- - Monday, July 25, 2011

TOKYO — Masa Hidaka, founder of Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, says he never gave a moment’s thought - “not even one second” - to canceling it this year after the March 11 disasters scared many, in and out of Japan.

“The people need it,” he says, referring to the event set to attract more than 100,000 fans to see Coldplay, Incubus, Wilco and other major artists in Japan this weekend.

Not that he lacked reasons to cancel.

First, there’s what Mr. Hidaka calls the “idiot, silly Japanese government.”

Second, Japan’s economy has been losing ground for 10 years to cheap labor in China and India, and has reached a bottom owing to the March 11 disasters, he says in an interview with The Washington Times at his Tokyo office.

Third, a graying population - only 1 in 10 people in Tokyo is under age 16 - means fewer young people to attend the outdoor music festivals that have exploded in Japan ever since Mr. Hidaka, 62, launched the Fuji Rock Festival during a typhoon in 1997.

But Mr. Hidaka was not to be deterred. Music fans in a recovering nation needed the festival - this year more than ever. “They need to spend the money, drink alcohol, have a good time and raise money for the disaster victims,” he says.

Mr. Hidaka is one of many resolute Japanese business leaders vowing to forge ahead with investment plans despite the disasters and what many view as a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Japanese automakers such as Toyota are promising to keep production and jobs close to home, even in the devastated Tohoku region of northeastern Japan.

Softbank President Masayoshi Son, perhaps Japan’s wealthiest man, has galvanized provincial leaders to set up a council on overhauling Japan’s energy sector and channeling massive funding into solar-power farms.

Despite record heat and growing public anxiety over radioactive particles in the food chain, most of Japan’s exuberant summer festivals are going ahead as planned.

The Rock in Japan festival, opening Aug. 5, has reportedly sold out tickets costing $146 per day to see Japanese artists perform in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki province, only 80 miles from the troubled Fukushima nuclear reactors.

The following weekend, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are scheduled to headline the two-day Summer Sonic music festival at the Makuhari convention center in suburban Tokyo, where the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami caused liquefaction of reclaimed land.

Even in radiation-hit Fukushima prefecture, resilient locals this past weekend staged the thousand-year-old Soma Wild Horse Chase, about 20 miles from the leaking nuclear reactors, to showcase prized horses and men dressed in traditional samurai armor.

Mr. Hidaka says staging festivals is important because it shows both Japanese people and the world that Japan will eventually overcome the current crisis, as it did after World War II.

“My attitude is that this is terrible, but this is the end,” he says, referring to a popular philosophy after the war. “Don’t feel so sad. If we don’t have the saddest experience, we never learn anything. People who have been victims will be stronger. I don’t want to say Japan is a great country, but things will be OK. A new time, a new Japan is coming.”

To help deliver supplies to disaster victims, Mr. Hidaka says he and a friend drove up to the 12-mile perimeter around the Fukushima nuclear reactors, until police turned them away. “I really wanted to go inside,” he says. Undaunted, they headed for a village near the Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi province.

Many employees of his promotion company, Smash, plus hundreds of volunteers who are used to carrying supplies and camping at Fuji Rock, used their logistical expertise to help survivors in Ishinomaki, he says.

Expecting many cancellations because of global fears about radiation in Japan, his staff spent three weeks calling agents and musicians overseas to tell them that Tokyo and other parts of Japan were OK. Only a couple of groups canceled, fewer than other years, says Smash director Johnnie Fingers, a keyboardist with Irish legends the Boomtown Rats.

Following up on Smash’s idea of staging a “Benefit for Nippon,” London music organizers arranged for Liam Gallagher, vocalist of Oasis and his new band Beady Eye, to lead a fundraiser in London.

This year’s Fuji Rock Festival, spread over seven stages in a mountain valley known for its rain, mud and fresh air in Niigata province, a three-hour drive from Tokyo, will also spearhead efforts to raise awareness about tsunami survivors, nuclear issues and renewable energy, Mr. Hidaka says.

Though disaster recovery will take at least five years, he says his company is in it for the long haul. “My philosophy is that when we start something, we don’t stop until they say they have enough already,” he says.