While the traditional and historical aspects of Japanese culture still remain the central focus for ceremony and celebration, increasingly modern culture is beginning to establish its own traditions and events. This phenomenon has been primarily driven by the increasing popularity of Japanese animation (known as anime) and also through a wide range of ‘Marvel’ comic superheroes that have invaded the country through numerous action packed movies from the US. As a result, there are many anime/comic stores throughout the country where you can also buy an extensive range of books, videos, memorabilia and costumes. Here the youth of Japan often spend a small fortune on their collections and enjoy nothing more than actually dressing up and parading as their favorite characters. They certainly need little encouragement to take to the streets for the annual Nipponbashi Street Festa, which is a particularly popular annual event in Osaka. This is an anime-themed festival that his held in an area called Den Den Town, which is the electronics centre of Osaka and home to all things manga or anime.
Although the weather was cold and overcast (being March), Jules and I decided to head downtown to see what it was all about. Coming up from the underground, it was clear that this was a very popular event, with large crowds streaming into the area. Increasingly, the sight of coloured hair and strange looking costumes gave us a pretty good guide that we were heading in the right direction. Yet with temperatures plunging and the clouds quickly building, we weren’t quite sure whether festivities might soon be called off by the time we got there. We should have realized that such devoted fans are made of sterner stuff than that and even when a slight bit of snow did eventually fall they remained there in force.
With the normally busy streets closed off from traffic, a wide range of fascinating characters could be seen, each striking well practiced poses for groups of excited amateur photographers. For everyday people, dressing up in such extravagant costumes certainly generated the sort of frenzied attention that would normally be reserved for pop stars and movie idols. There were no inhibitions here, with plenty of cross-dressing and a proliferation of skimpy costumes despite the chilly weather. No one was camera shy either; they seemed to love acting out their characters and appeared to thrive on all the attention. In the parking lot, highly decorated cars adorned with popular anime graphics were also very much the centre of attention. Their owners could be seen vigorously wiping down their pride and joy once the brief burst of snow had passed and as the sun re-emerged, their shiny cars became the backdrop for even more photographs.
There was certainly no denying the energy and excitement of both the crowds and its participants at this years Nipponbashi Street Festa. The day was a celebration of youth culture and the unique way of experiencing a sample of the visual aesthetic that has emerged through the popularity of anime. Despite the weather, the tremendous sense of fun was evident, providing a positive contrast to how many from other parts of the world might perceive modern Japanese life. It was an opportunity for ordinary people to openly express their sense of fantasy amongst a crowd who clearly where in admiration of their passion for anime, manga and the world of comic book characters.