Two things Japan loves are street festivals and cosplay, so it makes perfect sense to combine the two, right? That’s exactly what happens for one Sunday every year in Nipponbashi, the otaku and pop culture centre of Osaka, Japan. Street Festa has been going strong for 14 years now as a celebration in the city streets that brings thousands of cosplayers out to have fun together. It’s a chance for people to show off their cosplay and photography skills, make new friends and meet up with old ones, eat street food, and just celebrate a love for pop culture together.
From about 10 am to 5 pm, the streets of Nipponbashi were flooded with thousands of cosplayers, photographers, and curious onlookers all enjoying the moment and celebrating together. Alongside Animate, K-Books and other otaku shops, cafes and restaurants, and countless street food vendors set up for the day, Street Festa left no shortage of things to do. It was a party in the streets for the whole day, and we were lucky enough to go along and have a great time, too!
|When it was Established||2004|
|Length of event||1 day, held in March|
|Location|| Nipponbashi Denden Town|
|Cost|| ¥2000 for cosplayers/photographers|
Includes entrance to changing areas and baggage storage, as well as exclusive event spaces
Available in advance in shops around the Nipponbashi area or on the day near the cosplay changing areas
What to Expect
People start to arrive early for Street Festa, especially cosplayers. As with all cosplay events in Japan, you’re expected to arrive in street clothes and change into your cosplay in the designated changing space provided at the event. Either in advance or on the day, cosplayers were able to buy a special wristband for ¥2,000 (a little less than $20 USD) that gave access to the changing area and free baggage storage. Because of this system, though, the queues were very long even from early morning. This was especially true for the girls, despite having two different massive changing areas compared to the guys’ one!
So as a cosplayer, plan to get there early so you can try to have a shorter waiting time, and be able to spend more of your day out enjoying the event rather than queuing to change. If you’ve never cosplayed in Japan before, it’s also a good idea to practise getting ready in your cosplay sitting on the floor in a small space and using just a hand mirror. Luckily, Street Festa didn’t have any rules about how many bags or what type of luggage you could leave and the baggage storage was huge, so whatever you need to do to safely and securely transport your cosplay is okay. Just be aware that you leave everything at your own risk; there was no system other than the trust to the baggage area, where you left things wherever you wanted and picked them up on your own again when you were ready to leave.
For photographers, a special camera strap was also available for the same ¥2,000 price. Of course, many photographers didn’t have it and just took photos anyway, but it’s a great way to show your support for the event and help them keep running it every year! There were also a few areas of the cosplay zone and event space where you had to have either the wristband or camera strap to enter even while the rest of the streets had no regulations. If you want full access to the event and more respect as a photographer, it’s a good idea to get the strap as well.
One of the most important things to expect is the crowds. Because Nipponbashi Street Festa brings in thousands of people every year and puts them into one neighbourhood of Osaka, it’s very very busy. Despite the main streets being closed to traffic for the larger part of the day, it’s still difficult to move at times, especially when people are stopping to take pictures. The back streets are a bit better and there are small areas where you can find a bit of a reprieve, but generally, the streets are crowded. Of course, more people means more cosplayers, but it’s something to keep in mind for people that don’t like crowds - and also for planning your cosplay or props that you intend to bring! Be aware you’ll be navigating constantly through a sea of people.
One more thing to note; most of the toilets available are portable toilets, and they are all Japanese-style squatting toilets. It’s best to know this and be ready for it in advance rather than surprised on the day!
What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event
Of course, what you need most is a camera of your own! You’re likely to see so many amazing and talented cosplayers, and nothing is a bigger compliment to them than asking to take their picture. Some even are happy to take a picture with you! You’ll definitely regret not bringing your own camera to document everyone that you meet and see considering how many photograph-worthy people are literally everywhere. So at the very least, bring your phone. But you might want to bring an even better camera to really capture some great shots!
*A reasonable bag
Cosplayers tend to need at least some kind of bag to keep personal belongings in, especially as many outfits don’t have pockets. From storing phones and wallets to keeping some safety pins and make up handy, it’s good to have a bag that is easy to carry the essentials. Keeping in mind that Street Festa is insanely crowded, that bag is a reasonable size to move through the crowd while still holding what you need is important. Plan in advance what you’ll want to have with you all day and decide on a bag that is the perfect size for that, and not taking up unnecessary space. You’ll thank yourself later in the crowds.
*A rechargeable battery
Let’s face it, in today’s world we tend to be on our phones a lot. Between the camera, messaging friends, following people on Twitter and other social media, and using the GPS you’ll probably use your phone regularly at Street Festa. There’s nothing worse than being in the queue to change back into your street clothes when your phone dies and you can’t message your friend of the opposite gender waiting in the other queue. Or you really want to snap a shot of a cosplayer being your favourite character but you don’t have any battery left! It’s a good idea to have another rechargeable battery for your phone handy. Better safe than sorry!
What to do While There / What is Available
The main thing to do at Nipponbashi Street Festa is to cosplay! While many cosplay events in Japan focus on just standing in one place all day while people queue up to take your photo, that’s only a small part of Street Festa. Of course, you’re welcome to find somewhere great to stand and pose for people. In fact, the Cosplay Area is made for exactly that, and is safely off the road and requires a purchased wristband or camera strap to enter it. So if you like to have a nice set up to pose and get photos done, it’s definitely an option.
But in addition to that, Street Festa gives cosplayers the chance to just walk around and hang out in cosplay! You’re just as likely to get stopped in the street and spoken to and asked to take a quick picture. You can even enjoy getting some cool shots playing in the game centres, shopping, eating, and more. Instead of being restricted to a convention space, Street Festa gives cosplayers the freedom to cosplay in public. It’s great for getting some cool pictures done and just having fun in cosplay with your friends!
Street Festa has a few other events and fun attractions throughout the day. One is the cosplay parade, which lets you watch a wide variety of cosplayers showcasing their work in the streets. There are also areas set up with pachinko machines you can try, a stage for some music performances, and a lot of companies with booths set up selling merchandise and advertising for animation schools and the like. You can do a bit of shopping or browsing around talking to the representatives if you’d like to take a break from the crowded streets. At the end of the day, there was also a huge after party at a local club featuring lots of otaku music for an additional cost.
Because Nipponbashi Street Festa is right in the middle of Osaka otaku neighbourhood, Denden Town, there’s plenty of shops to visit if you need to take a break! There are countless anime stores you can visit, along with a lot of cafes and restaurants. Many vendors have set up stands selling street foods like chocolate bananas, and Osaka-favourite takoyaki. There are several game centres in the area too that offer diversions like games, crane machines, and purikura photo booths. There are even a few maid cafes that were open and entertaining customers! Most of these businesses were happy to let cosplayers inside, so you can do a bit of shopping or grab a bite to eat if you get bored of just taking photos for a while.
Of course, the main focus of Nipponbashi Street Festa is the cosplay! That’s what most of the attendees are there for. The cosplay system is like most events in Japan – after you arrive in your casual wear, you go to the designated changing area and change into your cosplay in the large dressing room. Then you are able to store your bags in a safe place until you’re ready to change and go home. All of this service is included in the price of the wristband, so all you have to do is show the wristband and you can change. The queue for men was taking an average of about 30 minutes throughout the day and for women a little more than an hour (due to there being considerably more female cosplayers in attendance).
After you’re in your cosplay, it’s time to take to the streets and start taking photographs! An incredible variety of cosplay was represented in 2018, with people wearing their favourite outfits from anime, video games, Star Wars, Disney, Marvel, and more. From newer anime like Boku no Hero Academia to older ones like Eureka Seven and Bleach, everyone was just happy to represent their favourites and have fun. People really brought out their best and most impressive skills as well with full suits of armour, incredible theatre makeup, massive weapons, and more. Getting stopped by one person to take a picture usually resulted in a chain reaction of more and more people stopping to also take pictures. This made walking through the streets slowly, but with nowhere specific to go, everyone’s attitudes remained positive.
Everyone was happy to see other cosplayers from the same series as them as well, calling one another by character names and exchanging social media and pictures. Many cosplayers in Japan carry cosplay business cards with their photo and social media links on them, making it easy to exchange with one another and with photographers so that they can link up again later and share pictures. If you’re planning to regularly cosplay in Japan, it’s a good idea to get some printed as well; there are many affordable services to get them done online. It’s the easiest way to make new friends and to make sure you get back some of the pictures that are taken of you!
Osaka is known for being a friendly and laid-back part of Japan full of personable people who immediately treat you like they’ve always known you. That stereotype holds very true at Street Festa where cosplayers aren’t afraid to compliment each other, get excited together, and even give hugs and high fives like you’ll rarely see at other cosplay events in Japan. It’s not a competition, though everyone brings their best to showcase all the same. It’s a chance to make friends, and party together in the streets having a good time!
Of course, it’s crowded and that can be frustrating at times, but it’s better to look at the crowds as a reminder of just how many people are out to cosplay together. It may only be for one afternoon once a year, but people plan for Street Festa for the whole year - and make memories that they’re unlikely to forget for a long time. Besides, with the thousands of pictures taken that end up flooding social media like Twitter for days afterward, cosplayers can bask in the event for a long time anyway!
Did you make it to Nipponbashi Street Festa this year or in the past? Would you like to go someday? Would you like to read more about cosplay events throughout Japan, or do you have any questions about what events are like here? Let us know all your comments and questions in the comments below!