Summer Sonic Festival Promises Foreign Acts Despite Tight Border Control

Summer Sonic Festival Promises Foreign Acts Despite Tight Border Control

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With spouses, job-seekers, students and more stuck outside of Japan, a festival's claims at getting foreign talent into Japan grates.

Summer Sonic Lineup Lines Up for a Visa (w/Unseen Japan’s Noah Oskow)

Listen to this episode from Japan By River Cruise on Spotify.

Noah discusses the Summer Sonic announcement on the comedy/news podcast Japan By River Cruise.

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.

A mosh pit at Japan Jam Beach 2015. Creativeman Productions, which runs Summer Sonic, is now also promoting Japan Jam Beach as of 2021. Photo by Noah Oskow.

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?

Headlining Head-Scratcher

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.”

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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