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Nipponbashi Street Festa Is Japan’s Craziest Cosplay Festival

Western Japan’s most elaborate cosplay bash has just hit the streets of Nipponbashi, Osaka – ground zero for all things anime, manga, and gaming in Japan’s lively second city. The Nipponbashi Street Festa is no backyard costume party; thousands of professional and amateur cosplayers alike spend all year leading up to the event perfecting their ensembles, literally bringing to life movie, comic, and video-game characters from the obscure to the beloved.

The Nipponbashi Street Festa crowd

From Batman and Harley Quinn to Pikachu and Squirtle to the entire Harry Potter gang, if you can name it, it’s probably at the Nipponbashi Street Festa. The otaku (anime and gaming nerd) squad come out to play at this annual festival posing for and entertaining hundreds of thousands of fans and curious passersby who gather in the streets to photograph the action.

The festival happens every year in March and first began in 2005 as a way to re-energise “electric town”. The quirky neighbourhood of Nipponbashi is colloquially known as “Den Den Town” or denki no machi (“electric town”). The moniker hails from post-WWII days when consumer electronics stores popped up around the district. The area stretches from the seafood-stuffed Kuromon Market to the neon neighbourhood of Shinsekai in the north-south direction and includes the laneways surrounding Sakaisuji Street.

What you’ll see at Nipponbashi Street Festa

Nowadays, Nipponbashi is best known as a haven for specialist anime, manga, and video game stores, offering the largest selection west of Akihabara in Tokyo, as well as maid cafés, themed restaurants, and multi-story gaming arcades. Many of the more than 500 specialty shops are duty-free for tourists (so, bring your passport with you).

Exploring Den Den Town

Roaming these alleys during the cosplay festival is one of the most surreal, only-in-Japan experiences you can have, but if your trip to Osaka doesn’t happen to fall in March weekend, the area is worth a visit anytime for its quirky stores and unique experiences. Maid cafés are ubiquitous in Den Den Town, like Maid Dreamin’ where you can request a live performance with your cocktail. Or you could opt instead for something slightly different; a maid-massage-parlour experience. Little Rabbit offers professional shiatsu massage by cheerful, chatty, trained masseuses dressed in cute maid outfits complete with bunny ears.

At the southern end of Den Den Town near the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower in Shinsekai, the hot-and-steamy Spa World provides a rare international onsen bathing experience. Open 24 hours, there are various international zones – you can soak in a Greek medicinal bath for an hour and sweat it out in a Finnish sauna for the next.

Exploring Shinsekai

Shinsekai is best frequented in the evening from around 5pm when the tower is illuminated and neon lights beam over giant floating papier-mâché blowfish, enormous plastic food sculptures, and golden billiken statues.

Renowned for fugu (blowfish) cuisine (try the restaurant Zuboraya) and kushikatsu (deep-fried meat and vegetables slung on sticks), Shinsekai has been serving up Osaka’s famous B-kyu gurume (literally “B-class gourmet”) foods for over 100 years.

Osakans love their fun, local, no-frills dining culture, and Shinsekai is the perfect spot to taste some okonomiyaki (Osaka’s signature savoury pancake) or takoyaki (fried octopus balls—you can find them on the street), or to dine inside the famed Daruma – one of the original kushikatsu vendors.

If you’re new to kushikatsu, a trip to Daruma will teach you the number one rule – no double-dipping! This is the edict of the steely looking character at the shop front with his arms crossed over his chest because customers share trays of tonkatsu sauce, the rich, sweet kushikatsu dipping sauce.

But don’t let him fool you, the servers are friendly in the signature Osaka way. Their comic banter in the kitchen will entertain you while you wait, because as we know, where the food is good in Japan, there will be a lineup.

(Images: Jason Haidar)