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The 42nd Design Festa opened for its two day run at Tokyo Big Sight on November 21st. Design Festa is the biggest art and handcraft event in Asia, taking place twice a year. Anyone can participate regardless of age, nationality and genre, as long as they exhibit original goods or performance.

Over 10,000 participants present a wide range of arts, including music, drawings, fashion, handcraft, photography, dolls, homeware, home accessories, accessories, plants and more. Some forms of participation such as fortune telling, health food, mobile music performance, have been banned since 2011.

The 42 Design Festa at Big Sight in Tokyo

The 42 Design Festa at Big Sight in Tokyo

Design Festa is the mixed embodiment of Japanese creativity, desire for transgression and, at the same time, dedication to order. Like everything else in Japan, creative art and performance are presented in a highly organized way at Design Festa. Day 1 yesterday at the 43rd Design Festa wasn’t an exception.

As we walked onto the first floor, we met Punk-looking calligrapher politely advertising his artwork of Japanese calligraphy, and at his next booth, a young girl with shocking pink legwarmers busily gets her pink wig ready at a hair coloring cream both. Only 10 meters away from the punk calligrapher and the pink wig girl, we meet the N.E.E.T., a popular group who parodizes Japan’s growing number of unemployed, stay-at home young Japanese by creating an unpaid job of ‘home self-security officers’. Their signature T-Shirt “I’m never going to work – NEVER” is proudly hung at their booth. Yuzo Yoshimori‘s logo design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games says “Fukyo 2020”, which is part of his series of artwork incorporating “Fuck You” “Eat Shit” and other English swear words.

Live drawings of varying scales are performed throughout the venue, impressing visitors and other participants. There were a number of manga artists, offering the service of manga portraits for 500 yen to 1,000 yen. We gave into the temptation and had all our staff’s manga portraits done – thank you, Kougeiマンガ似顔絵チーム!

From amature to professional quality, handcrafts are a major attraction at Design Festa. Many of the participants are aspiring entrepreneurs. Dreaming of quitting their day job and running their own business one day, they produce handmade products in their spare time and exhibit and sell them at major events such as Design Festa. Some artists have already seen success in commercialising their creations, such as the creator of Mochi Usagi (“Ricecake Rabbit), who began collaborating with Sanrio’s Hello Kitty.

The 42th Design Festa at Tokyo Big Sight 2015

Macky’s creation

At the same time, there are also artists in a traditional sense – they make whatever they want and never reproduce the same thing. Meet Macky, a felt doll artist. There was a large crowd of people taking photos in front of two beautiful mythical creatures. These dolls were priced at 60,000 yen each, but they were already sold out in the first hour after Design Festa opened. I asked Macky if there are more of them for sale or if she takes orders: “These [the two felt dolls] are the only things I made for this Design Festa. I don’t take orders because I never make the same thing twice. I create things when I get inspired.”

Toronto Comic Arts Festival

There are also a number of participants from overseas. TCAF – Toronto Comic Arts Festival made it this year again and had a strong presence on the first floor. If you are an artist, specialising in original music, visual or performance art or handicraft, why not participate in the next Design Festa which will take place in summer in Tokyo. Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about Design Festa, you can visit Design Festa Gallery in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. See you all at Big Sight in the summer of 2016!