This is a legit question my friend Hazel and I agonized over once the decision to go to Japan’s annual music festival Summer Sonic was made. That was in 2015, and we picked Tokyo, and the following year headed on over to Osaka. Both were awesome trips, memorable weekends, stellar lineups ikidyounot, but we did come out of it with a solid winner. Read on and I hope our past summers will help you plan your future escapade.
History of the hottest summers. Summer Sonic is the younger of two popular music festivals in Japan, its older sibling being Fuji Rock. Unlike the more hardcore Fuji Rock which requires a bullet train, a trek and a camping site for a three-day affair up in the mountains and forests of Niigata, Summer Sonic is more city-human, music-fest-newbie friendly, being a two-day, strictly-weekend urban adventure. It happens simultaneously in Tokyo and Osaka, thus begs the question on where you want your plane to land.
What to see. The lineup is essentially the same. Tokyo site’s Saturday lineup will be Osaka’s Sunday lineup and vice versa. I say essentially though because there are some acts that will be performing in one site but not in the other. For example this year 2017, Osaka will be graced by Liam Gallagher but Tokyo will not be so lucky. For some, this is enough to swing the vote. If not, more variables below.
Where is the party and how to get there. Japan is commuter-friendly in that the train goes virtually everywhere. But since the country is not as compact as Singapore or even South Korea, the train network is absolutely bonkers. It’s a very, very organized sort of crazy—layers over layers of different colored train lines—but it is crazy nonetheless. Osaka’s subway route felt a bit less daunting than Tokyo’s, but maybe because we’ve survived and befriended Tokyo’s already? Anyway all I’m saying is for someone who comes from a country with like two train lines and an army of wayward buses, jeepneys, and tricycles, there is a learning curve to Japan’s trains, but one that can be climbed through research and aided by a portable wifi and ready access to Hyperdia.
Summer Sonic-wise, both venues are reachable by train, but to different extents.
Summer Sonic Tokyo is held in Makuhari Messe, Chiba. You hop off Kaihim-Makuhari station (ask your friend Hyperdia how to get there from your station!) and walk a bit, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, following the arrows held up by the official Summer Sonic people.
Summer Sonic Osaka, on the other hand, happens in Maishima Sonic Park. Take the train to Cosmosquare station, follow the signs and they will lead you to a wide expanse of dry rock and soil. This is where you line up to: 1. Buy your bus tickets (buy roundtrip for two days already if you’re watching for two days!) and to 2. Take the bus that will lead you to the site. The park is on an island of sorts, thus the bus ride to cross the bridge over water, something to add to your transportation time computation. Hop off and follow the crowd and the arrows for about 10 more minutes of walking.
Stages. On your first day, make sure you lineup to exchange your tickets for your wristbands/lanyards once you hit the site. This could get tricky if you don’t speak/read Japanese, so it might be wise to ask because both are sprawling venues. Less mistakes, more energy for moshing. The wristbands come with your free map and your first true realization of just how far the stages are from each other.
Tip: Come early on your first day (doors usually swing open 9 am for Tokyo and 10 am for Osaka, with music starting at 11 am). Your map comes with schedules of the acts, and they run on Japanese time, meaning they are pretty on point. The sets overlap, giving you time to catch the first half of one set before racing across the venue to watch the latter half of another. Plan accordingly. Some sacrifices must be offered, some hard choices must be made. You’ll understand once you’re there. That’s half the fun anyway 😀
Summer Sonic Tokyo—at least in 2015—has eight stages. Once you reach the site, the way forks in two—one is a shorter walk towards Makuhari Messe and the other, maybe 15 more minutes of walking, to QVC Marine Field. The beauty of the nearer Makuhari Messe site is that the three stages here are indoor stages, all housed within one building, so racing in the middle of one set to catch the last hour of another is not a big problem. The building is air conditioned too, which is a blessing against the mean Tokyo sun, I assure you. The remaining five stages though are outdoors. From Makuhari Messe, you can walk the 15-ish minutes or line up for the free shuttle bus to get there.
The line goes quite fast, and the bus ride cuts travel time down to 5 minutes and helps save your energy. QVC Marine Field, from the name, is a field, and an open one, so it’s a bigger, sprawling space compared to Messe. We didn’t get to visit all the stages; the space is that humongous and we’re only humans. But you can’t miss this section of the site because the main stage is here, where most of the bigger names hold their parties.
Summer Sonic Osaka—at least in 2016—has 4 stages. It’s a short walk to the ticket booth from where the bus drops the load of you off, and from there it will be a bit more of walking. The park is a wide, wide plain, hilly and rocky and dusty, much unlike the mostly cement floor of the Tokyo site. There are no indoor stages here. All stages are soaking under the sun and summer stars. The main stage requires a walk along the water or a shortcut through the trees, and that was fun, but we felt like this was the farthest stage from all the rest. It was a real hike to get to Radiohead, I tell you. On average each stage is apart by about 10 to 15 minutes of stomping on pebbles and hard soil.
Food and other comforts. It would be hard to go hungry in either site, with provisions for food scattered everywhere. Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe has an ice cream vendo machine and an indoor food court of sorts and those maketh a winner. But essentially, both sites are stocked up, with little islands of food and drink stalls all lined up. Just make sure to note where these are and eat and drink (HYDRATE! DRINK YOUR POCARI SWEAT) as soon as the need arises.
Speaking of need, toilets are also everywhere, but do also note them on your maps. Portalets are not a scarring experience, as this is still Japan and cleanliness is very important. But the lines could get long, and it might be a good strategy to head on to the bathroom in the middle of a song.
The verdict. Our vote was swung by shorter travel time from city to site, and shorter walks on paved floors and shorter distance between stages, and the blessed reprieve of indoor stages. Summer Sonic Tokyo is certain to get my repeat attendance, if only because I felt the space was more time and energy-efficient. Doesn’t mean the Osaka site will never see me again. If for example, by some strange cosmic reason, the Arctic Monkeys are playing Summer Sonic Osaka and Osaka alone, well back to the hilly island soil I go, no question about it.
Going to Summer Sonic? I’m missing it this year but I’d love to hear about your plans in the comments 🙂