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Rock in Japan Festival canceled for 2nd year in row over pandemic

This photo taken at the Ibaraki Prefectural Government's office on July 7, 2021 shows the written request regarding the Rock in Japan Festival submitted by the Ibaraki Medical Association and other organizations. (Mainichi/Kotone Nirasawa)

MITO -- The Rock in Japan Festival, one of the largest outdoor music events in the country, will be canceled for the second year running because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced on July 7.

    The festival had been scheduled to run for five days in August in the east Japan city of Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture. The announcement came less than a month before it was set to kick off.

    "We have judged that we cannot respond sufficiently (to the requests made by local doctors' associations and other experts)," organizers with festival host Ibaraki Broadcast System explained, after they received a written request on July 2 from the Ibaraki Medical Association and other organizations. Some medical workers in the prefecture said that it could not be helped as infections are not under control.

    The written request, addressed to the broadcaster, said, "We cannot help but have a sense of crisis about the event going ahead," pointing out that not everyone wanting a vaccination has been vaccinated and that coronavirus variant cases are rising. It asked the organizers to consider canceling or postponing the festival depending on the infection situation, and to further restrict entry and take thorough measures to prevent transmission, if the event were to go ahead, including controlling the audience's behavior outside the venue.

    However, the number of audience members had already been reduced to less than half that of a normal year. About 20,000 tickets per festival day have already been sold, and many more fans had missed out on the chance to buy one in the ticket lottery, so organizers judged it would be impossible to further restrict entry. They also judged that it would be difficult to control people's behavior outside the festival grounds, and decided to cancel the event.

    Festival producer Yoichi Shibuya, who is also the president of the Rockin'on Group and a music critic, commented on the official Rock in Japan website, "We are bitterly disappointed, but the risk of delaying the decision is too large as expenses grow by tens of millions of yen daily. As cooperation and understanding from the local community and medical workers are essential for the festival, we had no choice but to cancel it if we could not respond adequately to the (written) request."

    Meanwhile, an official from the Ibaraki Medical Association expressed broad concern about summer festivals, during which multiple people are taken to local hospitals with heatstroke every year. Apparently, some local hospitals had expressed concerns that medical workers would not be able to tell whether a patient was suffering from COVID-19 symptoms or heatstroke until test results came back. The representative also pointed out that, amid a sluggish pace of vaccinations among younger generations, "the possibility of explosive infection clusters cannot be ruled out," because people from across Japan, primarily from the greater Tokyo area, would gather in one place.

    "I understand the feelings of organizers, but medical resources in Ibaraki Prefecture can't be called sufficient," said the representative. "I think we made a completely justifiable request."

    The medical association has apparently received phone calls protesting the request, affecting its operations.

    Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa commented, "It is most regrettable that the event has been canceled for two years in a row. It must have been a difficult decision, but it could not be helped." Hitachinaka Mayor Akira Otani said, "It's unfortunate, but I respect their decision."

    As one of the largest music festivals in the country, the Rock in Japan Festival attracted a record 330,000 fans over its five days in 2019. Popular artists including King Gnu, Hiroji Miyamoto, Aimyon, YOASOBI and LiSA had been booked for the 2021 edition.

    (Japanese original by Kotone Nirasawa, Mito Bureau)

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