Cosplay Festa in Japan’s Den Den Town

Cosplay Festa in Japan’s Den Den Town

by David Krigbaum

I found Haruhi Suzumiya. She’s working in a popular chain anime goods shop in Osaka’s Nippombashi district. I didn’t plan to find a god-like entity hocking over-priced character goods, but it just sort of worked out that way. (Haruhi is the main character in a show about... its complicated.)

Nippombashi has Osaka’s version of Akihabara, Den Den Town. Akihabara is Tokyo’s “Electric Town” so “Den” is short for “Denki” or “Electric.” Like it’s more famous counterpart it’s a district of nerditry with arcades and shops selling anime goods, electronic, plastic models and the like. I’ve been looking for a few hard to find pre-World War II Japanese fighters and I like anime-related things so off I went.

Ducking down a side street past a Lawson was the first sign that I’d arrived- a maid café. Then I saw a crowd of people, not unusual, but there as a school girl with blue hair. Then one with pink hair. Then a guy in an Imperial Japanese Navy admiral’s uniform with a bright yellow T for a head.

I’d stumbled into Cosplay Festa, one of the biggest cosplay events in Japan and the biggest in Osaka. Cosplay is a hobby where people make and wear costumes of their favorite characters from both Japanese and Western television, cartoons and movies. The main street through Den Den Town had become a showcase for cosplayers of all skill levels to show off, have fun and get swarmed by photographers. There was a fenced area where for 3000 yen you could see cosplayers but I have no idea why anyone would do that. The cosplay set could be seen up and down both sides of every street and happy to pose for free.

It was here that I noticed Haruhi with her distinct ribboned hair band, and a school uniform under a green company coat hastily setting up the displays outside of her shop. Cosplay as a hobby attracts a pretty diverse lot of participants, while it seems to be overwhelmingly young women it’s not exclusive and what makes it fun is seeing the variety of characters represented and the quality of the work. Some, like Haruhi, just use store bought costumes and accessories, but for a lot of this it’s do-it-yourself. It goes from a sewn together simple costume and pieced together representations of a favorite character to some professional quality armor and intricate stitch work.
Some cosplayers work with partners or groups to act out scenes, like a group of Team Rocket villains trampling on a Pokemon or the ubiquitous pink and blue haired Rem and Rams in different costumes all over the places. A lot of these characters I was unfamiliar with but I kept an eye out for the familiar and wasn’t disappointed to see 90s or Gegege no Kitaro cosplayers. Also ran into a few Imperial Japanese Navy reenactors, which made me feel left out. I had no idea I could bring my World War II uniforms to this and make it awkward.

A Gundam head atop an arcade cabinet caught my attention when I got off the street for some shade on the covered sidewalk. Then I saw the Super Mario Bros., the original, in a sit-down multipurpose white cabinet under it. Past it was a narrow alley of wall-to-wall 90s arcade games. Like Mario none in their original cabinets, but the sit down cabinets that can be programmed with any ROM, basically an arcade emulator. I was presented with a row of Street Fighter II: The World Champions and Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, the latter being the version I grew up on. If you were an American kid in the 90s at some point, whether in a laundry mat, Chuck E. Cheese or smoky slots room you played Street Fighter II. Next to it I discovered the Japanese equivalent of the X-Men arcade game installed in every Pizza Hut: Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. The magical girl anime is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with controls as smooth or smoother than most in the genre; it was a lot of fun for 100 yen.
For people looking for some nostalgic pop culture it’s all around. Not just the arcade but the little second-hand anime goods shops had stuff from my favorite off-air shows and the music shops all had music from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

I finished losing to Blanka in time to head back out, see Deadpools do what Deadpools do (weird stuff. They do weird stuff.) and line up along the street to watch the noon parade. It began with local mascots and a troop of samurai from the Sanada Clan rousing the audience and blasting away on a conch because that’s how Osaka keeps cosplay events classy. From there it was everything and anything in costume like a colorful carnival. Not everyone in costume was part of the parade, so when it ended the streets felt like a near 50/50 mix of regular people and costumed, many of the later just hanging out and taking pictures of the other cosplayers too.
Getting back to my original search I found a five-story model shop with each floor specializing in a different model type like trains, cars, airplanes, mechs and tanks. It had the unusual airplane I was looking for; both the regular and a limited edition which I didn’t know existed. Mission accomplished I headed out and look forward to coming back to try my hand at more of the old arcade games and seeing what else Den Den Town has to offer.

I’m not sure precisely what the boundary of Den Den Town is; I guess it’s when you stop seeing maid cafes and anime shops, but the nearest train and subway stations are Ebisucho, Nippombashi (that spelling is correct), Namba and Namba (Nankai).

Subway information was taken from

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