I was looking at Reol’s tour dates when I found a surprising entry: the Arabaki Rock Festival, end of April. It was surprising because fests like that are usually in the middle of summer (see Summer Sonic or Rock in Japan) and this one, well, definitely isn’t. At first I wasn’t all that interested, since it’s held near Sendai which is quite a distance from Tokyo to go for a Reol show, but then I looked at the lineup and changed my mind.

Asian Kung-Fu Generation. In the early days after I’d come to Japan I tried to get tickets for any of their dates without success. Usually it was either prohibitively expensive and/or a lottery. Then gradually I lost interest, but “seeing Ajikan live” was still on my bucket list. The show was great: while they didn’t play my personal favorite (Flashback), it was still a fantastic setlist.

Other artists I went to see were Flow, 9mm, Hormone, SkaPara, Ellegarden, YabaT, Pillows, Low-atus, 10-FEET, Band-Maid, Reol, Back-Horn and Creepy Nuts.

Flow of course made the crowd sing both “fighting dreamer” and “jibun wooo” (quite an intense start to the event). 9mm were a letdown because their amplification was so bad the sound just degenerated into unenjoyable noise. That made me worry other artists on the main stage will be like that too, but luckily Hormone already had way better sound. And a terrifyingly huge crowd. And an amazing show.

It’s been a while since I last saw Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra Live, but they didn’t let me down. Ellegarden was of course good too. I had no idea about their history with going on a hiatus, the frontman forming The Hiatus then the Low-atus… Naturally with all that going on, they had a huge crowd too. YabaT were doing their hilarious fun-rock party, so I dropped by in the time I had before Pillows. I don’t know any YabaT songs, but it’s easy-going and easy to party to music. (And it felt like I was the oldest person in the crowd.)

The Pillows played Hybrid Rainbow and that makes or breaks a show for me. Last time I saw them live was in 2010 at Summer Sonic, so it was funny to see how much they’ve aged (definitely not me though, not a year). The day ended with an acoustic campers-only Low-atus, which is Hosomi from Ellegarden and Toshi-low from Brahman just having fun on stage with acoustic guitars and a few bottles of wine.

There was an important keyword: campers-only. With Arabaki I finally got to go to a festival where you can camp on the grounds the first time in Japan and the first time since Sziget in 2008… I’ve been (passively) on the lookout for a festival like that in Japan, but only Fuji Rock crossed my line of sight and that’s super expensive (usually) and the lineup not really interesting for me (usually). So I was really happy that Arabaki had camping tickets too, and even more happy when I found out that they were still on sale when I looked (instead of sold out in minutes). I brought my lightest gear and had fun. The weather forecast was a bit sus, but luckily it only rained a light drizzle in the middle of the night, nothing to ruin the fun.

I started the second day with 10-FEET. I only knew that they’re a pretty famous “melodic hardcore” (the Japanese phrase for what was called skatepunk) band, but nothing more really (no songs), so I was really surprised when even though they were the opening act on the main stage, they had a gargantuan crowd possibly even bigger than Hormone had. The crowd loved them too, singing along and all.

I left early because I had an appointment with Band-Maid performing at another stage. I’ve seen them earlier this year at Knotfest, but I think they possibly put on a bigger show for Arabaki than the did for Makuhari. I’m in love with the insane skills of the bassist (especially the way she can seamlessly switch between playing with a pick and slapping).

They were followed by Reol. Her show was very different from her solo events, but the music is the same and that’s what matters. She even performed a song that wasn’t even released at that point. After Reol I had a gap in my schedule, so I went back to my tent for lunch and a nap after listening to a few songs by Rottengraffty. Makaroni Enpitsu were playing on the nearby stage so you could say I had lunch listening to their performance, but it didn’t really leave a mark on me.

As for Bish, I had to leave early to make it to Ajikan’s stage (walking to the other end of the festival grounds took like 30 minutes), but what I saw was really nice. Apparently they’re breaking up and this was their last Arabaki, so they pulled off a big event. They had both stars of the Low-atus join them on stage. It was quite a surreal experience seeing Toshilow follow their choreography perfectly.

The last two shows of the festival for me were The Back Horn and Creepy Nuts. I’ve known Back Horn since university, as they were really popular with the music club members so there was usually a Back Horn cover band at our events. I’m not a huge fan of their music but they do make a good show. Last up the Creepy Nuts I found watching Yofukashi no Uta. Turns out the whole manga/anime was inspired by a Creepy Nuts song (of the same title) and they in turn made the music for the anime too. Though I’m not a native of their hip-hop genre, they made a fantastic party to finish the festival.

Getting there to Arabaki was a bit of an exciting endeavor. I tried to find various ways to get there, but I kept running into the scary “sold out” label everywhere. I even considered driving, but then the parking lots were sold out too (though arriving at the venue there were a lot of non-official private parking lots nearby). Luckily I managed to book a ticket for an official overnight bus from Tokyo straight to the event. I was intimidated by the huge queue to get in when I arrived (the photo above), but overall it was surprisingly not too crowded (except for a few very narrow pathways that kept congesting really bad). On the way back I took the shuttle bus to Sendai and an overnight bus to Tokyo from there.