Chiba, Japan, in the sweltering summer. Over a hundred thousand people walk the concrete expanse of Makuhari Messe, the famed convention space known for hosting as diverse events as the Tokyo Game Show, Jump Festa, and the Tokyo Motor Show. Colored towels with branding are wrapped around shoulders as far as the eye can see; overpriced beer in transparent plastic cup sloshes overboard, staining the walkways and filling the vast space with the scent of evaporating hops. From huge stages on opposite ends of the venue, snatches of rock and hip hop are barely audible over the cheers. The air is filled with speech and song in Japanese – and in English.
This is Summer Sonic, one of the great music festivals of Japan. A staple since 2000, the festival is held simultaneously at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, near Tokyo, and in Osaka; bands travel between the cities, performing in one the first day and the other the second. Here, major global stars like Jay Z, Beck, and Chance the Rapper switch off performances with local heavies like Radwimps and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. It’s this mix of the local and the international, on a massive scale, that Summer Sonic likes to promote itself as; it’s also what, improbably, it’s promising this year.
There’s only one problem. We’re still in a global pandemic, one which has closed down Japanese borders and halted the issuance of entertainer visas. Besides international Olympic teams, essentially no one is currently being let into the country who isn’t already a citizen or a residency holder. And with innumerable spouses, students, job-holders, and more waiting for a year and a half to move on with their lives and to be able to enter Japan, the question becomes: what does Summer Sonic think makes them so special?
On May 30th, the Summer Sonic Twitter account made a surprise announcement. In spite of the near-complete cessation of visa processing not related to the upcoming Olympics, the festival promised that it would be …
…the very first international music festival in Japan this year of 2021 with the artists from overseas.From Summer Sonic’s English-language press release.
This announcement beguiled some observers. After all, other major summer festivals, like Fuji Rock, have already announced they would only host domestic acts. Yet Summer Sonic, without even presenting a guest list, still insisted they would be able to procure entertainer visas in time for September. They state that “…we have already witnessed some successful cases” as regards attempts to bring in foreign entertainment. “[We] are moving forward working with the auhorites [sic] on the safe guidelines to achieve this goal after the Olympics.”