When the DJ called out to concertgoers at a recent event near Tokyo, the response was more visible than audible -- along with some honking of car horns, a flicking of blinkers and hazard lights and flashing of penlights from behind car windows.

Welcome to the world of the "drive-in" concert, one of the ways that entertainment involving large crowds is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic.

Supplied photo shows fireworks set off in the finale of the two-day drive-in music festival in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 23, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Afro & Co.)(Kyodo)

The event late last month on the outskirts of the town of Nagara in Chiba Prefecture was organized by a party creator with a track record of pioneering avant-garde gatherings and was one of the biggest drive-in concerts yet held in Japan.

Riichiro Nakama, popularly known as Afromance, said he began thinking about the event as early as mid-March when the pandemic's impact on the arts and entertainment was beginning to be felt.

"I was hearing news every day of events being canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus, and I wanted to give artists and fans a venue for performance," said the CEO of Afro. & Co. Inc.

"Is everybody having fun!?" one of the DJs asked, pumping up the audience in the parking lot of Longwood Station, normally a film shooting location site and event venue.

The music blasted out from a pop-up stage, but a dedicated FM radio wave was also available to tune in to inside the car.

In an instant, the parking lot was transformed into a club music scene, replete with lights and special stage effects. Fireworks were set off on the finale of the two-day festival, where some 220 cars and about 550 participants came.

Supplied photo shows concertgoers watch a performance at a drive-in music festival in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 23, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Afro & Co.)(Kyodo)

"The idea (of this drive-in concert) is not to think that you have to put up with the fact that you're stuck in a car, but that it is fun precisely because you are in a car," said Afromance, 35.

The pioneer of events such as "bathtub cinema" where patrons watch movies on the big screen while soaking in private bathtubs and "Maguro House," which combines a tuna filleting show and house music, said he hopes above all that people will "enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary experience."

A music festival is "not simply to listen to music, but to go outside to get the feel of a live festival," he said.

Not everyone stayed in their cars all the time, but the space was defined by social distancing. A voice-over reminded the audience to wear masks when outside their cars, to use hazard lights rather than cheer and to make use of the messaging app LINE to check whether restrooms are crowded.

Before entering the concert grounds, organizers carried out temperature checks and guided people to their respective parking spaces. Drivers were asked to turn off their engines, and urged to keep their distance from other cars.

A drive-in music festival pictured in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 22, 2020. (Kyodo)

After the festival kicked off around 6 p.m., attendees got in and out of their cars, standing or dancing outside their vehicles in a designated space, apart from other cars.

"Usually, in music festivals, we are so close to each other, but here, there's distance and yet I can get the feel of a festival. It's a totally new experience of enjoying a festival," said Yuya Yanagita, a 40-year-old salesman.

Another participant, Osamu Sakai, 42, felt he had the best of both worlds. "I could get out of the car in the space permitted and move around, and when I was tired, I could just go back inside my car."

Participants are given a Spotify playlist beforehand, and to minimize contact with staff, food can be ordered via the LINE app. Staff on roller skates delivered from stalls serving light meals and drinks. At night, their roller skates brighten up, as if to blend with the colorful stage lights.

In an email interview afterward, Shinichi Osawa, a musician and DJ who is part of the Mondo Grosso project, described his performance as the "most physical" he has had since the coronavirus put a halt to many of his public performances and other events.

Echoing his sentiments was music producer and DJ Taku Takahashi of block.fm. Takahashi, who is also part of the well-known Japanese trio "m-flo," wrote in a separate interview, "I reaffirmed how great it is to perform -- in whatever form -- in front of an audience."

While challenges such as profitability loom, Afromance, who has shared his know-how beyond Tokyo in organizing such events, sees promising prospects for drive-in concerts and hopes to inspire others to follow suit.

"People are able to customize the way they enjoy a music festival like never before," he said. "I hope this could be a movement for people (in our industry) to be forward-looking."

Cast members acting as "ghosts" press against the car windows during a demonstration of a drive-in haunted house at a garage in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Aug. 18, 2020. (Kyodo)

Just as music festivals are a summer staple for Japan and elsewhere, so are spooky ghost themes. With virus and social distancing guidelines putting restraints on operations of traditional haunted houses, a Tokyo-based firm producing horror entertainment has thought of a creative spin: what it bills as the world's first drive-in haunted house.

"As you're in a car, there is no way out. This makes the whole setup all the scarier," said Daichi Ono, a staff member of Kowagarasetai, roughly meaning a "scare squad."

Ono explained that based on current social distancing guidelines, "ghosts" must wear masks and be more than 2 meters away from customers and that visitors cannot scream -- which to a large extent would seem to defeat the purpose of being scared in a haunted house.

Cast members acting as "ghosts" press against the car windows during a demonstration of a drive-in haunted house at a garage in Tokyo'sMinato Ward on Aug. 18, 2020. (Kyodo)

Since they have started offering the entertainment in July, 40-50 groups have come. The attraction costs 8,000 yen per car for those who bring their own vehicle and 9,000 yen for those who wish to borrow a four-seater vehicle.

Demand has been strong and many are on a waiting list. Ono said, "Many visitors have told us this is more terrifying."

Rather than feeling secure inside a car, people start finding the confined space oppressive, he said, separated from the "horrors" by only a window.

The location of the show -- in a secret dark "garage" in Tokyo's Minato Ward -- is revealed only when a reservation is confirmed.

Once the visitor stops the car and turns off the engine in eerie pitch-dark blackness, a voice begins to narrate a ghastly tale that happened inside a garage.

Terror is amplified by sounds of someone knocking on the car as well as a "ghost" or "zombie" suddenly appearing at the side window or in front of the windshield during the almost 20-minute show.

"As long as there's a car, we can do it anywhere. That's our strong point," Ono said.

Cast member cleans up a car covered with "fake" blood during a demonstration of a drive-in haunted house at a garage in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Aug. 18, 2020. (Kyodo)

The pandemic has also spurred a revival of drive-in theaters which were popular in Japan in the 1990s until they eventually phased out partly due to a rise in cinema complexes.

Do it Theater reopened drive-in theaters in 2014, several years ahead of the pandemic, but the virus had provided more momentum.

"With less entertainment since April, we wanted to provide a place where everyone can enjoy themselves and take a breather," said Daichi Ito, general manager of Do it Theater.

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