Twice a year Asia’s biggest art event opens its door to a different and colourful world where people of all ages can exhibit and celebrate art and handcrafts regardless nationality, talents or style. The Tokyo Design Festa is held for a weekend each year in May and in November at the massive Tokyo Big Sight exhibition halls near Odaiba, Tokyo.
With over 3,000 booths and 12,000 exhibitors on 2 floors this event is spectacular - not only for people interested in art but others too. Last year the event had its 20 year anniversary.
So what can I actually see and do at the Design Festa?
Let me separate everything into small topics, because there is so much to see it blows your mind.
You can shop handmade items from various small hobbyists and artists of all kinds. Many people offer designed and handmade jewellery, may it be quirky kawaii and colourful, creepy or just beautiful and decent.
People offer design bags, shoes, hats and other fashion items, clothing in all shapes, colours and styles.
Dolls, interior and electronic goods - there is nothing which you can’t find!
Illustrations / Paintings
The second large amount of exhibitors apart from the handmade goods are probably the illustrators showcasing their artworks.
Since we are in Japan, the land of manga and anime, you can expect to see many students exhibiting and selling manga inspired art from original drawings to postcards, buttons and even print shirts.
Photography / Videography
There is a designated area for people who are sharing their photography works.
Styles and interest vary from landscape and nature photography to fashion photography or artistic images with uniformed school girls in a romantic or even dark style.
Some people are even showing their video or movie creations on tablet screens in their booth or even in the movie area of the exhibition halls.
On the first floor close to the event stage as well on the top floor lining at the dark area you will find many large blank walls lined up and most likely an artist working their magic on them. These are the live painting areas where you can see artists creating artworks from zero right in front your eyes.
Most of the people are using this event to showcase their skills and get their name out there however many people also just want to have fun with friends doodling on a large wall.
I would recommend to see the artists walls around lunch time and then check back right before going home to see the progress and outcome. Since this is a 2 day event it probably is the best to check back on the large walls at the last day before closing time to see the artwork completed.
Some companies or individuals also offer free workshops where they show how to create or craft certain items. This is especially great for kids but also very interesting for adults as well.
Throughout the day there will be various shows taking place at the main stage in the center area of the exhibition halls.
From fashion shows, to traditional martial arts, calligraphy, singing, belly dance or theatre shows - you name it.
You can enjoy the shows while sitting - perfect to relax your legs from walking around.
Make sure to check the schedule in the program flyer.
Outside the exhibition halls on the first floor you can find the live stage showcasing bands and solo singers alike. If you like to discover new music this is your spot!
From pop to punk rock there are no limits. The best idea is to have a look into the program flyer as well if you like to listen to a certain genre. The only drawback is that there is almost no seating possibility here.
Food & Drinks
After walking for hours from booth to booth you may not only feel that your wallet got little light, but also your stomach.
Of course Design Festa does not want you to carry around lunch boxes and therefore is offering a variation of local and overseas food choices.
The largest selection of food stalls is on the top floor (in its designated area with tables and chairs) but you can also find more selections outside around the live stage.
Although as the artists also the food booths vary each time, you can be sure to find typical Japanese festival foods (like yakisoba noodle and such) along with some ‘exotic’ offers like mexican or indian for example. Beer and other drinks are also served and there surely will be some options for the sweet tooth as well.
The Big Sight exhibition halls for the Design Festa consist of the ground floor 1F and the top floor 4F (so actually 4th floor due to the high ceilings of the hall).
As a general rule you can find smaller booths and mainly students/younger folks on the top floor.
So if you are looking for cute little accessories, fashion items and cute illustrations this is your floor. Also on the corner closest to the entry escalator is the food court situated.
On the opposite site of this floors exhibition space is the ‘dark area’ - a space with no lighting. In this area you will find exhibitors showcasing glowing art like lamps, glass works, special accessories, dark artworks and similar kind.
Also the video / movie space is right behind the dark booth area.
To separate the bright exhibition and this area there are large live painting walls set up which you have to pass to enter.
On the ground floor there is the central area with an information desk, the show stage, several small live painting walls and a few booths.
If you pass this area and walk through one of the gates you will find yourself in an ocean of booths.
This floor is the home of many illustrators and painters, photographers and sculpture/figurine makers. Also you will find the workshops, fashion and jewellery items here.
Compared to the upper floor you may find more professional and experienced exhibitors with larger booths and a very thoughtful setup.
I have visited and exhibited myself for a couple of years at the Design Festa and therefore got to know a lot about this event.
As a designer and person who embraces individuality this is a very fun place not only as a customer.
You don’t need to be interested in art or its kinds to enjoy this event because it feels more like window shopping through a city of uniqueness and fantasy.
It is like a walk through a dream world which people of all kinds created each on their own. You can come across many nice and unique items you can’t find elsewhere and by purchasing something from these small artists you support them and will make them very happy.
Apart from the booths alone there are also many people just dressing up, doing cosplay or a unique fashion style they embrace. The Design Festa gives creative people a space to try themselves out without having to be embarrassed and to just have a great time. You can meet many people and this personal experience is very lovely in my opinion.
You can get your tickets in advance at the convenience store and various ticket vendors. Admission tickets which are purchased in advance are a little cheaper as well. If you are not sure yet you may also purchase them at the door.
Advance ticket prices are 800JPY for 1 Day and 1,500JPY for the 2 Day pass.
Tickets at the door are 1,000JPY for 1 Day and 1,800JPY for 2 Days.
(※ prices as of April 2015, subject to change)
How to prepare
Since this is a very large space with over 3,000 booths it is recommended to wear comfortable footwear as you will be walking and standing for a long period of time. Also it is good to have a bottle of water and some snacks in your bag - although you can also buy overpriced drinks and food at the venue.
If you like a certain genre or kind of goods you may want to follow the map provided upon your entry and start looking around in those areas. The floor map is divided into genres and marked with a letter (e.g. Jewellery in area A, Illustrations in area G) which makes it easier to see what you want to see.
Also you can check the Design Festa Homepage before the event to see profiles of artists and what kind of things they exhibit or sell.
How to get there
JR Rinkai Line - Kokusaitenjijou Station (国際展示場) 7 min. walk (follow the signs for Big Sight)
Yurikamome Monorail - Kokusaitenjijou-seimon (国際展示場正門) 3 min. walk
Next Design Festa
16th and 17th of May, 2015
From 11:00 hrs until 19:00 hrs
Tokyo Big Sight West Halls