Japan is Scary Good at Halloween
By Andrew Smith on 7 Nov 2016
There are plenty of fantastic reasons to visit Japan in the fall. The beautiful autumn leaves that fill the scenic landscapes across the country attract visitors from around the world. But in late October, once you're finished strolling under the crimson-topped trees out in nature, take a trip back to Tokyo where the streets are red — not with crunchy fallen leaves, but with blood — for one of Japan’s fastest growing cultural spectacles, Halloween.
It should be no surprise that the country known for its incredible cosplay culture goes all-out for Halloween, but it is still shocking to see Tokyo’s sea of usual drab, dark business suits suddenly flooded with bright, flashy colors. Harajuku, where you would typically find young cosplayers and eccentric fashion monsters, is eerily vacant on Halloween night. Instead the hoards of zombies and other creatures flock to Shibuya for the party, and it is absolutely insane. In anticipation for the massive crowds, the streets around Shibuya’s famous Scramble Crossing are closed to vehicles which leaves the space open for the undead to freely wander like a real apocalyptic nightmare straight out of a Biohazard movie. Since so many party-goers gather here, Halloween has become a massive street party due to the bars and clubs inability to host the crowds. Everyone is drinking freely and taking photos together during this rare occasion when it is perfectly acceptable to walk up and talk to strangers. The costumes range from outrageously hilarious to terrifyingly gruesome. Mostly guys just use the holiday as an excuse to wear a mini skirt though.
Of course the party isn’t limited to the streets of Shibuya, the Halloween spirit has spread just about everywhere. Roppongi is another obvious choice. The parties in this legendary international hub are virtually nonstop. Halloween is no exception. Being from a foreign culture, this spooky celebration really thrives in Tokyo’s most diverse entertainment district. Like in Shibuya, feel no shame walking the streets wearing your best costume and hopping from bar to bar. The usual social rules are thrown out the window on Halloween night, so it is the perfect opportunity to meet locals. Ironically as the masks go on, their true personalities appear. I have never seen people more lively than on Tokyo’s night of the dead. Though it is meant to be a creepy occasion, I see it sometimes as a wonderful example of cultures coming together to have some good fun.
For more light entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, there are several spooky parades throughout the month of October celebrating the season. Kawasaki is one notable example. The Kawasaki Halloween Parade may be one of the largest in the Tokyo area. Tens of thousands of people show up every year, and participants take their costumes very seriously. When Japanese people put their minds to something, it shows, so you can imagine the caliber of craftsmanship you’ll see there. There are prizes for even more incentive. The holiday in Japan is mostly geared towards young adults, but children have their chance to march on a separate day to avoid some of the more disturbing imagery.
Although Halloween in Japan is a relatively new phenomena, the number of participants is astonishing. This year, even some local politicians made an appearance dressed as beloved video game characters. If you get tired of just being a tourist for Halloween and want to join the festivities, there are plenty of shops open that sell all kinds of fun, easy-to-wear costumes. Don Quixote is a favorite for most, and they even have changing rooms available so you can walk out ready to party.
Halloween has perhaps become bigger than Christmas, and at this rate may someday over New Year’s Eve as a citywide celebration. There is no pressure for singles to find a date, or for couples to impress their partner with gifts, and there is no family obligation. The season is all about having fun and expressing yourself. Japanese people may be known for being serious, hard workers, but they party even harder whenever they get the chance. You may not see any Halloween recommendations in your guidebook next to sushi restaurants or in between pages of ancient temples and shrines, but it is definitely worth sticking around for if you are brave enough.
Andrew is an American writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He often finds himself wandering home from a livehouse after missing the last train. As an outdoors enthusiast, musician, traveler and editor, he stays pretty busy, but he is still always looking for new things to try. The only thing more unorganised than his schedule is his room.