Friday, July 27, 2007

Get Yer T-Shirts

Fuji Rock: Part 2
The Ostensible

This morning we headed down to the main festival site, and it's quite breathtaking. Arranged along the gorgeous Naeba valley, the various stages are connected by picturesque boardwalks and paths which wind through the lovely alpine setting.

Unfortunately the western end of the valley is dominated by the grotesque Prince Hotel, an oversized monstrosity which caters to thousands of skiers descending upon Naeba in the winter months. Defying belief, there's even a tower block attached to the complex.

Here again, Japanese architects display a baffling inability to grasp the rudiments of modernity. By dumping two ginormous carbuncles in the middle of a natural paradise, the overall effect - depressingly familiar - is one of domination over, rather than harmony with the natural surroundings. You have to wonder whether modern Japanese architects have even heard of organic design.

At the festival site itself, there are five main stages, several peripheral ones and various other attached colonies representing NGOs and environmental groups. T
he Avalon Field is powered mainly by green energy as part of the festival's New Power Gear campaign

As Japan
’s premier music festival,
Fuji Rock exhibits an orderliness you might not see at a western event. Recycle bins are well-organized and politely policed by attendants who make sure we separate our trash correctly. Toilets are cleaned regularly and lines move quickly.

Somewhat jarringly, there are booths representing Japanese cigarette companies. Difficult to imagine that at a western festival of this type.

A uniquely Japanese touch is provided by the enormous lines of fans wishing to buy t-shirts and souvenirs, even before they have entered the festival site.

Shopping very much emphasizes the Japanese sense of harmony and homogenization, as consumers purchase individuality en masse. The crowds at Japanese rock shows are the most obedient I've ever seen. “Ok. You got your ticket? Now buy this t-shirt. Good. Now go through the gate and watch the guy on the t-shirt.”

Japanophile Donald Richie has suggested that in Japan the ostensible is the only reality. That is: appearance defines substance. So wearing the t-shirt makes you a rockin', rollin' rebel rouser.

Not that we westerners are immune to mindless consumerism. But a crucial difference lies in our sense of ironic distance. By NOT buying the t-shirt, we seize an opportunity to feel superior, convincing ourselves we are not being taken in. Obedience is so NOT rock 'n' roll.

I don’t think most Japanese feel that way. Not being equipped with an equivalent ironic sense results in a deadly sincere society which makes Japanese seem innocent to western eyes, even at a rock festival. And since our greatest weakness is often our greatest strength, this innocence also makes Japanese endearingly attractive to western observers.

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