3 great ways to see live music in Japan

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Whether it's taking in a traditional taiko drumming performance, roughing it for a few days at a festival or sweating it out in a basement to young punk bands, Japan never fails to deliver a class act. So  give your iPod a rest and check out these three great ways to experience live music in Japan:

1.Festivals

Who said rock and roll can't be clean and orderly? Forget hour-long queues, festering bathrooms and pushy punters. Festivals in Japan are super happy fun! The quintessential Japanese efficiency, etiquette and hospitality carry over to these events without missing a beat.  and it's a great way to experience live music, both local and international. There are a number of festivals, featuring both local and international acts, crowding the calendar over July and August. Choosing can be a difficult task, so here's a list to get you started:

  • Fuji Rock Festival – 3-day event held every July at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata. Past artists include Oasis, Weezer, Patti Smith, My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays.
  • Rising Sun Festival – 2-day event held every August in Ishikari, Hokkaido, with a focus on local artists. Past artists include Beat Crusaders,  Ken Yokoyama, Guitar Wolf and Bloodthirsty Butchers.
  • Earth Celebration –3-day event held every August at Sado Island. Catch taiko drumming performances by internationally acclaimed group Kodo.
  • Summer Sonic – 2-day event held in Tokyo and Osaka in August. (2011 line-up includes The Strokes and Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

2. Live houses

Live houses are everywhere in Japan - but not at street level. These places like to play it cool. Dig around and you'll find bizarre punk bands with names like Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, Vomit Remnants and Booted Cocks blasting away in tiny darkened basement rooms. Save your applause until the very end of the set, not after each song, as that would be uncouth. Live houses generally have a cover charge of around ¥1000-2000 and in most cases you get a drink ticket with it. On a tight travel budget? Stop off at a kombini (convenience store) en route to the gig and stock up on some takeaway beers. That's right; some live houses, such as Namba Bears in Osaka, are BYO.

When in Tokyo, check out:

When in Osaka, check out:

3. Street Performers

If you find you've blown all your cash at festivals and gigs, don't despair. Instead, hit the parks and main train station exits. These are hotspots for 'street lives' where you can catch performances while leaving your wallet behind for the day. You won't find any vagabonds playing the spoons here. Instead you can expect full-blown indie bands with portable amps, mics and anything else that might run on batteries; solo artists strumming acoustic guitars and ultra-suave rockabillys dancing up a storm in the park. Sure it's not the only place in the world with street performers, but the Japanese have a knack for making everything they do unique and it's definitely worth checking out.

Some of the best spots to catch performances in Tokyo are:

  • Southeast exit at Shinjuku station
  • Yoyogi Park
  • Under the railway bridge at Shimokitazawa station
  • Ueno Park