In Tokyo, Akihabara is otaku central. A ‘must-see’ for anime fans visiting Japan – assuming you check out the east side of the country. If you’re out west in Kansai, all your Akiba faves can be found in Osaka’s Den Den Town.
The ‘town’ runs north-south between Nipponbashi and Ebisucho subway stations. It’s got all the usual suspects: Animate, Sofmap, Super Potato, maid cafes, game arcades, electronics, comic book stores and figure/Gunpla sellers. A lot of shops are tax-free, so Nipponbashi attracts Osaka souvenir hunters and otakus in roughly equal numbers.
The biggest anime event in Kansai
Once a year, the Nipponbashi Street Festa brings together cosplayers, anime fans, gamers, and confused tourists who were looking for novelty keyrings. It happens on a weekend every March. And costumes aren’t compulsory – so if you’re in town, there’s no excuse not to check it out.
Den Den Town’s main road is closed to traffic for several hours that day. Not a patch on Akihabara closing the roads every weekend, but it’s a start.
It’s totally like Halloween for otaku. The best excuse to dress up in something crazy.
2017 marked the 13th Street Festa. Last year, over 200,000 people squished together for the day. The organisers were expecting 250,000 this year. We love that the event’s getting more popular, as long as everyone’s got room to breathe. There are only so many people you can fit on a mile of road.
We’ll also let you in on a secret. This year was our first time. The Street Festa experience was completely new, and shiny, and a bit terrifying. We had no idea what to expect, or where to look.
Select a character and get ready to battle
As ‘kei’ can mean ‘style’ in Japanese, I went as Mario-Kei. An unoriginal choice, but always a crowd favourite. (Got there and spotted 4 other, better Marios straight away. And they had matching Luigis. As well as a Yoshi. And Princess Peach and Princess Daisy from Mario Tennis. Why didn’t I make more effort?)
Yes, that is my real face. I made sure to put on sunscreen.
Stand almost anywhere and you’ll spot cosplayers. Even if you can’t see the cosplayers themselves, a large circle of amateur photographers should give you the hint. There’s someone dressed up and standing in the middle for sure.
Most other times, it’s polite to ask permission to take a few shots. But you can see how much effort’s gone into these outfits. They’re made to be shown off. Nobody minds you whipping your camera out – as long as that’s all you do.
With hundreds – if not thousands – of cosplayers around, you’re bound to spot someone you recognise.
Street Festa focuses on anime, but that’s not all you’ll see. The committee chairman turned up in a gold sparkly Billiken outfit. And his deputy was a Minion. Politics was unavoidably a theme this year, too. We bet the guy wearing a full Prime Minister Abe head mask was sweating like hell.
Newer anime shows get a lot of love – and the classics stay popular. If you wanted to, you could play ‘cosplay bingo’ as you walk around. Love Live? Check. Evangelion? Check. Attack on Titan? Check. Utena? Check. Pretty Cure? Check. Are we drunk on anime yet?
We didn’t spot a single Yuri!!! on Ice cosplayer all day. Maybe it was too sunny.
Taking it underground… well, a block west
Once the cars reclaim the street, everyone moves to Ota Road. It’s Osaka’s take on Akihabara’s backstreets – with more retro game shops and maid cafes. Make sure not to get Ota Road mixed up with Otome Road in Ikebukuro.
By the time you’re ordered off the road, the crowds have often thinned out. It’s easier to people-watch and get your photo taken with other cosplayers. The most hardcore anime fans fly or get the bullet train into Osaka for the day. Catch them before they go home!
Suitcase storage, changing rooms, public toilets and parking are all along Ota Road. Legendary Japanese organisational skills in action there. Elbow your way in that direction.
Several brave, proud drivers showed up in their ‘itasha’. Cars dedicated to anime – well, to their waifu at least. The best place to see itasha? In Ota Road’s parking spaces, duh.
Missed it completely? There’s always next year.
Our tips for enjoying Nipponbashi Street Festa
- You don’t have to be in costume. Be prepared for near-constant photo requests if you are.
- To catch the opening parade, get there EARLY. You want to be down the Ebisucho station end of the road.
- Once cosplayers start setting up in the middle of the road, stick to the pavement.
- The queues for purikura, toilets, and basically everything else will be immense.
- Catch a breather on Ota Road, where you’ll probably spot everything you hoped you would.
- TAKE AS MANY PHOTOS AS YOU CAN.
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