Design Festa – Artistic Chaos in a Downturned Economy!

Design Festa Tokyo 2009
Design Festa Tokyo 2009

If you are tired of all the doom and gloom that appears daily in the newspapers, nightly on TV, weekly, monthly, yearly… in the media in general, then it’s time for something else, something new, something worth both your time and your money, no?

In a city as replete with distractions as Tokyo, rivaling no other city than perhaps New York for the limitlessness of its possibilities, there is always something else to do, see, hear, eat and generally check out. With that in mind, grab a thick black marker and circle the dates May 16th & 17th on your calendar. Done? Good! Now, write in bold, black letters; “Design Festa vol. 29” Got that? Okay, now put away your marker. It’s really that simple.

If you want to spend a day, or two, meandering around the largess of what has to be one of Tokyo’s, and Japan’s, most innovative, architectural anomalies; if your eyes want to flit across a microcosm of Tokyo’s and Japan’s artistic community, peppered pelle-melle with some international flavor; if you yearn for strange, unique or kawaii gifts, knick-knack or doo-dads, if your ears want to drink in some new sounds, if your fashion sense is piqued by fresh, new designs and, if your palette desires some good food & drink, then come and behold what has loosely been coined ‘artistic chaos.’

The shear numbers say it all. Fifteen years strong, 28 volumes, 100,000 exhibitors & more than 9 million visitors – how much larger can an art event get? Next month we’ll all find out as Design Festa vol. 29 takes place, rain or shine, at Tokyo Big Sight’s West Halls 1, 2, 3, the Atrium and outdoors.

Envisioned as a no-strings-attached, nonjudgmental, non-corporate, freestyle art fair for anyone and everyone, Design Festa first opened its doors in 1994. Initially held at Harumi’s International Trade Fair Hall, before moving to it’s current location, Tokyo Big Sight, in 1996, it has developed into Asia’s (if not the world’s) single, largest art event held under one roof. Sometimes reminiscent of the mother-of-all flea markets, anyone with any artistic talent, no matter how latent or developed, can rent a booth, or a block of time, and be granted their fifteen minutes of fame.

Design Festa Sprawl (last year's event, click to enlarge)
Design Festa Sprawl (last year's event, click to enlarge)
But from whence did it come? Well, at a time when most people were zigging, event founder Kunie Usiku definitely zagged, recalling that “…at that time, it was accepted wisdom to hold a single genre event, however, I think a narrow labeling of genre bears no relation to a person’s ability to express themselves, and all types of art production are inter-connected. There might be people interested in objet d’art even though they are painters, and musicians may be interested in fashion. Genres are blurred with artists of one persuasion being inspired by elements from others.’

And a blur it can be. Held over two days, a considerably limited amount of time needed to really get a sense of the depth and breadth of the entire exhibition, Design Festa is communal, fun, funky, loud, overstimulating, crowded and amazingly well organized. First timers may be overwhelmed by the number of booths, exhibitors, events and performances,while seasoned vets know that a bit of forethought will streamline their experience.

Through their website,, information leading up to the event is posted at fairly regular intervals, giving potential visitors the chance to execute their plan of attack, while others eagerly await haphazardly discovering something new, exciting and even strange, just by wandering about.

There are the hundreds of booths to peruse while shuffling along, a variety of performances and shows where you can take break and relax for a bit, live bands more-often-than-not thrashing about outdoors, mini-bars set up in strategic places, and the restaurant area where long lines are common, but move efficiently enough to make your refueling stop easy to bear.

Design Festa will be held at the futuristic Tokyo Big Sight
Design Festa will be held at the futuristic Tokyo Big Sight
Need a smoke or maybe just a breath of fresh air before continuing? Then just step outside and enjoy a great view of Tokyo’s skyline, and, don’t forget the predominance of the venue itself. Opened in 1996, Tokyo Big Sight (a.k.a. the Tokyo International Exhibition Center) is Tokyo’s largest convention center, offering an indoor/outdoor usable area of about 100,000 m². However it’s primarily known for its striking, inverted, glass and titanium paneled observation towers. Most people liken it to an alien mother-ship, expecting it at any moment to levitate off its pillars and disappear into the sky. But it’s not going anywhere soon, not when it plays host annually to some 400 individual or group shows, exhibitions and conferences. This interstellar ship is grounded until further notice.

So forget the economy, geopolitics and all the rest of that stuff, and lose yourself in another world, one of fun, art, music, fashion, performance, food & drink. Inundate your senses and drench your peripheral vision, but don’t forget to load your camera and wear your walking shoes, ‘cuz there’s tonnes to see and miles to walk at this biannual art explosion.

Let the chaos begin!

Event Information:
Date: May 16th (Sat) & 17th (Sun) from 11:00 – 19:00
Location: Tokyo Big Sight West Hall 1, 2, 3, 4, Atrium and Outdoors
Map (click to enlarge):
Design Festa Map

Nearest station: Kokusaitenjijo-seimon (Yurikamome Line) or Kokusaitenjijo (Rinkai-Line)
FREE for children 12 years old and under
In Advance – single day ticket: ¥800 / two day ticket ¥1,500
Door price – single day ticket: ¥1000 / two day ticket ¥1,800

Article by Stephen Lebovits

2 thoughts on “Design Festa – Artistic Chaos in a Downturned Economy!”

  1. Japan is indeed a place for fashion, food, arts and style. I would want to visit Japan in the future if time permits it. Thanks for your post. This site will interest some of your Japanese friends.

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