Design Festa is a really unique event that happens in Tokyo twice every year, and has been going on for quite a long time now! It’s a huge convention of hand-crafted goods and art made by a variety of people from all walks of life. Because of the incredible variety of products on display and for sale there, Design Festa attracts so many different kinds of people. From families with children to furries, people into high fashion to more alternative styles, independent artists, curious tourists, and people just looking for an interesting weekend, you’ll find everyone at the event.
Whether you’re there to see something unique, buy something practical (or impractical!), watch performances, enjoy live-painting, or just to meet other artists, Design Festa is a special opportunity with something for everyone.
If you love art in any form, be it fashion, dance, music, photography, hand-crafted sundries, painting, drawing, and more - then you’ll not want to miss experiencing Design Festa at least once. And with around 4,500 booths and over 14,000 exhibitors, trust us when we say it’s big!
|When it was Established||1994|
|Length of event||2 days, held twice a year (once in the spring, once in the autumn)|
|Place / location|| Tokyo Big Sight|
3 Chome-11-1 Ariake, Koto, Tokyo 135-0063
|Hotel||Because Tokyo Big Sight hosts many large events throughout the year and is located close to Odaiba which is a popular vacation destination, there are a lot of nearby hotels. The closest ones to Design Festa are the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel and the Hotel Sunroute Ariake, both of which are 3-star hotels, and the Oakwood Hotel and Apartment Ariake, which is a 4-star hotel. Staying anywhere close to Odaiba won’t be cheap, however, so if you are on a budget, stay elsewhere in Tokyo. Tokyo Big Site is very easily accessible on the JR Rinkai Line, and you can get there in less than 30 minutes from Shibuya and Shinjuku.|
|Company / event message for fans / attendees|
Company/Event Message for Fans/Attendees
“Encouraging the Freedom of Creative Expression.”
“Design Festa is a celebration of the arts at which anyone regardless of age, nationality, talents or language can exhibit.
Serving as a platform for over 12,000 artists, designers, musicians, actors and more twice a year since its inception in 1994, Design Festa welcomes professionals and amateurs alike.
The single largest art festival in Asia, the combination of performances, international cuisine, artistic expression, enrichment, diversity and passion found at Design Festa is like that of nowhere else on earth.”
What to Expect
Design Festa is a celebration of original art, and a chance for artists to market their products and pieces to make a name for themselves, meet like-minded people and make some money, too. More than anything else, the event is a huge marketplace with thousands of booths from thousands of artists displaying what they have made. You can buy nearly anything you can imagine, and probably some things you can’t imagine as well Basically, Design Festa is full of things for sale that you had no idea you needed until you saw them. And then you just can’t leave without that perfect item!
Besides the marketplace, there are a lot of artists who are doing live-painting on giant canvases over the course of the weekend. Many are happy to talk to you for a little while and pose for a picture with their art if you ask. The paintings are impressive, and it’s a unique and special opportunity to watch them working on them right in front of you! Design Festa also has a staging area with performances throughout the weekend. You can watch live music, acrobats, dancers, martial artists and more. There’s even a section of workshops where you can learn how to make some things yourself. And finally, there are a lot of international food trucks throughout the venue so you can try some new food if you’re feeling adventurous!
Design Festa is only Saturday and Sunday, and there are pros and cons to whichever day you choose. Of course, if you want to see absolutely as much of it as possible and take it all in at a nice pace, going both days is a must! But as the event doesn’t sell a multi-day ticket, most people choose to attend only one of the two days. If you want to be sure you don’t miss out on any one-of-a-kind items that there may be a limited supply on, be sure to go Saturday before it sells out. After all, everything at Design Festa is handmade, and some of the most elaborate items will always have limited availability.
On the other hand, sometimes exhibitors will sell things at a discounted price late in the day on Sunday, hoping to make any sale rather than nothing. Also, going Sunday gives you the chance to see the live paintings throughout the event when they are closer to complete or actually finished, whereas on Saturday many artists are just getting started. You have to decide for yourself what your priority is to choose which day to attend!
As mentioned at the start of the article, Design Festa is such a varied event that literally all kinds of people attend. From children to grandparents and everything in between, no one is out of place. And most artists are happy to talk even to foreigners as much as they can, so don’t worry about that if you’re not from Japan! There is English on most of the signs, the website is supported in English, and many staff speak a little English as well. Plus you’re likely to find some foreign artists displaying their work, too, as it’s not just limited to Japanese people. Design Festa has a welcome feel for people from all walks of life, so whoever you are, you can enjoy coming.
An extremely important thing to note is that Design Festa is a showcase of original art only. That means anything copyrighted is not allowed to be for sale by any artists, so you’re not going to find any anime artwork or Ghibli souvenirs. It also means that cosplaying any copyrighted character within the event is forbidden, and you will be denied entry. Remember, Design Festa is a celebration of creativity and original design. So instead of looking for more anime and things you already recognise, go in with an open mind and flexible attitude and let yourself be surprised and what you are attracted to.
What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event
Conveniently, Design Festa has most things you may need easily accessible. That’s extra convenient when you consider how crowded it is, and how narrow most of the areas to walk in are.
A reasonable bag
You definitely don’t want to bring an oversized bag! If you want to make your way through the crowd without being a nuisance and be able to look at the displays easily, avoid bringing a backpack or anything else unnecessary. Some stalks will always be really busy and crowded with a lot of people trying to see the merchandise at the same time, and you’re doing nobody any favours if you’re the person with the giant backpack standing in the way.
A well-planned outfit for your needs
You can expect to do a lot of walking throughout the day, and it does get very tiring. The ground is all hard concrete as well. If you’re accustomed to walking in heels or other less comfortable shoes, the choice is yours to make. However, if spending hours in a row standing and walking on concrete sounds painful, be sure to wear more comfortable shoes and clothes. Many people attend Design Festa in high fashion and alternative styles, but it’s not required. Just as many people wear normal street wear as well. Keep in mind if you do get tired, there are a few places to sit down as well, such as at the performance stage, in the eating areas, or even out in the hallway.
Food and drinks only if necessary
Inside the halls, you can find plenty of food and drinks to buy. There are a lot of food trucks and stalls selling international dishes, all with an average price of about ¥1000. There are also quite a few vending machines just outside the main areas. Within Big Sight, there are a couple of convenience stores, a few cafes, and a few restaurants as well. If you have very specific dietary requirements or restrictions, are on a strict budget, or don’t want to wait in a long queue, you can bring your own food and drinks. It’s easy enough to eat them in the hallways or sitting on the floor out of the way in a rest area. But if you don’t need to bring your own food, don’t worry about it! You have quite a variety of options right at your fingertips. We had Thai food and it was incredibly good, especially for the price!
At Design Festa you’re sure to see an incredible amount of amazing things. And of course, in today’s day and age, everyone wants to take a picture of everything! Design Festa lets artists decide for themselves whether or not photos of their booths and work is allowed, so just be sure to ask before you snap a picture. Many of them are happy to say yes! A lot of people also wear amazing and unique fashion to visit the event, and many are also willing to pose for a photo for you. Finally, you can take pictures of nearly all the live paintings and other performances you see - in fact, many request it, especially if you’re going to share it on social media! Just be sure to include their tags and credit their work.
What to Do While There/What is Available
If you’re coming to Design Festa with a full wallet, there’s no shortage of things to buy. There’s original fashion in every form from quite simple to bright pastels, gothic, steampunk, and vintage. You can find any number of small trinkets like phone charms, pins, hair accessories, keychains, and more fitting just about every interest. There’s candles, terrariums, 3D printed Christmas ornaments, pet toys, and blown glass. And of course, there’s plenty of photography, digital, and traditional art forms for sale as well! Do you need a hyper-realistic pretzel hair clip? Done. Looking for a phone case with a train flying through space? They have it. Interested in picking up a pair of winter gloves that look like sheep hooves and ear muffs complete with the rams horns to match? You’re in luck. Whether you want to spend a lot or a little, you can definitely go home with something really unique and special.
While the majority of Design Festa is a marketplace, shopping isn’t the only thing to do there. Every year there is a performance stage with shows on almost constantly that feature a variety of acts. You can see traditional Japanese music and dancing, hula and Western dancers, nunchuck and sword displays, hip-hop artists, singers, and more. There’s an easy to read schedule posted near the stage so you can check out what interests you and come back to enjoy the show. Everything is included right in your entry ticket price! Plus there’s the added bonus of quite a few chairs around the stage, so it’s a great place to take a break and rest some before hitting the vendors again.
In addition to the staged acts, some booths are also offering unique entertainment rather than products for sale. After all, Design Festa is for art in many different forms, so you can find a little bit of everything. Some of the most interesting things we found were mimes, puppet shows, and small singing groups. There was even a booth where you could try kinbaku, which is consensual Japanese rope bondage (fully clothed of course!). If you don’t want to try yourself, you are also welcome to watch someone else get tied up in this unique form of performance art. You never know what you’re going to find when you turn the corner at Design Festa, so the best thing you can do is just keep exploring with an open mind!
Design Festa is an event that can be enjoyed by just about everyone. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still an incredible experience to just walk around and be overwhelmed, and see so many amazingly talented people doing what they love. The atmosphere is positive and full of energy, and nearly everyone is happy to talk to you if you want to. No matter what walk of life you’re from or where you are in your journey, Design Festa is a fun and safe place to be, and a great chance to experience forms of art you may never have the chance to see otherwise. It’s more than worth the ¥1000 entrance fee with everything you can see.
Of course, Design Festa is incredibly crowded. A lot of the spaces between the booths is limited, so you’re going to be in the middle of a lot of people. Queues for food and to see some displays are also very long. So if you don’t like big crowds and a lot of people, Design Festa may be a bit of a challenge. However, the ceilings in the venue are high, and there are open spaces you can escape to take a break. Also, you can exit and enter the event with your ticket as many times as you like on the same day, so you can always step outside for a moment if you need to!
I attend Design Festa twice every year and never cease being amazed at the things I see. And every year there are new and different experiences to have! This year I was happy to go home with a new phone case featuring latte art of a cat, a print of Fuji surrounded by god-like giant rabbits, and a super realistic edamame keychain. You never know what perfect things you’re going to find at Design Festa, and you’ll never have the same experience twice. In today’s world, it’s great to take a step back and celebrate and appreciate the good humans can do, and how beautiful and fun art can be. Your Design Festa experience is what you make it!