The Face that Makes Fuji Rock

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2003

Masahiro Hidaka, the man who sold Japan on good music and good times.

by Michael Lara

AMID A LINGERING RECESSION and a weary business climate in Japan, it's especially reassuring to see someone resting at ease within a volatile industry. This is my immediate impression of Masahiro Hidaka, the president and founder of the Smash Corporation. With his casual yet direct professional demeanor alongside longtime friend and employee Johnnie Fingers in Smash's Tokyo offices, Hidaka has plenty of reasons to smile. His corporation, which he founded and established with Tomoaki Ishitobi in the 80s, is the quintessential example of the kind of success that can be achieved by a business born of grassroots passion -- and cultivated with care.

More than just a music festival,
Fuji Rock is a true coming together of
art forms, foods, cultures and people

Largely because of Hidaka's unwavering commitment to keeping the focus squarely on the artists and their music, Smash has slowly but steadily grown regardless of the prevailing economic conditions. From its incarnation with only two employees to its present payroll of 30 spread through offices in both Japan and London, Smash seasonally mushrooms into the thousands for its massive Fuji Rock Festival, featuring legions of foreign and domestic musicians and always held during the last weekend of July.

More than just a music festival, Fuji Rock is a true coming together of a plethora of art forms, foods, cultures and people. It is a communal labor of love with an eclectic mix of dance, rock and hip-hop acts joining an ever growing list of other artists on its various stages occupying over 120,000 square meters. Drawing upon both longtime and emerging artists, acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primal Scream and Chemical Brothers, to name a few, have all found their way back to its stages -- adequate proof of a good thing. This year's edition has an impressive lineup that includes Underworld, Bjork, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, Iggy Pop and Audio Active as some of the headliners, while Fuji Rock newcomers The Coral, Evanescence, Tim Deluxe and others look to make their own mark as storied Fuji performers.

Launched in 1997 at Tenjinyama at the base of Mt. Fuji, Fuji Rock has become the clear leader and inspiration for all music and arts festivals within Japan. Though his debut production was battered by a devastating typhoon, Hidaka and his company regrouped and refocused. The festival was temporarily moved back to Tokyo for the 1998 production as Smash sought a more permanent home. As Fuji Rock expanded and its loyal following grew, Smash won the admiration of real estate and railway tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi and his Kokudo holding company. In doing so, Fuji Rock was able to procure its present home at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata, just a couple of hours north of Tokyo.

The festival business in Japan is now big, brisk and competitive. With generous but necessary spoils being taken from an average daily festival ticket price of around JPY14,500, the stakes are high. Rather like the Glastonbury festival in the UK, which this year attracted more than 100,000 music fans, the Fuji Rock organizers have realized that they are sitting on a gold mine. The appetite for outdoor celebrations of independent music is growing at almost the same pace that profits at the big recording studios are declining.

In the case of Fuji Rock, lodging choices are a matter of personal budget. While some select a hotel, most opt to spend JPY2,500 for a first-come, first-claimed campsite on the festival grounds. Customers provide the tents while showers, sinks, toilets and a designated barbecue area are at their disposal.

No matter how large the overhead may be for each Fuji festival, the continued growth and popularity of the festival in Japan makes it profitable.

Fuji Rock: The Lowdown
An Interview with Masahiro Hidaka, founder of Smash Corporation and the Fuji Rock Festival:

JI: So where did it all begin?

M: I started Smash 20 years ago, but before that I worked in a Japanese musician's management office, learning how to communicate with American management and the international music business. I didn't have a lot of ambition or direction. We would do a half year of work and then another half year of rest or traveling. Our company policy is that if you love this music, then you can do it. If not, then don't even try.

JI: We've heard that the festival itself was started after a trip to Glastonbury. Is that true?

M: I went to Glastonbury in 85 and 86 and really enjoyed myself. It's a huge festival, and it's not only about music. But it was too early then to do a festival in Japan.

No matter how large the overhead may be,
there has been no end in sight for the continued
growth and popularity of Fuji Rock

JI: What do you think of other festivals, like the Rock In Japan Festival?

M: We produced their first one. The president of [production company] Rockin' On is an old friend of mine. You know, when I started Fuji Rock, we decided that we must be able to stand alone without sponsorship, if necessary. Before Fuji Rock, Japan had jazz festivals, but it was always sponsor, sponsor, sponsor. When a sponsor quit, so did the festival. That's not healthy, and it's why Fuji Rock has to be self-supportive through ticket sales and merchandising. No "Levi's presents" or "Otsuka Foods presents."

JI: Why do you think Smash has been able to stay at the forefront in such a competitive business?

M: Very simply, we love music. The company isn't the important thing, the people are. We're going to find music we love and then work together with the musicians. Business isn't first for us. Sponsors and advertising agencies bring in huge money, but they also make demands.

JI: What do you foresee for Fuji Rock and other festivals in Japan?

M: I see small towns in the countryside making their own small festivals, because the music market itself is small. Right now it's like festival bubble time: Everyone is having a festival. But that won't last. @

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