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.