While many people may assume that Tokyo will always be the hub of cosplay in Japan, they’re only partially correct. Sure, Tokyo has a huge number of cosplay events each year, along with countless cosplay stores and studios. But did you know one of the biggest and most well-attended cosplay events each year is actually in Osaka? Every March, the neighbourhood of Nipponbashi near Namba in Osaka becomes swarmed with cosplayers and photographers from across Japan - and around the world.
This event is called Street Festa, and 2019 saw it in its fifteenth year. And every year it’s just getting bigger and better! There are a lot of things that set Street Festa apart from other cosplay events, especially in Japan and make it something really special. We were able to attend and cosplay there again this year to get a first-hand experience of what it’s like in those crowded streets and deliver a field report back to you about Nipponbashi Street Festa 2019. It’s unique from any other cosplay event we have attended in Japan or overseas, and there are so many things that make it a cosplayer’s haven.
|When it Established||2004|
|Length of event||1 day, held in March|
|Place / 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
|Hotels||Because Nipponbashi Street Festa is held in a regular neighbourhood in Osaka, it’s easy to find a hotel or hostel to stay in nearby. If you want to have walking access to the event, stay in the Nipponbashi or Namba area (but understand that it might be a little expensive because Namba is one of Osaka’s biggest train stations). To save some money if you don’t mind a short commute, staying anywhere on the Osaka loop line or Midosuji subway line gives you easy access to Namba Station as well with just a short walk to the centre of the event in the morning. A few hotels and hostels close to the event allowed cosplayers to change and get ready right in their hotel rooms this year, so be sure to check the Street Festa website for more information here (http://nippombashi.jp/festa/). The website is available in Japanese.|
What to Expect
Nipponbashi Street Festa is crowded beyond the normal way in which Japan is typically crowded. With well over 10,000 cosplayers coming every year and just as many photographers, as well as curious passer-by or people that just happen to be in the wrong neighbourhood on a wrong day, there are a lot of people. Thankfully, Street Festa is spread out over several blocks to try to disperse the crowd at least a little bit. Until 3 pm, some of the main roads are also closed to traffic to give everyone a lot more breathing space. But the sidewalks and event zones still have a lot of people, so don’t expect to go anywhere quickly and be ready to navigate tight spaces.
A crowded event has its pros and cons, and while that was mostly cons, there are some positive sides to the number of people as well. Because so many different people come from all over to participate in Street Festa, there’s incredible variety in the cosplays that you see. Many events draw mostly specific kinds of cosplays, like anime cosplay for Anime Japan and video game cosplay for Tokyo Game Show. Street Festa has no specific theme other than “cosplay,” so anime, video games, comic books, Disney, live action movies and TV, internet memes, famous people, and Japanese commercials all find representation. Whatever you want to cosplay, someone will probably recognise you - and you might even find a group of other people that match you!
While most people attending Nipponbashi Street Festa are Japanese, there are people there from around the world. Some cosplayers even travel all the way to Japan just to go to this event, like one group visiting from the Czech Republic that we met on the street. There’s also a wide variety of ages both cosplaying as well as just enjoying the event, from little children all the way to older people and everything in between. While cosplay in Japan tends to be dominated by females, Street Festa has a fair number of males that come as well. The queue for the female changing areas was still much longer than the male one, but on the streets themselves, there felt like more of a balance of all genders. Most of the photographers were male, but there were some female photographers, too.
Beyond crowds and a diverse community, you can expect a lively festival or party atmosphere at Street Festa! The streets are not only lined with cosplayers but also a lot of food vendors with festival-style street foods like chocolate bananas or Osaka-famous takoyaki. There’s also plenty of beer for those who want to have some alcohol. Thankfully, Street Festa also has a lot of bins set up everywhere just for the event to help keep the streets as clean as they can, and a lot of staff are doing their best to stay on top of the rubbish as well. There are also designated smoking areas for people that need it, and plenty of portable toilets set up when nature calls (though expect a long queue to use one and mediocre facilities at best). Street Festa is literally a cosplay party in the streets that is trying to appeal to everyone as much as it can, and the festival spirit is in the air!
What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event
First and foremost, whether you’re cosplaying, just visiting, or a photographer you want to bring a camera to Street Festa! Even just a phone camera is fine, but you’ll want to bring something with you. A huge part of Street Festa is taking pictures, and you won’t want to miss out on that opportunity. You are guaranteed to see some amazing things, and you never know when someone might be cosplaying your favourite character! So make sure you have a camera with plenty of memory and a full charge so you can take as many pictures as you want all day.
*A rechargeable battery
These days, we use our mobile phones quite a lot. Street Festa is no exception, and you may find yourself using it even more than normal. Between updating to social media, taking pictures, exchanging information with friends, and trying to locate people at the event if you get separated you’ll be using your mobile at Street Festa a lot. With how crowded the streets are, many mobile phones struggle to find service because they are overwhelmed, which will drain your battery even faster. You don’t want to get caught with a dead mobile when someone wants to share their Twitter, you see something incredible you want to snap a picture of, or you need to meet up with your friends! Better safe than sorry to have a rechargeable battery.
While this may be common sense to most people, we feel the need to add bringing a sense of respect after some of the experiences we had at Street Festa 2019. Overall the experience is very positive and the people very friendly and kind. But remember as a photographer to always ask before you take a photo, and never take pictures without consent from cosplayers. And as a cosplayer, respect the space and time of other cosplayers no matter what their skill level, gender, or race may be. Bringing respect into an event like Street Festa makes the experience a more positive one for everyone involved, including yourself.
And cosplayers, always remember to have self-respect as well; if someone is taking your photo without permission, you are in your right to ask them to stop and call them out on their actions. This goes even more for people taking pictures that do not have the Street Festa official camera strap on display.
What to do While There / What is Available
Predominantly, what to do at Street Festa is cosplay and take photos. Most people just wander around the streets looking at everyone’s outfits, pausing to pose for pictures or taking pictures themselves. It’s quite a social event, with cosplayers from the same series often meeting up with one another, exchanging social media, and talking about their characters. Osaka is known for being a friendly and outgoing place with extroverted people, and that is really obvious at Street Festa. People are excited to see you and want to talk to you, take pictures together, and share Twitter accounts to stay in touch. It’s a great way to make new friends!
If you’re a photographer, not a cosplayer, there’s just as much to do at Street Festa. Just be sure to buy the special camera strap for ¥2000, the same price as a cosplayer’s wristband, to be able to take pictures freely! The camera strap also allows you access to the special cosplay zones where people that haven’t paid cannot enter, giving you the best opportunities to snap some great pictures. Cosplayers love having their photos taken consensually, so you can stay busy all day taking awesome pictures of all the incredible outfits you’re sure to see.
Beyond cosplay and photography, there are a few events throughout the day. One of the most well-attended is the cosplay parade in the early afternoon. Anyone can apply and pay a small fee to join, and the main street is closed to allow cosplayers to strut their stuff and show off their costumes to everyone lining the sidewalks. Many cosplayers hold signs with their social media listed to help promote their work as well. There is also a special stage where events are held throughout the day that you can go and watch. This year, it was International Friendship Day. A few cosplayers from around the world took to the stage to show how cosplay had become such a global hobby. This year, Street Festa also had a special guest - Kamijo from the visual kei band Versailles, who made an appearance on the stage as well.
If you need a break from the crowded streets or just want to take advantage of Nipponbashi’s anime culture, all of the stores, game centres, and maid cafes are also open! And cosplayers are more than welcome inside. So you can take a quick break to browse through second-hand figures and goods, visit the huge Animate at the centre of the event, play some games at the arcade, and kick back at one of the many maid cafes in the area. There’s also plenty of street vendors selling a lot of food and drinks. Because Street Festa is in the streets of a usual neighbourhood rather than in a building, all of the usual amenities of that neighbourhood are still available. If you somehow do become bored, it’s nice to have something else to do, too!
Since cosplay is the main focus of Street Festa, you had better believe its great! And also well-organised. While most other events in Japan have a cosplay area or a space dedicated to cosplay photos and the rest of the event is not, all of Nipponbashi Street Festa is made for the cosplayers. About half of the people in attendance are in cosplay, and the other half are photographers. As with other events in Japan, Street Festa requests that you change into and out of your cosplay at the designated changing areas at the event. To use these facilities, you need to purchase a rubber wrist band for ¥2000 (less than £15) either in advance at many anime stories in Osaka or on the day of the event from tables on the street.
That wristband gets you not only unlimited access to these changing rooms, which is great for touch-ups to your costume or if anything goes wrong but also bag storage where you can leave all your street clothes and unnecessary items. You can also access the bag storage at any time and as many times as you want throughout the day! Many events in Japan do not allow this, so it’s very considerate for Street Festa to accommodate so much to cosplayers. The changing areas are tents set up in the grounds of local schools, with men and women in separate places. If you have never cosplayed in Japan before, it’s a good idea to practise changing on a small place on the floor and using a handheld mirror in advance, as that is all you will have to get ready.
While anyone can be out and about on most of the streets at Street Festa, there were three zones that you needed a wristband to enter. These areas were full of some of the most impressive cosplays and gave cosplayers a place to escape from curious passers-by that may not understand the event completely. As taking photographs on the street in front of businesses or in alleys is discouraged to keep the event’s local impact to a minimum, these spaces were also great for photographs. One area, in particular, was a closed-off parking lot complete with graffiti walls that weren’t very crowded and away from the main roads, which turned into a great photo op space!
A nice addition to Street Festa in 2019 was a few hotels and hostels in the area opened up their doors especially to cosplayers. This gave people the chance to change right in the comfort of their room and store their bags there and just walk straight out into the event. For people with really complicated outfits, those travelling from far away, or cosplayers who just don’t want to change in the huge changing space it was a nice chance! Of course, those cosplayers still needed a wristband to go into the special cosplay zones, but the price is worth it if you want the comforts of a hotel room, too.
This was actually Honey’s Anime’s second year attending and covering Nipponbashi Street Festa, so we were able to use our knowledge from last year to have an even better experience. Going in with some good information about what to bring and expect, and what you can do at the event, can make a big difference. Even if you just show up at Street Festa with no more of a plan than just to cosplay, though, you can still have a great time! Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and photographers, and just let yourself get swept away into the party.
Between the welcoming and friendly people, easy access to food and drinks, the chance to take a break when you need to, and the wide variety of cosplayers and cosplays represented, Street Festa 2019 was a great success. If you’re considering travelling to Japan to cosplay and can only go to one event while you’re there, this is the one we recommend. You can count of being welcomed and meeting a lot of friendly people, and maybe even making some new friends that you can keep for years to come. No matter what you want to cosplay and how professional or novice your skills may be, Street Festa has a place for you to be yourself, meet people, and have a good time.
Did you also go to Street Festa 2019? Would you like to go in the future? What about this event makes you want to go, or turns you away from it? What do you think it says about the cosplay culture in Japan - both the good and the bad? Do you have any questions about the event itself? Drop us a comment in the space below!