Nango holds annual jazz festival
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The villagers from Nango and surrounding prefectures celebrate annual open-air jazz concert in Tohoku, Japan, in 2002. This year, the 18th annual event is happening July 21, and will feature some of the best jazz groups from Japan and United States. (Courtesy photo)
Nango holds summer jazz festival

by Simon Bernard
Aomori Prefecture liaison

7/11/2007 - TOHOKU, Japan --  -- The little sleepy village of Nango, located just south of Hachinohe, comes alive every July putting on the largest open-air jazz concert in Tohoku, Japan.

The villagers are celebrating the 18th annual festival July 21, bringing in some of the best jazz groups from Japan and United States.

Small beginnings: It all started back in 1989 by the Nango mayor who was a great jazz fan. Inviting local groups from Aomori prefecture to do an indoor show, they realized from the response of the fans they needed to expand. From 1990 on, they started having the shows outside and even built an outdoor amphitheater to hold the festival with Mother Nature surrounding the event.

Now thousands of jazz aficionados come to Nango from all over Aomori, Iwate, and Akita prefectures and beyond to dig on the sounds of jazz. The show starts from the mid-afternoon and continues with the cool sounds into the late evening under the twinkling stars.

Who's coming? This year's lineup should really appeal to jazz lovers of all ages. Starting at 2 p.m., the Grace Mahya Quartet (vocal, guitar, piano, bass, and drums) from Tokyo warms things up. Grace, who studied piano in the United States has already cut three albums and has played worldwide.

Next, The New Orleans Revival Jazz Band and Banu Gibson (clarinet, banjo, stand-up bass, trombone, trumpet, piano, drums and vocal) takes stage. Banu Gibson, an American award-wining musician, had her Japan d├ębut in 1996 in Nango as a guest singer with The World's Greatest Jazz Band. This is Dixieland and American Jazz at its finest.

The magical piano of Miki Akiyama follows. Miki, a local girl from Hiranai Town in Aomori has a hit album called Love In Nango. If this doesn't whet your appetite, stick around for Ichizou Hanada from just under Mount Iwaki near Hirosaki. He will entice you with his ability to infuse jazz with his Japanese instruments, the Tsugaru shamisen and shakuhachi.

After a 40-minute intermission, the Dusco Goykovich Quartet with Tomonao Hara start the ball rolling again. This international group of American, European and Japanese jazz musicians includes two trumpets with bass, drums and piano. Then look out Aomori, highlighting the festival, the Toshio Osumi Quintet (tenor sax, alto sax, piano, bass and drums) featuring Ryudo Uzaki (guitar and vocals) and the beautiful Takako Afuso (vocals) will take you deep into the night. These award-winning musicians will have jazz music lovers from all over Japan flocking to Nango with excitement. Although the show is scheduled to end at 10:30 p.m., shouts of encore will keep it going even longer.

Easy directions: It takes less than one half an hour to get to Nango from Misawa Air Base. Go out the Falcon (POL) gate and start counting traffic lights. Turn left at the 13th light to get on the Dai Ni (No.2) Michinoku Expressway. At the first toll booth, pay 250 yen and get an expressway ticket. Continue straight, going past the Shimoda Mall and then the Hachinohe Kita interchanges, the expressway will merge with the Hachinohe Expressway as if you were going toward Tokyo. Get off at the next exit, Nango interchange, pay the toll. Go to the stop sign and turn right. Go about 1.5 kilometers and the venue will be on the right next to the Kakko-no-Mori rest stop. Traffic control will guide you to a parking area.

The concert takes place regardless of weather. Umbrellas should not be brought in unless you plan on sitting all the way in the back so you do not disturb the view of the people in front of you.

Buy your tickets in advance and save money: Tickets are 4,500 yen in advance or 5,500 yen at the gate on the day of the festival, for adults. For senior and junior high school students, age 13 to 18-years old, tickets are 2,500 or 3,500 yen at the gate. There is free admission children 12 and under. Advance tickets can be bought at Misawa ITT on base. Student tickets are limited so buy early. Gates opens at 1 p.m.

This year again, Misawa ITT with have a bus that will leave at 11 a.m. from the base library and take you to the festival and back. This bus fills up fast so reserve your seats early. Call 226-3555 for more information.

Tips from a veteran: There are no bad seats but if you want seats close-up, go very early and get in line with a cooler. Small camp chairs are OK but lawn and reclining chairs can not be bought in. There are a lot of stalls selling all kinds of food and drinks. There are also grassy knolls behind the semi-circle of seats where you can lay a blanket down and watch the show.

Camping and barbecuing rules: There are very limited tent spaces available to camp just outside the gate of the festival site near the field and track area. You will have to arrive early Saturday morning if you want to get one. The tent sites are free, but you must sign in first. Tents and tarps are not allowed in the festival site. Barbecuing is only allowed around your tent if you are a signed in camper. You can not barbecue inside the festival site or make campfires anywhere.