Halloween in Japan

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.

12 Responses to Halloween in Japan

  1. Woeful says:

    Hell Baby! Cute. Hey wait, I think I might have dated her…

  2. roaf says:

    Hell Baby is a nice antidote to cutesy Japanese stuff like Hello Kitty but, your’re right, it does look like an angry, drunk ex-girlfriend.

  3. gaijinnosekai says:

    woah, Wild Zero looks so awesome, I’ll have to check it out!! BTW, in terms of weird ass Japanese cinema I recommend Survive Style 5+, bloody brilliant movie, even features Vinnie Jones as an eccentric hitman for hire! I’ve heard of Tokyo Zombie but haven’t seen it yet. Anyway, awesome post, will have to head down to Alkatraz ER for some grub whilst getting scared shitless!

  4. roaf says:

    I’ll be sure to look out for Survival Style 5+. Can’t imagine Vinnie Jones in a Japanese movie! Wild Zero has English subtitles on the DVD in Japan, BTW.

  5. smithfrenzy says:

    Just a matter of semantics, but the disused theme park picture is Koga Family Land in Shiga-ken, whch is Kinki, not Tohoku.

  6. roaf says:

    Cool. I want to go there!

  7. Matt says:

    The park pictured is Greenland in Fukushima.
    Koga has a ferris wheel but no rollercoaster.

  8. roaf says:

    So there are 2 disused fairgrounds in Japan!
    Scooby Doo would be busy over here.

  9. Matt says:

    There are more than 2! After the bubble economy burst the theme parks were just left to rot…
    There are probably about 9 or 10 hidden away in total in Japan.

  10. roaf says:

    Brilliant. I want to make a cheap horror movie in one of them!

  11. […] Yay- It’s time for Halloween- yet another festival that has passed through Japan’s cultural filters and morphed into something fun, idiosyncratic and weird. Halloween is brilliant in Tokyo- all the wild parties, horror movies and costumes, without any pesky trick-or-treating kids getting in the way. I wrote about Halloween in Japan last year here. […]

  12. disneyland vacation…

    […]Halloween in Japan « Gaijin Tonic[…]…

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