Hosted annually at Tokyo Big Sight, the Design Festa Autumn Edition is a no-holds-barred artistic free for all, in which an eclectic mix of creative types battle to wow the crowds. It’s a great opportunity to meet artists, appreciate their work and, if you’re so inclined, support them directly by purchasing their wares.
The Design Festa events started in 1994 as a small collection of artists hoping to showcase their diverse talents. Fast forward to today and the show has grown into Asia’s largest original art festival, with up to 36,000 artists in attendance each year. This year marks Design Festa’s 25th anniversary. And with 4,500 booths, it’ll be the biggest event yet. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, you’re looking for a unique souvenir of Japan or you just want to stare at some crazy stuff, the Design Festa has something for you.
Harajuku Art Village
The show is related to the Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku, which acts as a space for artists from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines to show off their talents. The self-styled “Art Village” is open from 11 am to 8 pm every day. What’s more, it’s free to enter. There’s also a stylish cafe and bar, offering surprisingly affordable cocktails, imported beers, shakes and food. These all start at around ¥500. The Gallery is open from 11 am to 8 pm, while the cafe and bar are open from 11 am to 11 pm
Finding your bearings
The Festa is divided neatly into zones for ease of reference. The first thing you’re going to want to do is grab a map—the hall is absolutely huge. Once you’ve absorbed the map and figured out where you are, you’re going to want to pretty much forget about it. While the designated areas are a great guide, and can help you if you get turned around, there’s a real mix of stuff in every area. So it’s well worth looking around even if you don’t think you’re interested in the main theme.
Live painting and illustration
For many, the main attraction is the live painting element. Here, hundreds of artists throw their creations onto canvas over the course of the festival in real time. If this is your jam, you might want to consider coming early on the second day of the festival. That way, the paintings are underway enough that you can admire them and see where they’re going, while still getting to see the artists at work.
The main stage is a constant barrage of culture and performance. So be sure to check the main program for the schedule for anything you don’t want to miss. Here you’ll see bands and musicians of all stripes, as well as fashion shows, acrobatics, interpretive dancing, sword dancing, ballet dancing, belly dancing and regular ol’ dancing.
The low-light area is a loosely marked corner of the venue in which the main hall lights are switched off. While there’s still plenty of light to see from all the exhibition booths, the darkness is a bonus for some art. Specifically, it gives florescent pieces, lamp and light-based art a little extra room to pop. It’s one of the more atmospheric parts of the Festa, so it’s well worth making a beeline for if you don’t have time to see everything.
For as little as ¥500, take home your own craft masterpiece. The workshops range from puppets and keychains to pottery, or sculpting one of Japan’s famously realistic fake-food models. Depending on your choice of activity you’ll want to set aside anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to bring your creation to life. As with everything in Japan, the level of English for each course will probably vary. Consider sticking to the simpler classes if you’re not feeling too confident in your Japanese.
Fashion and accessories
You’re sure to see some pretty outrageous looks—both for sale and on your fellow visitors. Thanks to the huge numbers of indie designers and producers, the event sees a big turnout from the fringes of fashion—especially from cosplayers, as well as steampunk, lolita and decora fashion enthusiasts. If you can wear it it’s probably there. From clothing and accessories to props, shoes, masks, replica weapons and costumes. Planning to cosplay yourself? it’s worth noting though that no copyrighted characters are allowed. So original designs only, please!
More or less every kind of craft is represented, and you’ll find unique and unusual vendors all over. Expect to see ceramics, photography, cinema, books, interior design, figures and dolls, metalwork and all kinds of other cool stuff packed into every nook and cranny.
It’s not a festival without food! There’s plenty of choice, provided by a fleet of food trucks from around Tokyo. The Vol. 50 line-up includes curries, pizza, burgers, fried chicken, Chinese food, kebabs, salads and plenty of Japanese favorites. Most of the trucks also serve soft drinks and cold beers to go. And everything is surprisingly reasonably priced given the captive audience. Most food options clock in under ¥1,000
Prices and tickets
Advance tickets for one day are a bargain at only ¥800, or ¥1,000 on the door. One day should be enough to see everything (except some of the shows on the main stage). But if you’re really feeling it, signing up for both days will save you the princely sum of ¥100. Currently, tickets are available online and in 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart convenience stores.
Here is an overview of the most essential ticket and event info:
Design Festa vol.50
Date & Time: Sat. Nov. 16th-Sun. 17th, 2019
11:00am to 7:00pm
Place: Tokyo Big Sight West Exhibition Hall + South Exhibition Hall 1-2
3-11-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Tickets: ¥1,000 per day (Advance tickets ¥800)・2days pass ¥1,800 (Advance tickets ¥1,500)
The event is housed in Tokyo Big Sight, one of Japan’s biggest exhibition spaces.
By far your easiest transport option will be by train. The Rinkai Line from Osaki into Kokusai Tenjijo takes roughly 15 minutes, and costs ¥330. That makes it (depending on your starting location) the fastest and cheapest choice.
The Yurakamome Line from Shinbashi (sometimes spelled Shimbashi) to Tokyo Big Sight Station takes slightly longer at 22 minutes. The ride costs ¥380. The main benefit of this route is the panoramic view of Tokyo Bay as you make your way over the Rainbow Bridge.
Big Sight is well signposted from both stations. But it’s a wild looking building, so you’re going to know pretty quickly if you’re moving in the right direction. Once you’re there, just look for the West and South Exhibition Halls.