Japan’s World Music and Dance Festival

Cultural Events, International Festivals0 comments

“Every August, for 30,000 people, Worlds Meet in Japan” By Prof. Ian Frank. It wasn’t planned this way. In 2003, I was living in the north of Japan and practicing drumming with a local group. They wanted to celebrate their fifth anniversary with a concert, and in front of my workplace is a huge lawn, so I  said “Let’s do it!” By gradually expanding from local to national to overseas groups, what started as an enjoyable day out for us and some friends has now turned into an annual five-day international event that passed 30,000 audience for the first time this year. We benefited from stumbling onto the gap in Japan’s events ecology: although the country is brimming with festivals, there were no others that focused on inviting groups from overseas. Because we weren’t really expecting this success, we have the rather unimaginative name of “World Music and Dance Festival”, with its abbreviation WMDF (see “Think big big big at the beginning” is just one of the lessons that we learned the hard way.  We did better this year when naming our new festival that we co-located with WMDF: the “Mogu Mogu” festival fills the park we are based in with stalls selling goods and gourmet from around the world (“mogu mogu” is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of eating).                   We survived the Tohoku earthquake unscathed in March, but learned the lesson that the mass media don’t make stories about people living life normally.  By still succeeding in August at gathering artists representing 11 countries, we were able to help the fightback against the 80% drop in tourist numbers by making a physical demonstration that the country is actually safe and open for business. My day job is teaching Computer Science, so WMDF opened many new opportunities for mixing interests. For instance, this year some of my students made an iPad app to get feedback from audience, artists and staff, and we set up live streaming online for the first time. The main WMDF theme of “Long Now, Big Here” also has a science provenance. With collaborators from the University of Geneva, we even created a speech recognition system ( that artists can use to learn basic Japanese suitable for festivals. (That project is being evaluated online right now, so if you have an Amazon Mechanical Turk account, you can get paid to learn Japanese!) WMDF helped me to realise that festivals deserve more attention from academics. Especially, festival environments are a great fit for the traditional research and development cycle: there is yearly downtime that can be used for processing results and developing new ideas, the festival space can be easily controlled, and a festival generates an uplifting feeling of goodwill, so that people are more often willing to cooperate. I wrote a paper called “Smart Festival” to try to highlight the untapped research potential offered by festivals and events. An online version is at the Journal of Knowledge, Technology and Society (, and there is also an embryonic web site for collecting ideas at  The aim is to promote understanding of the impacts and opportunities of festivals across six specific areas, including economy, environment, and social and human capital. One dream for the future is to interest enough people in these ideas to run a “Smart Festival Symposium”, maybe at the same time as WMDF. I’d love to get feedback from anyone interested in being part this kind of event. And, of course, WMDF welcomes approaches from artists interested in being part of the events we are drawing up for next year.  Hard to believe, but 2012 is already the fifth anniversary of our existence as an international festival… It wasn’t planned this way: but it might just be big.