The first regional Burn I ever went to was Dragon Burn, which I ended up having a hand in running. After getting sucked into Burn culture I wanted to see what other regionals were like and, being in Asia, we ended up going to Burning Japan.
This was my first time at another regional, so I was excited to see how different things would be, and if we could learn anything. It wasn’t my first time in Japan, though. I had spent a week in Japan the year prior, doing the typical tourist trip. I travelled by train and got to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
This time the travel would be different. Burning Japan was being held in a seemingly random field somewhere north of Tokyo. Getting a train there wasn’t really feasible, so we arranged for a car to drive us to the site.
We spent our first night in Tokyo, gathering what supplies we could for the adventure ahead. The next day the driver picked us up, and drove us out of the city. I generally don’t like to travel by car, but seeing the Japanese countryside this way was very different to watching it speed past you on a train.
We spent the whole day in that car, stopping only for toilet breaks, and to top up our beer supply. We arrived at the site in the dead of night. We were there a day early, so only the organisers and build volunteers were present. After pitching our tents, we joined them by the barrel fire and started getting to know our hosts.
The next morning we were able to take in the whole site. It was on the side of a hill, and several large tents were dotted around. These were the focal points of the theme camps here, each one bringing something different to the Burn. One focused on being a bar, another on bringing music, another creating a space for people to make their own music.
I was surprised to see theme camps here. Dragon Burn didn’t have theme camps at the time, and I’d always believed it was because we were too small for theme camps. But this Burn was smaller, with less than 200 participants, and it still had theme camps. In 2017 Dragon Burn would embrace theme camps, and we realised that they are fundamental in making a Burn work.
The effigy designed for this year was a model of a phoenix. I was told that in Japanese mythology, the Phoenix represents wealth and money. The idea behind the effigy was that by burning that wealth it would represent decommodification, one of the Ten Principles behind every Burn.
Over the course of the day the site would fill up as participants arrived. It wasn’t long before most of the grass was hidden by the temporary homes of Burners.
It was already wet as things started to kick off. But then it started to rain again. And the rain refused to let up. It wasn’t long before we were all huddled together under a gazebo, avoiding the puddles of mud that now filled the site.
It so happened we were trapped under the gazebo with a shibari master. The Italian friends I had travelled here with were interesting in learning more about the Japanese art of rope tying, so I ended up being volunteered for a-tying. It was interesting to experience, being restrained without being hurt.
We also played with henna tattoos, something that is pretty typical for festivals and Burns these days. Only my friend was fairly inebriated when he tried to do mine, so I ended up with something that looked vaguely like the butterfly I requested.
After this day the rain stopped bothering us and we were able to experience the Burn unhindered. The bar served crazy spirits designed to knock you out. There was a large tent that also acted like a sauna. I found the jamming tent and got to show off both my harmonica and beat boxing skills (both are average at best, but it still impresses a hippie drum circle).
At the top of the hill we had DJs playing live music sets, where we could dance until we were too tired to stay awake. For the morning Francesca, another Dragon Burn organiser, had set up her serendipitea where she shared various Chinese teas with participants.
Unfortunately, if I took any pictures of the effigy or the Burn, they are lost to time. Needless to say, this Burn blew my mind. I was amazed to see how much they had brought even though they were a smaller Burn than ours. Our experience here had an influence on how Dragon Burn ran going forward.
We had talked about bringing theme camps to Dragon Burn that year, and I’d had my doubts that it could work. After seeing this I didn’t need convincing anymore. And that changed Dragon Burn into what it had always meant to be, allowing participants to actually bring what they wanted to the Burn.
I would return to Burning Japan again the next year, with the author of Once Upon a Time in the Dust. I haven’t been since then, but I love this Burn so much that I want to go back. I’ve missed a couple of them now, but as they always say, it was better next year.