If you’ve been searching for a place to appreciate meticulous artwork, listen to an indie death metal band, buy some hand-made crafts, and have your face painted with movie-caliber scar makeup all under the same roof, you can rest easy now.
Design Festa is a two-day art and design festival held regularly in the Tokyo Big Sight convention center in Odaiba, Tokyo. Much to the festival’s credit, the terms “art” and “design” are liberally defined here, giving the event a true “there’s something for everyone” spirit. Amateur and professional artists of all degrees of success flock to the event to display and sell their work, and just taking it all in is an event in itself.
What can you see there? Actually, the better question would be ‘What can’t you see there?’ To start with, there are paintings and drawings. Lots and lots and lots of paintings and drawings. Some are finished, on display and awaiting your appraisal (or purchase). Others are in-progress. Large – sometimes enormous – canvases and walls are set up so festival attendees can watch the artists hard at work. There are handmade crafts, another loosely-defined term that includes everything from jewelry and book covers to toys, metalwork, woodwork, musical instruments, action figures, household items, and even clothing. One section of the festival is the “dark room,” reserved for artists whose work is best viewed in the shadows. These works are often abstract collections of lighting, paintings under black lights, and so on.
Rock bands rocked. Costumed dancers twirled in synch with the latest pop songs. There was an S&M-style bondage demonstration going on in one corner. In another, students studying movie makeup and costume applied scar and injury makeup to customers.
And just when you think you've seen everything, you realize there are another two huge rooms full of exhibits. Design Festa is gigantic, comprising of aisles upon aisles in multiple rooms on multiple floors of the building. If you want to see absolutely everything, plan on getting there early and staying until late.
There is a food court set up with food vendors of various types, offering both Japanese and international choices.
If I had one complaint about the event, it was that there was a bit of a lack of diversity among many of the artists. Japanese anime-style characters and designs were more than prevalent among the "canvas"-style artwork, and I would have liked to have seen a bigger mix of styles and inspirations. But that speaks to the festival's greatest asset: in its next incarnation, there could be a whole new group of artists who put a completely different spin on things. I know that I'll be back again next time to find out.
While its schedule is irregular and has changed over the years, it is typically held twice a year, with each volume being held on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are ¥1,000 for 1 day, or ¥1,800 for a 2-day ticket at the door, or ¥800/¥1,500 if purchased in advance from a convenience store.