to be missing what I thought were going to be the only Holy Bible gigs. If truth be told, it was one of the only times I really didn’t want to be travelling. Fast forward to now, and I’ve seen the band perform the album in two different countries, twice more than I ever expected to. I’m absolutely made up!
The day ended when the last chords of Motorcycle Emptiness were played, and I started the long slog back home ready for a 7am wakeup call. I was still feeling hungover, I was tired and sweaty and would no doubt feel the effects the next day at school, but my day at Summer Sonic was so, so worth it.