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Toole Japan Part I: Nipponbashi Street Festa 2016

by Mike Toole,

I'm on assignment for ANN here in Japan, getting ready to cover the great big Anime Japan event later this week at Tokyo Big Sight! But before heading to Japan's megalopolis, my wife Prairie and I are spending some time down south, in Osaka. We started the trip by seeing the Hanshin Derby, the J-League grudge match between Vissel Kobe and Gamba Osaka—a great start to an auspicious trip.

With the prospect of a full day wandering around Osaka facing us, Prairie and I knew the best course of action: head on down to Den Den Town, Osaka's own otaku neighborhood! See, usually you hear about Akihabara, and Nakano Broadway, but Osaka's answer to these places has a tradition of its own. The neighborhood grew out of a cluster of electronics and appliance shops that are all still there, selling restaurant fixtures and vintage speakers and high-end VHS decks. What sprang up around them? Big otaku stores like Animate and Toranoana, as well as a galaxy of smaller shops, game arcades, and other attractions.

As we headed into the Nipponbashi neighborhood, I knew I was in Den Den Town, because there was a PA system blasting the neighborhood's theme song, touting its anime, manga, and game-powered appeal. Man, every hood oughta have its own theme song. Then, my rudimentary understanding of Japanese picked up something even more surprising: a welcome to Den Den Town's big cosplay matsuri!

See, we were passed by a couple of Sword Art Online and Sailor Moon refugees on the way in, but didn't really think much of it. But once we get closer to the center of Den Den Town, yyyyep!!

What we were witnessing is known as the Nipponbashi Street Festa, an annual cosplay event held right on the streets of Den Den Town. The thing about events like this is that Tokyo really dominates, with Comic Market and similar events drawing fans in massive numbers from all over the country. The Street Festa, however, is one of the biggest events outside of Tokyo.

I first got a real sense that something big was happening when I bumped into my childhood outside of a shop. Check out these Mazinger cosplayers!

Soon, I was part of the scrum, trying to get into position to snap photos of the scores and scores of cosplayers on every block, like these Love Live! ladies.

It all reminded me a bit of the scene at American cons, where costumers of all shapes and sizes form up for photo ops. This event even had the whole “cosplay photos are blocking passageways” deal. Some things cross cultural boundaries.

Another phenomenon new to me: dudes with high-end cameras really fighting for position to get close-ups of sexy cosplay ladies. Look at this crowd! If you squint, you can just make out the cosplayer's plunging neckline that was drawing literally dozens of dudes, all pushing and shoving for optimal position. I stayed back, because I am a dignified man. (Also, I failed to sneak a photo as the shoot was dispersing.)

Actually, I was only able to grab this Super Sonico shot at the last second, before the crowd dissipated. I really liked the way the organizers kept the crowd moving – proctors would observe large photoshoots, and when they got too mobbed or took too long, they'd step in and speak to the cosplayer briefly, then turn to the crowd and inform them that the photoshoot was ending in ten seconds. Then they'd lead a countdown, and sure enough, at zero, the entire group would scatter to look for other subjects to photograph. The system really worked!

Osomatsu-mania is real! All the stores were absolutely jammed with Mr. Osomatsu merchandise at various levels of “SOLD OUT!!”, and the neighborhood was thronged with boys and girls in the characters’ trademark hoodies. When Prairie ducked into a shop to look for souvenirs, the shopkeepers first words were, “Which Matsu is your favorite?” I couldn't resist getting the above shot of Iyami and Chibita.

Or this two-fer of Totoko and Totoko!

On the other side of the planet from my hometown, in a place where few people even knew I was visiting, I heard a voice ring out: “Oh my god, is that Mike Toole?” Yeah, this shit happens all the time. It was former ANN intern Kyle Cardine, rocking his Attack on Titan cosplay!

Naturally, there were “ita-sha,” the cars and trucks that otaku festoon with their favorite characters in order to share their pain with the world. Even better: while sporty, this particular ita-car was simply being used for carrying costumes into town.

Even these cats got into the cosplay action.

Not to be upstaged, this dog donned a sailor fuku – in the name of justice!

It was then that I caught sight of a familiar figure!

Inside a big parking lot, I got a better look at a regular-sized Mazinger Z, and also made an amazing – and slightly dismaying discovery – manga and anime legend Gō Nagai was in town! And I'd missed him by an hour or two. It was a magical day, just not quite that magical. Maybe next time.

In the meantime, I roamed the lot, looking at exhibits. The JSDF ground forces were on hand, letting the military otaku check out their wheels and showing off their adorable mascot Momoe.

Nearby, there was a cool samurai armor exhibit.

As the sun set and the crowds broke up for the day, an older gent left his stall and approached me. He was a little hesitant; it was clear that his English was almost as bad as my Japanese. But he tried to bridge that cultural gap anyway, smiling sincerely, gesturing, and saying one word: “Yakisoba.” I obligingly bought some - turns out we had a common language, after all! At the Nipponbashi Festa, that common language was in full effect – anime lovers from all corners of Japan and all over the world came together for some noisy, informal fun. It was a great time, and I'm hoping it's a harbinger for the days to come.

We finished the day where all good days should be finished: at Captain Terry Coffee Stadium. Here's Captain Terry himself, welcome us to the caffeinated fight pits. I'm moving on to Kawaguchiko and then Tokyo; in the meantime, enjoy this fun cosplay gallery from Nipponbashi Street Festa!

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