Asia News: Rock In Japan Cancels; Las Vegas Sands Gives Up Japanese License Pursuit
Rock In Japan Cancels Despite Reduced Length
Japan’s biggest music magazine, Rockin’ On, canceled the 2020 version of Rock In Japan, the country’s biggest annual pop music festival, on May 15 due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Normally, the festival is held over two or three consecutive weekends in August in the coastal city of Hitachinaka in Ibaraki Prefecture, about 90 minutes north of Tokyo by train. When the festival was originally announced in April, however, organizers, in anticipation of the coming lockdown, reduced the time period to one weekend – August 8-10.
In its public statement, Rockin’ On said they decided that, even within this more limited timeframe, “holding the event this year [would] be difficult,” citing several reasons, including “taking specific preventative measures against infection for performing artists and staff members” and “problems arising from festival-goers from outside Ibaraki Prefecture attending by train, tour bus and other transportation methods.” The venue for the festival, Hitachi Seaside Park, has also been subject to closure in recent months.
Originally, Rockin’ On assumed that the state of emergency announced in April would be lifted in early summer, and for the most part that seems to be an accurate prediction. “The three-day period after these troubling, unusual times was supposed to be a celebration, bursting with positive energy to help us return to ordinary life,” said the statement. “It is with great disappointment and regret that we were unable to realize that wish.”
Rock in Japan has been held every year since its inaugural event in 2000, though that year it was cancelled mid-festival due to a typhoon. The 2020 edition is the first time it has been cancelled beforehand. Last year’s five-day event was attended by 340,000 people.
The cancellation thus puts other Japanese summer festivals that are still selling tickets on the spot, since Rock In Japan is a completely Japanese event, meaning all the acts are domestic artists. Fuji Rock, which is scheduled to take place this year at the end of August, is still on but there have been no additions to the lineup since early April.
The same goes for Super Sonic, this year’s replacement for Summer Sonic, scheduled for mid-September rather than mid-August. Both festivals feature many foreign acts, which could mean problems. Almost every foreign act that was scheduled to come to Japan this summer for regular concerts has already cancelled.
Las Vegas Sands Gives Up Japanese License Bid
According to Bloomberg, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the world’s largest casino company, will no longer pursue a license to operate an integrated resort in Japan. The company had been hoping to expand its empire to Japan since 2005, but apparently roadblocks erected through Japan’s legislative process became too much for the company’s management and they decided to drop their bid.
The end of the Sands’ offer is seen as a big setback for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has a policy to boost Japan’s flagging economy through tourism and legalized casinos in order to attract more gambling aficionados, mainly from the rest of Asia. In surveys, the Japanese public has mostly objected to the plan, and following the passage of a bill in 2016 that legalized casino gambling as part of an integrated resort plan the government has been putting together a plan that takes into account locals’ objections. They have also been entertaining bids from various local governments in order to select which ones would host IRs, which would be limited to three at first.
The Sands’ biggest problem with the government’s plan is that a concession would only be good for ten years and under terms that could change at any time, thus potentially eating into profits. In Macau and Singapore, the Sands have licenses that last from 20 to 30 years.
It is probably no coincidence that the Sands’ announcement comes while Japan is under a partial state-of-emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has plunged the country into its biggest recession in years. Tourism has basically ground to a standstill.
Given its relative wealth, Japan has always been considered a prize for the gaming industry, which estimated the market to be worth more than $20 billion a year. However, interested foreign partners have become disenchanted with the Japanese authorities’ indecision and foot-dragging over the years to pass legislation and set up regulations. Caesars Entertainment Corp. gave up its bid last year and Malaysian tourism company Genting Bhd and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. halted its promotional activities as well.
Originally, Sands owner Sheldon Adelson said he would be willing to spend $10 billion on a resort in the Tokyo area, but since it would take five years to build one, a ten-year concession seems impractical at best. Moreover, prior to the crisis, land prices and labor expenses in the capital region were very high, and the government’s decision to tax gambling revenue at 30 percent acted as a further disincentive.
Bloomberg says the Sands worked behind the scenes to lobby for better terms, and now that they realize that won’t happen they have closed their office in Japan.
Japanese Clubs Continue To Navigate Shutdown
As Japan slowly lifts its state of emergency for most prefectures outside those that contain major cities, the country’s once-vibrant club scene is reckoning with its future. Though the government has been subsidizing small businesses affected by the crisis with grants, the payouts have been very slow in coming. Consequently, a number of clubs have already gone out of business, since they were still required to pay rent while earning zero revenue. A few more well-known venues have managed to stay afloat through crowdfunding projects and other schemes.
According to Resident Advisor, Sound Space, one of the largest clubs in Fukuoka, the biggest city on the southern island of Kyushu, is aiming to raise the equivalent of $10,000 over the next month so that the business can reopen in June.
Club Metro, one of the most popular small live venues in Kyoto in central Japan, closed on April 1 when it was supposed to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Luckily, the club has already raised close to $40,000 in donations.
The Japan Nighttime Economy Association recently said it would provide consultation services to help live music venues apply to the government for support. Some political parties have also proposed rent relief for small businesses in trouble.
In any event, one DJ told Resident Advisor that the general mood is negative, since people in the industry see governments in other countries lending the music business more viable support. Freelancers in Japan, including musicians, are entitled to a one-time payout of about $10,000, which is considered pretty good, though, again, many will probably not see that money until the end of June.
The concern is that after the SOE is lifted completely in Tokyo and Osaka, where most of the action is, even if people are free to go clubbing again, there is fear that they won’t.