Japan loves music festivals. Across the country, there are music festivals big and small happening every week. The most famous of these are the summer super festivals like Fuji Rock, Summer Sonic, and Rock in Japan. They features huge domestic names in musics—the kind of bands, singers, and idols that show up on TV, get radio playtime, do theme song and commercial tie-ins—as well as international heavy hitters like Radiohead, who headlined Summer Sonic 2016. They’re held outdoors in huge parks with outdoor stages and camping or semi-indoors in sprawling convention centers and arenas. Probably the largest number of the most famous festivals take place in summer, like all three I listed above, so they take place under the beating sun and oppressive humidity. But there are other events running yearlong, and many of these feature indie bands as well. Indie festivals usually take place in the heart of the city and are generally what are referred to as “circuit events,” where a number of indoor venues have bands playing throughout the day and you can move freely between them. One of the biggest of these, and my personal favorite, is Minami Wheel.
Minami Wheel is held in the Shinsaibashi area in Osaka every year over for three days over the three-day-weekend of Sports Day in October, just the weekend before last. It’s known as “Minaho” for short. This year featured 150 bands and 20 venues, mostly fitting a few hundred people and topping out at Big Cat which fits 800. The bands are mostly indie bands and new or less famous major label groups. Most of the venues are clustered in the middle area around Big Cat and Sankaku Koen (“Triangle Park,” a tiny, triangular concrete park), with additional spots spread out to the east and west. The selection of bands is great year to year and the event seems to run very smoothly. Even though tickets sell out every year, the organizers have refrained from overselling; each time slot may have several full venues, but you generally can get in as long as you get to the venue ~10 minutes before the band starts playing. This lets you see bands in all the time slots instead of wasting time queuing up beforehand.
Besides Minami Wheel being a great way to experience your favorite bands and try out some new acts, my favorite element is the sense of a thriving music community. The park is full of festival goers hanging out and taking breaks between sets. The sidewalk in front of the massive shopping complex that houses Big Cat is a like a gauntlet, lined on both sides by band members (some who may not even be playing at Minaho!) handing out flyers and demo CDs, each one clamoring for the attention of the festival attendees to convince them to come to their show, check out their music, or even just follow them on twitter. There’s also great creativity that goes into these efforts: the more you stand out, the better. You’ll find strange costumes, cut-outs for taking pictures, giant banners, and more.
PANIC in the BOX hand out fliers while dressed as…boxes? Photo from PitB’s twitter.
Kaori, frontwoman of the band Milkyway, advertises her show taking place the third day of Minaho. She’s dressed as a miko here and was a nurse the first day. For no particular reason as far as I can tell. I remember she dressed as Alice from Alice in Wonderland in 2015. Photo from Kaori’s twitter.
Band aomidoro shows off posters for their show to an official photographer.
Festivals-goers as shot by a Minami Wheel official photographer.