Design Festa

I had heard about Design Festa for quite awhile even before I moved over from the US. It's kind of like a US Art Fair except that whereas the Art Fairs have all sorts of entrance conditions and try to be selective, Design Festa has no entrance conditions beyond willingness to pay $105 for a tiny 3'x6' booth (of course you can buy your way up from there). As a result, there's a lot of random stuff at Design Festa spread over about 2,600 booths.

The latest Design Festa was this past weekend (November 8-9), at Tokyo Big Sight, a ginourmous convention center out in the O-daiba area. Big Sight is also where the Tokyo Anime Fair and Comiket are held.

Here's a list of the things I saw that caught my fancy or attention -- I tried to cover the whole event although with 2,600 booths I'm sure I missed a few!

Above: Yes, it's bondage ninja kitty. Welcome to Design Festa.

Larger versions of most images are available on my Picasa album for Design Festa.

At left: I pose with some table-shaped friends.

Onozawa Yukata - the World's Coolest Gesture Drawing


This guy's drawings are super-cool minimal gesture-drawing-like drawings, many of them sexy drawings of women. Although some of them also include some jet-blacks areas, they mostly look like they're made with a simple marker. He was very nice and soft-spoken, selling prints and postcards. Here's his website. It turns out Michael Chang and his friends were at Festa as well, and they independently thought this guys' stuff was the most notable thing at the show as well.


I've heard of Landsend (sic, that's how they write it in English) magazine for quite some time. They started (or more accurately popularized) the photographic movement of taking pictures of ruined or abandoned places, which there are a lot of in Japan. That trend is accelerating not only due to the reasons found in any country (abandonment of old mining areas, migration to the cities with the accompanying emptying out of the countryside), but also because of Japan's overall population decline.

Landsend is an infrequent publication (2-3 times a year) that's a glossy photography magainze for photographs of that subject matter. Landsend doesn't particularly have a website, although Masaharu Takebe has a website here.

One of the places that kicked off attention to this style of photography was the spectacular pictures of an abandoned military base in the Seto Inland Sea which was nicknamed "battleship island" because it's a concrete structure coming straight out of the water. There's a great online gallery of pictures from Battleship Island here.

I got to pick up a couple issues of Landsend, as well as meet the staff. They energetically pronounced their magazine's subject matter in English as "ruins", even though "abandoned buildings" is actually a lot more accurate. It was great to be able to talk to them a bit, their photographs are really compelling.

One of the issues I picked up is mostly photographs of a town with a whole series of abandoned four-story concrete apartment buildings on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful ocean view. He explained this was a classic abandoned mining town: the local mine had worked out the vein, and so these 60s-era apartments are slowly being covered with ivy on this dramatic hilltop.

The other issue they were selling had some fantastic abandoned factory buildings. Landsend definitely lives up to all the things that are said about them in art press in the states!

Southeast Asian Fusion Dance Performance

Upstairs at Design Festa, they had a low-light area where various light-based installations were. They also had a stage in that area, and right when we walked up to it there was a Southeast Asian dance troupe performing. There were six women who did individual performances drawing on various dance traditions (Eldred said the first one we saw -- top at right -- was Indonesian). Afterwards there was an Indian-inspired section. At the end (lower pictures at right) the whole group came out and did a fusion number. There were two (male) musicians, a sitar player and a tabla player, but in addition they used a pre-recorded rhythm soundtrack that would be at home in a club, so while the dance was traditional the music was more updated.

The dancers were excellent, with the perfect body control and timing of professionals. Looking back through the Deisgn Festa materials they appear to be listed as 掌の上/Tenohira no ue, although I didn't actually hear their name mentioned at the performance.

New World Transparent Specimen

Japan is, of course, the country that has a museum for parasites (the Meguro Parasitological Museum, conveniently located near my house). So it makes sense to see the New World Transparent Specimen booth, which promoting their auctions (on Yahoo Auctions, the major auction site here) of these brilliantly colored biological specimens. They were really striking, I assume the coloration is added on to these preserved fish, squids, shrimp and so forth, although I don't really know. They are fascinating though!

For some much better pictures, have a look at their website or their Yahoo! Auctions page.



A lot of my favorite things were upstairs right near the dance stage. This was a huge, layered town-like structure all built out of corrugated cardboard.

The nice lady who made it was there and we exchanged compliments. Her tag line for larvahouse is 「だれもいなくなったまち」, meaning roughly, "The town where everyone went away." Her website is here.

Izakaya, anyone?

However, that wasn't the coolest miniature thing at the show! On the other side of the reduced-light area there were a series of Vue D'Optique style flats, along with one extraordinarily cool piece.

If you look at the left-hand picture below, it looks like a shot of a very typical local Japanese eatery, maybe from a few years ago. But in fact, it's a fastidiously built miniature. Look at the right-hand picture and in the foreground you can see a clipboard clip for scale; the tables are about 5cm tall.

This piece absolutely mesmerized everyone who saw it with its versimilitude, in particular children. I hate to wait quite a while to take these photos just because everyone wanted to stare in through the door! Unfortunately, I didn't get the artists' name.


Besides miniatures, another theme running through Design Festa was papercraft. There are a lot of fantastic artists fabricating really cool stuff out of paper. I've blogged before about the awesome Piperoidz, But a couple of the artists at Design Festa have fused papercraft with a Hong Kong figure design sensibility to get some awesome-looking characters!

Above: こみ/Komi. Below: まつもとやすたか/Yasutaka Matsumoto.

The last cool piece of papercraft was a company called Handson that makes papercraft kits to musical instruments like guitars, violins, cellos, and so forth, including the strings. They're really amazing, but the prototype for their next one was even more incredible: a saxophone with all the levers!

Refugee from Ghibli?

Asahi banner

One thing that can be a bit monotonous here is that character design is so overwhelmingly influenced by anime/manga that characters with that 'look' overwhelm all sorts of illustration and design. Thankfully, Design Festa in general was an antidote to that, with artistic influences from all over in clear evidence.

In particular, the artist Asahi with the slogan ポカポカ色, or "mistaken colors", clearly comes not from the Tezuka/Manga tradition but from the Toei/Miyazaki tradition. Their character really seem like they could be studies for the next Ghibli film and the colors are full and humanistic. The expressions are open-mouthed wonder or full-belly laughs, a great counterpoint to the typically emotionally reserved and overthought anime posing we usually see here.

Escher in the Izakaya

One of the most intriguing traditional illustrators I saw was 寺坂安里/Anri Terazaka. Her work all has a storybook style, but in particular she produced a number of pieces that incorporated an Escher-inspired distortion of perspective, made all the mode striking because they were views into traditional Japanese interiors. Since traditional interiors incorporate so many rectilinear elements, the perspective warping became the focus of the piece.


Steampunk Watches

Of the artists I talked to at Design Festa, none of them seemed to be from Tokyo. Maybe it's just that living in Tokyo means being too busy making money or something, but almost everybody seemed to hail from elsewhere. It certainly was true of Ken Handmade Watches, which was from Sendai Miyagi prefecture.

They make a whole line of hand-crafted watches (I'm sure the mechanisms are manufactured elsewhere) that have a very steampunk look. They're a bit expensive -- Y20,000 (U$200) and up -- but definitely having one means you'll have a watch none of your friends have ever seen!


Hallym College

Although most of the artists and attendees were Japanese, there was a good assortment of gaikokujin (foreigners) wandering the aisles as well. In particular, there was one entire aisle of students from Hallym Colelge in Korea. I was psyched because they're from Chunchon, the small town in Korea I went to last year. They were very surprised to meet a westerner who knew where Chunchon was!

I wondered how Design Festa was for them, since most of them didn't seem to particularly speak Japanese. I had initially started talking to them in Japanese and we quickly realized it was much better to communicate in English -- their Japanese was almost non-existant.

Neotree -- Modular LED-based lighting

Unfortunately, my pictures of this didn't come out and they don't really have any information on their website (which is mostly in Korean anyway), but their idea was to take high-intensity LED lighting strips made by the Lumens company and fabricate a simple branching-tree structure. The user could then buy as many as they wanted and mount them in any sort of tree structure. The bright LEDs are intended as indirect lighting, so you have a backlit tree that floats about 4 cm off the wall due to standoff posts.

The coolest thing about this is that you attach the power brick only at the base of the tree; each module had plugs which transmit the power throughout the tree. If I remember right, each module was about Y4000 (U$40), so it isn't cheap lighting just yet, but it was a cool idea.

B-side Label

There was an Osaka-based sticker/record company there called B-side Label. They had lots of great stickers, quite a numer of which are on my notebook now. My favorite sticker of the show I didn't pick up there, but rather around the corner. It has a primitive drawing of a young boy holding a stuffed bear and saying, "Daddy! Take us to FUN TOWN."

B-side logo

Fun Illustrators/Artists

Some other folks I saw: