In all the years I’ve covered art in Japan, the event I enjoy visiting most is Design Festa. This vast festival of creative outpouring—most of it amateur, student, or semi-pro—is typically held at the vast and architecturally stunning Tokyo Big Site centre in the Odaiba area, across the Rainbow Bridge.


It gives me the opportunity to ride in on the Yurikamome elevated transit system, with magnificent views of the Bay Area, and later take a walk on Tokyo’s only beach. But this is also the one art event where I’m most likely to part with my money, and bring something home for my burgeoning art collection.

As a collector, it’s a bit like gambling with pennies. You’ll never get rich this way by buying some future world-recognized art genius—although who knows? But with the prices so low and something for every taste, you’re at least pretty sure to come home feeling you’ve got the best end of the bargain. I’m still very fond of all the purchases I’ve made here over the years, so this is great for art collectors, especially those just starting a collection, or people merely interested in brightening—or weirding—up their home a bit.

But even if you don’t buy anything besides a few postcards, the real reason to visit the event is the sheer spectacle of thousands of creative people expressing themselves in various and often outlandish ways. Some just turn up to sell their wares, but others dress for the occasion, donning exotic and sometimes very sexy costumes, while others paint “live.” There are also performance areas for dancing and rock music—and of course, more cosplay than you can shake a furry stick at.

Sep-Art-web-2The great thing, though, is meeting the people. It’s surprising how friendly some of them can get when there’s a prospect that you might validate their existence by buying something they’ve put their heart and creative soul into.

Midsummer Design Festa Gakuten is a relatively new addition to the usual roster of Design Festas, which are held in the spring and autumn, and, as the name suggests, it has a special focus on students—although that category is interpreted very loosely in typical open-ended Design Festa style:

“GAKUTEN welcomes technical school students, elementary school students, part-time students, university students, high school students and self-taught students regardless of age and nationality!”

In life we never stop learning, and visiting a Design Festa is bound to surprise you and teach you something new, so for a truly memorable artistic experience, get down to Tokyo Big Site at the end of August. I know I will.

Midsummer Design Festa. Aug 27-28. Tokyo Big Sight. Nearest stn: Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon.