Halloween in Japan

October 26, 2007

In Japan, Halloween seems to get bigger and more visible each year. Maybe it’s due to all those Akihabara cos-play freaks, happy for a new excuse to dress up. Or perhaps it’s thanks to the growing hordes of “Gothic Lolita” girls and Visual-Kei fans, with their celebration of all things macabre and nocturnal. I suspect the party decoration manufacturers, costume-designers and makers of plastic skeletons have something to do with it, since the shops are all festooned-with tacky Halloween-related merchandise.

Of course, it’s the sugar-coated family version of Halloween that seems to be taking the nation by storm, all smiling pumpkins and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Most of the young Japanese folks I know are too sweet-natured to enjoy horror films, and would have to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder if they were to watch a movie featuring a hideously disfigured psychopath wielding a blood-dripping chainsaw. But, then again, somebody must be renting those DVDs of Saw and Hostel that line the shelves in my local video shop.

Halloween even threatens to overtake traditional, homegrown festivals of fear, like Setsubun, (when children pelt soy beans at a member of their family wearing a devil mask), or the the Namahage festival, (which takes place in Akita prefecture and involves an adult in a terrifying monster mask visiting the houses of local families and scaring the piss out of small children until they cry.)

Yep, Halloween is definitely becoming a big deal in Japan, so here are a few ideas on how to celebrate the day in style.

To warm up, you could watch some classic Japanese horror movies. The unsettling atmospherics of Ring or Juon are suitably scary for the occasion. However, for many foreigners in Japan the frightening occurrences in these films are part of everyday life- spooky staring kids, indecipherable phone calls, and late night encounters with long-haired ladies. Guffaw, guffaw!
My favourite J-horror is Wild Zero, a super-charged, rock n’ roll zombie flick, in which the sunglasses-wearing rockabilly punk band, Guitar Wolf, have to protect Japan from rampaging zombies.

The film features UFOs, a transsexual damsel in distress, and a naked woman shooting zombies with a gun.
Enough said.

Alternatively, if you want to paint the town blood-red, you could hit one of Tokyo’s eerie eateries, such as the Vampire Cafe, a shrine to bloodsuckers, with crucifixes and coffins for decorations, or Alkatraz ER, a bizarre, prison-hospital-themed izakaya, where you can drink from test tubes, and your “cell” is periodically invaded by an escaped maniac in an ice-hockey mask. In Yokohama you can knock back novelty cocktails like “Dr Jekyll’s Potion” at the Frankenstein-themed 3 Bozu Cafe, or you could even go to a creepy bar named Halloween which celebrates the festival all year round.
On sunday afternoon, I recommend joining the cabal of costumed loonies at Kawasaki’s demented Halloween parade, which I wrote about here. The after party in Club Citta is mental- don’t miss the opportunity to witness such surreal spectacles as Pikachu dancing with Michael Myers.

This is also a fun time of year to visit an amusement park. While crowds of epic proportions flock to Tokyo Disneyland to see the Halloween parade, truly daring folk might like to try the Haunted House at Fuji Q Highland. I’ve heard it’s horrifying and lasts 40 minutes, during which you have to navigate your way through darkened passageways, while costumed actors leap out at you, screaming (although, in typical Japanese fashion, they bow and apologize afterwards. “Sumimasen, sumimasen.”) However, that sounds like a walk in the park to me, compared with Fuji Q’s trauma-inducingly fast and steep rollercoasters, which are sure to turn your shit white, and induce nightmares in even the hardiest of souls.
If you’re particularly fearless, maybe you could host your own illegal Halloween rave in this spine-chillingly scary disused fun park in Tohoku.

Finally, you might like to indulge in the innocent Japanese past-time of curling up with a creepy comic book. I recommend Uzumaki, a nightmarish and trippy horror fantasy, or Hell Baby, about a deformed, demonic, killer infant.

Personally, I think it would be fun to do all of the above, while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. That would be quite a story. On the down side, you’d subsequently be mentally unhinged and have sparks flying out of your head for the rest of your natural life.

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Crazy Japanese Nightclub Flyers

October 22, 2007

When I go to to clubs and gigs around Tokyo, I usually pick up flyers for upcoming events. These phantasmagorical flyers, hastily designed by eccentric art-school graduates and drug-addled musicians, often turn out to be more spectacular than the events themselves.
Just the names of the events, musicians and DJs, can be surprising. For example…

“MONKEEEEEE FUUUUUUCK!” is an eye-catching name if ever I’ve seen one. If that’s not enough, “Fuck Masta Fuck” is surely the best DJ name ever.
Similarly offensive is the following flyer for Club Mass, where you can listen to “wanky techno” courtesy of the delightfully-named “DJ Cunt”.

There’s also the silly “DJ Cak”…

…and last but not least, the unbelievable “VJ Pile of Dog Shit.” He shouldn’t be so hard on himself.

Let’s hope they all team up for a song, appear on “The Disney Club” and top the billboard charts (“…and at number one this week is DJs Fuck Masta Fuck, Cak, Pile of Dog Shit and Cunt!”)

As well as this colourful use of the English language, there are also some amusing misspellings on Japanese nightclub flyers, as you can see below.

This flyer intructs us to “bring bring” but what is it that we’re supposed to be bringing? Bring a bottle? Bring the noise? Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia?

I’m not sure that people will be lining up to hear this “bland new mix.” It sounds as if they’ll be spinning Enya and Kenny G all night.

The flyer below appears to be promising discounts for customers who bring kitchen equipment.

And the words aren’t all that’s freaky on Japanese flyers, the illustrations are equally mind-blowing, like the two, frankly disturbing ones below.

Who knows what kind of antics go on at those parties, but I’m sure they’re fun for all the family. Don’t forget to bring Granny!


Weird Watering Holes of Yokohama

October 15, 2007

Yokohama is Japan’s second biggest city, but it’s only 30 minutes from Tokyo by train, so most people hit the capital when they want to get utterly mashed and party on down. Yokohama does have a few of its own cool and unique bars and restaurants, though. Below are a list, in no special order, of my own personal favourite freaky hang-outs in Yokohama.

1: BAR LUTHER

First off, a Luther-Vandross-themed nightclub. How’s that for starters? Bar Luther is the best place near Yokohama station to dance like a sex-machine. The DJ spins classic 80s soul tunes courtesy of Prince, Hot Chocolate, and Vandross. There are even floor-to-ceiling mirrors and a disco ball. And all without a trace of irony. Groovy!
Read more about it here.

Info:
Tel: 0453148993
Bar Luther Homepage

2. CHARACTERS BAR

Looking more like a vintage toy emporium than a drinking hole, Characters, a self-styled “cafe/bar/fleamarket” offers the unique opportunity to drink while browsing for used toys.
Be careful if you get sloshed, or you might become overwhelmed by nostalgia and fork out a fortune for a Gremlins lunchbox or a Flintstones frisbee.
Read more about it here.

Info:
Characters Bar
Kikuya Bldg 1F
1-19 Ishikawa-cho, Naka-Ku,
Yokohama Shi 231-0826
Tel: (045) 6503080

3. THE AMAZON CLUB

The mysterious “Amazon Club” is an oddball eaterie which attempts to replicate the spirit of the secretive hideouts that US soldiers frequented in the fifties. It’s a dimly lit, cavernous place full of unusual and exotic decorative objects, like statues of Betty Boop and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and pickled snakes in laboratory jars.
Find out more here.

Info:
The Amazon Club
B1 Yokohama Bldg, 3-9 Kaigandori,
Naka-Ku, Yokohama-Shi 231-0002
Tel: 045 664 6101
Website: The Amazon Club

4: HONEY HONEY

Maid cafes aren’t only found in Akihabara, you know. Yokohama has it’s very own maid cafe, “Honey Honey,” a haven for geeks, where TV screens show cartoons, and nubile young ladies in French maid costumes draw pictures on your omelets with squeezy ketchup bottles. Don’t worry, they also sell beer.
You can read more about it here.

Here’s the “Honey Honey” homepage.

5: HALLOWEEN

You can go to this Halloween-themed cafe/bar all year round and act and dress like a weirdo without fear of reprimand. The music is classic Halloween tunes like Transylvania 6-5000 and Monster Mash, and the décor is all pumpkins and ghosts as you’d expect. Disappointingly there are none of the novelty cocktails (like “Dr Jeckyl’s Potion” or “Vampire’s Blood”) I’ve come to expect from these places, but the bar is still worth a visit for the novelty value, and presumably it’s good fun on October 31st.
Read a review here.

Tel: (045) 314-7856.

6: 3 BOZU CAFE

If a cave-based shrine to Frankenstein is your kind of place, you’ll like “3 Bozu Paradise”, a Frankenstein-themed joint hidden in the shadows down a dark side-street near Yokohama station. It’s an eerie eaterie that should please anyone who prefers Hellraiser to Hello-Kitty.
Kick back and have fun, under the leering gaze of a green reanimated corpse statue.
You can learn more here.

Info:
3 Bozu Paradise

Taiyou Building 1F, Minami Saiwai 2-20-12, Nishi-Ku, Yokohama City.
Open from 5pm to 4am
Tel: (04) 5320 3066


Kawasaki Halloween Festival

October 12, 2007

Kawasaki, near Tokyo, is host to a number of eccentric festivals and events, including the notorious Kanamara festival in April (where folk carry a giant pink penis statue down the street.) This month sees the return of Kawasaki’s annual Halloween festival, the highlight being a wild street parade on October the 28th, featuring some of most insanely outlandish costumes you’ve ever seen. An eclectic array of costumed freaks, from Pikachu to Freddy Krueger, hit the streets of downtown Kawasaki and follow floats blasting out pounding techno tunes, much to the horror and amusement of bewildered bystanders.
Below are some photos I took of the parade over the last couple of years and here’s a review of 2005’s event.

The parade starts at 2PM on October the 28th, at Kawasaki’s Cittadella complex. Other events include a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a potentially hilarious “70s/80s Dancing Party Halloween Special” on the 27th.
Learn more at the official website.


Chip Shop Boyz

October 10, 2007

I’ve discovered another funky new Japanese band, charmingly called the “Chip Shop Boyz.” While mooching around a record shop I spotted the ace CD cover above, and decided to have a listen on the headphones. All the songs turned out to be versions of famous tunes, that sound like they’ve come from computer games circa 1987. The Chip Shop Boyz have a winning sound that is idiosyncratically Japanese. Where else can you groove to a Gameboy version of “Doo-Wah Diddy”?
Here’s their website.


Alluring Ladies and Randy Gentlemen

October 10, 2007

Time for another amazing and amusing nightclub flyer. The party below, an wild and eccentric costume event organized by “Tokyo Decadance,” appeals to me chiefly because the flyer says “Alluring ladies and randy gentlemen need to enter pleasing.” Who could resist such a sales pitch?

Here’s a link to the Tokyo Decadence website. Their parties look pretty damn mental. I must go!


Tokyo’s Top Ten Weird Watering Holes

October 4, 2007

If you go out drinking in Tokyo, anything could happen, because Tokyo is a city full of mind-bogglingly bizarre bars and peculiar pubs that make other countries’ boozers look as dull and sterile as hospital waiting rooms by comparison (although, come to think of it, there’s probably a novelty bar actually designed like a hospital waiting room somewhere in Tokyo.) Below, in no particular order, is a round up of my top ten favourite eccentric establishments.

1: KAGAYA

The chief appeal of this utterly mental Shimbashi pub is the amazing host, Mark Kagaya, who surprises his customers by making them play weird games, and serves drinks in surreal international costumes. The menu is a puppet show.
Read more about it here.

Info:
Kagaya, Hanasada BLDG. B1F, 5-12, Shimbashi 2-Chome, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.
Tel: 03-3591-2347
Kagaya Homepage

2: ALCATRAZ + ER

At this truly macabre prison-hospital-themed eaterie in Shibuya, the waitresses wear nurses’ uniforms, the drinks are served in test-tubes, and your drinking is occasionally interrupted by a deranged escaped convict in an ice hockey mask. A classy joint.
Read about it here.

Info:
Tel: (03) 37707100
Alcatraz ER Website

3: DINING BAR SUBMARINE

This sub-aquatic-themed izakaya is submerged beneath the sleazy streets of Kabukicho, Shinjuku. Sit and drink rum in a cabin with portholes, and meet the proprietor, jolly “Captain” Kaji Aishin, who looks like a Japanese Captain Birdseye.
Read more here.

Info:
Dining Bar Submarine, Pocket Building B1, Kabukichuo 1-17-4, Shinjuku-Ku
Tel: (03) 5285-3480.
Dining Bar Submarine

4: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

A trippy destination for a party, this place is based around Lewis Carroll’s delirious story, with all the psychedelic decorations and costumes you might expect, and over a hundred different cocktails to choose from. Prepare for mental meltdown!

Info:
Address: Taiyo Bldg, 5F, 8-8-5 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo 104 0061
Tel: (03) 35746980
Alice In Wonderland Website.

5: CHRISTON CAFE

In Japan, Christianity is still a novelty, so they’ve turned it into a theme-restaurant in Shinjuku. This place looks like a church and is full of religious imagery and statues, which makes it an unorthodox venue for knocking back cocktails. Worth a visit, (but you might feel compelled to behave yourself.)

Info:
Address: 8F Oriental Wave Bldg, 5-17-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku.
Tel: (03) 52872426
More details at the Christon Cafe website.

6: ABSOLUT ICEBAR TOKYO

Why not come and freeze your nuts off in a bar full of ice? It costs a lot to get in, but that includes use of gloves and a cape, and your vodka stays cool all night. I wish I’d known about this place in August. In December it’ll be about as appealing as a trip to…er… a prison hospital.

Info:
Address: 4-2-4 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.
Tel: (03) 54642161
Absolut Icebar website

7: VAMPIRE CAFE

This vampire-themed joint in Ginza is both creepy and strangely kinky at the same time. the waitresses wear French maid outfits and the vermilion red decor is complemented by crucifixes, spiders, and Dracula’s coffin.

Info:
Address: 7F La Paix Building, 6-7-6 Ginza, Chuo-Ku.
Tel: 03-3289-5360
Here’s the Vampire Cafe website.

8: ARABIAN ROCK

Arabian Rock is a novelty restaurant in Shinjuku, designed to transport you to the old Arabia of Sinbad and Aladdin, complete with hookahs, Persian rugs, and the obligatory costumed staff (this time they’re wearing belly dancer costumes and MC Hammer trousers.) There are even cocktails themed around signs of the zodiac, and the “Magic Lamp Abracadabra,” which is six liqueurs you mix yourself in an Aladdin-style lamp.
Read all about it here.

Info:
Arabian Rock
2-3F Square Building, 1-16-3 Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku-ku, 160-0021.

9: NINJA

What could be more Japanese than a Ninja-themed restaurant? At this cavernous underground Ninja-hideout in Akasaka, the food and booze are classy, and the waiters are dressed-up as Ninjas and perform brain-bending magic tricks. It ain’t cheap, though- you’ll need another drink when you see the check.
Info:
Address: 2-14-3 Akasaka Tokyo Plaza, Chiyoda-Ku.
Tel: (03) 51573936

10: OFFICE

Where better to let off steam after a hard day at the office than a bar that…er… looks exactly like an office? This place in Aoyama comes complete with a photocopier, desks, filing cabinets and a view of the city. Somehow it’s very cool.

Info:
Address: Yamazaki Bldg, 5F, Kita Aoyama 2-7-18, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 57861052
Office Homepage.