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Halloween in Japan

Ultimate Guide to Halloween in Japan

Guide to Halloween in Japan

By Roungnak Praem | April 12, 2021 

Japan is not scared of scary horror stories, and with a country so passionate about cosplay and costumes, it’s no surprise that Halloween in Japan is gaining a lot of popularity. But how did this Western Holiday come to be in Japan and how do the Japanese celebrate Halloween? We will teach you about the history of Halloween, what the differences are between Halloween in the Western world and in Japan and how you can celebrate Halloween in Japan in this guide.

This is our ultimate guide to Halloween in Japan and is a part of our series on learning more about Japan. If you’re wondering what life is like in Japan, you’ve come to the right place, you can find out more about culture in Japan.

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    Halloween in Japan

    Beginning of Halloween in Japan

    (O)Obon (お盆)

    The Japanese culture already has its own “Halloween” called Obon or Bon, which takes place sometime in mid-August. Halloween in Japan is not like Halloween in other countries. Originally, Halloween was a celebration of the autumn harvest in which you conduct a ritual to show your respects to the spirits of the dead. Obon is a Buddhist event where you pay respect to your ancestors. It is said that during this period your ancestors’ spirits return to earth to visit their relatives. This is the period where the spooky stuff happens in Japan with scary stories being told and with scary costumes being worn. The  Japanese Halloween in October is basically just a fun celebration, and a moment to blow off steam, it has no cultural meaning.  At its core, Halloween in Japan is just an imported event meant to entertain!

    Disneyland Tokyo and Universal Studios Japan

    It is pretty safe to say that Disneyland Tokyo and Universal Studios Japan made Halloween in Japan what it is today. Before they “introduced” Halloween in Japan, the Japanese only knew of Halloween from Western shows or movies and from ex-pats living or working in Japan at the time. These two theme parks created these Halloween events to attract more visitors to their parks during the autumn season and it worked.  Because of them, Halloween in Japan has become widespread nationwide.

    Disneyland Tokyo

    Halloween in Japan started to gain widespread attention in the late ’90s and it all started with Disneyland Tokyo. In 1997 the first Halloween event in Japan took place; it was called Disney Happy Halloween. It was not really a new concept to Disney because their other parks worldwide already were doing successful Halloween events. The first event in Tokyo was a 400 guest parade and there were special treats for kids under 12 years old. The next year Disney held another Halloween event called the “Happy Halloween Twilight Parade”, where popular Disney characters were dressed in spooky costumes. The event was a huge success and every year it grew in scale. The Halloween event in Disneyland Tokyo is such a big hit that it starts in early September now.

    Universal Studios Japan

    Universal Studios Japan, which is located in Osaka, opened its doors in the year 2001. From 2002 onwards they also held a yearly Halloween event which they dubbed the Hollywood Halloween. Their Halloween event is a bit different than Disneyland’s. You can say Disneyland’s Halloween is more catered towards families and kids enjoying a fun experience while Universal’s event is more geared towards people that love to be scared the living freight out their souls. Universal offers multiple horror-themed events during Halloween, guests are prompted to come in costumes! One of the most famous Halloween attractions at Universal is its Zombie flash mob, where hordes of zombies scare guests.

    Halloween in Japan

    Halloween in Japan

    Halloween in Japan is a bit different from Halloween in the Western world, the traditions for Halloween in Japan are not the same as in the Western world. You might say Halloween can also be seen as a kind of child-friendly version of Japan's traditional spooky season, which falls around late summer ((O)Bon).

    Trick or treat!

    In Japan, the famous ‘trick or treat’ is very different in comparison to the western world. In Japan, a home is considered very private and the Japanese people are not fond of being a bother to others. Therefore trick or treat is done a bit differently in Japan. Children that want to do trick or treating in Japan will most of the times go to malls or shōtengai (商店街). A shōtengai is a commercial district in Japan, typically in the form of a local market street that is closed to car traffic. Shops here will give out stamps or candy to children but they will also sell a lot of special merchandise, foods, or candies only available during Halloween.

    Further down in the guide we will list a few places you can go trick or treating.

    Yakuza Trick or Treat

    You all heard of it or not but there was a time where the yakuza actively participated in trick or treating during Halloween. In Kobe at the headquarters of the biggest yakuza clan of Japan, called Yamachi-gumi, you could see gangsters dressed up in funny Halloween costumes shouting Happy Halloween to parents and their children while they were visiting. There are stories of the yakuza giving money when they first started their annual trick-or-treat event and gradually transitioned into giving out candy. The story is known that long ago a couple of foreign students went to their headquarters to trick and treat not knowing that this is where the yakuza were staying. A member of the yakuza opened the door not knowing what to do, so he gave them some money so that they would go away. The students went back every year and they would always receive money.

    This is how it started yet we do not know how much truth there is to this story - but there is truth to yakuza handing out candy during Halloween. So you might ask, why did they continue to trick and treat? Well, it was assumed they did this in order to improve their public image to the world, showing that they are not as “evil” as people perceived them to be.

     It should be noted though that the yakuza do not trick or treat anymore as they have been officially banned from giving kids candy during Halloween. It is no longer possible to go trick or treating at the yakuza headquarters, sad right…?

    Cosplay

    One of the reasons Halloween in Japan became so popular is because during Halloween one of the vocal points is dressing up and you can be pretty certain that Japan is known for its cosplay or costume play. Not strange to say, cosplay after all has its roots in Japan. Of course, the Japanese people took this a step further; Halloween costumes in Japan are literally on a whole other level. You will see some of the craziest costumes here that you will not see anywhere else in the world. A couple of examples of these crazy costumes could be found here.

    Well, Japan has taken Halloween and cosplay to another level in recent years. There is an event called “Jimi Halloween (地味ハロウィン)”. Jimi (地味) standing for mundane or plain. Here people do not dress out flash or flamboyant. They dress up in really  “boring” outfits, where people have to get what your costume means. You can find out more about these funny “boring” costumes right here.

    Commercialism

    Another reason why Halloween in Japan took off is the commercialization of said event. Halloween in Japan has no cultural ties; it is not even a National holiday. It should be noted though that  Halloween in Japan starts in October and lasts until the end of the month It really is just another way for businesses in Japan to sell more products to people. You will see businesses display limited edition foods (Halloween Apple Pie KitKats, Kawai donuts Krispy Kreme, etc..) or items only available during Halloween! Customers have roughly one month to purchase these limited edition items which may never come back again. These limited items can be foods, clothes, drinks, etc. Japanese people love to buy particular items during certain seasons and companies have used this knowledge to boost sales during Halloween!

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    Halloween in Japan

    Celebrating Halloween in Japan

    There are a lot of ways to enjoy Halloween in Japan. Most adults go partying but Halloween is not all about parties, there are multiple ways to celebrate Halloween in Japan.

    Halloween in Japan with Kids

    You can enjoy Halloween in Japan with kids in multiple ways. The most famous ones are going trick and treating in malls or shotengai (a commercial district in Japan, typically in the form of a local market street that is closed to car traffic) as mentioned before. This is a fun and cheap way to celebrate Halloween with your kids and family without breaking the bank as these are mostly free or very cheap to enter.

    Some cities also hold Halloween parades which you can enter if you would like or you can be a bystander enjoying the beautiful, funky costumes that people are wearing. And lastly, you can go to the theme parks with your families and children, the place where it all started in Japan. These are catered towards children and families except Universal Studios. Be prepared to pay a lot of money as these theme parks do not come as cheap as you would think!

    You can also go to restaurants and bakeries and just enjoy some good limited foods or desserts that are only available during Halloween!

    Adults

    As adults you have more options to celebrate Japan, of course, the theme parks and Halloween parades are also open to adults! Most of the adults go to street parties. These are unofficial parties on the streets that just casually happen during Halloween. A lot of people attend these dressed up as their favorite character. The most popular Halloween street party has to be the one in Shibuya.  Over a million people go to Shibuya Crossing annually to take it over and party on Halloween

    People also attend trains called Halloween train (also called Gaijin train!) This phenomenon was as the name implies started by expats living in Japan. Just like the street parties, this was also an unofficial party. It all started in 1990 where foreigners would meet at Shinjuku station all dressed up in costumes and enter the Yamanote Line and enter the train. When the doors closed, the party started.  Since 2009 this wild “Gaijin Train” was met with fierce protesters and has not been the same since. There are still Halloween train parties being organized but not as crazy and hectic as the original one anymore.

    Halloween in Japan is more popular than ever

    Love it or hate it, there is no escaping Halloween in Japan anymore; it may have been a “new” event that people barely aware of but now, almost everyone knows of Halloween!  It is a great way for the adults that are stuck in their stressful lives to blow off steam once a year. For companies, Halloween is an occasion to increase sales as they earn a lot of money due to it stretching for a month. This is like a dream come true for retailers in Japan. 

    Places to celebrate Halloween in Japan

    Disneyland

    You can go enjoy and celebrate Halloween in Disneyland; the place where it all started. The Halloween season in Disneyland Tokyo starts around 11 September and lasts until November 1st. During the day, there are day and night parades that occur and can be enjoyed.

    During the Halloween event, visitors are allowed to wear costumes, however, they must be Disney character.

     Admission for entry is ¥8.500 per person.

    It is located in 1-1 Maihama, Urayasu, Chiba 279-0031

    For further information about the Disneyland Halloween event click here

    Kawasaki Halloween Parade

    The Kawasaki Halloween Parade is a fun experience that is usually held on the last Sunday in October. It is a parade with 2.000 participants and around 120 000 spectators.  Anyone can enter the parade for a fee of ¥1.000 yen. The person with the best costume gets a “Halloween Award” and wins ¥500 000 yen. Once the parade is over, there is a free after-party at La Cittadella however the due to the Coronavirus, Kawasaki Halloween Parade in 2020 was held online.

    Admission: ¥1.000 per person.

    Location:Kawasaki Station, Horikawachō, Saiwai-ku, Kawasaki, Kanagawa 212-0013, Japan.

    For more information about the Kawasaki Halloween Parade click here.

    Shibuya

    One of the most popular Halloween parties in Japan and it is a new one too. It gained widespread attention in 2014 as it was the first one where a lot of people attended. It all started when a few people went to Shibuya Crossing all dressed up in Halloween costumes to show off. Since then it has evolved into this open-air party where millions of people show up and party till late in the night. As it is an unofficial party, there had been a lot of problems in 2018 when a truck had been flipped and a lot of fights broke out during the night. As a response, the city has banned public drinking in Shibuya on Halloween, but that does not mean that the event has ceased to exist. It still goes on every year!

    This is a party for adults and as it is quite hectic, we do not recommend coming here with your family and children.

    Admission to the party is free

    Location is 1 Chome-2-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0043

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    Ikebukuro Halloween

    Also known as Ikehallo is a fairly recent event that started in 2014. It is quickly rising to be one of the most popular events. This event is a bit different than other Halloween events in Japan. Whereas most of the events are “ordinary” people dressing up once for Halloween and most of the time in spooky and scary costumes, Ikehallo does not. Ikehallo is for the diehard cosplayer. Not to say that a first-time cosplayer can not attend. Attending Ikehallo is free, the only rule is that you can not come dressed up to the event you are required to change there - using a changing room costs ¥2000.

    One Reason this event is becoming more popular is that it is just like the Shibuya Halloween party but official and less hectic, children and families to also enjoy it.

    Dates: Last weekend of October

    Admission: Free, unless you want to attend as a cosplayer then it costs ¥2000.

    Location: Ikebukuro Station East Exit Area

    For more information, you can visit their website by clicking here.

    Trick or Treating

    Here are a few places you can visit with your children to go trick and treating during Halloween in Japan.

    Omotesando Pumpkin parade and Candy Rally

    This Halloween event is specially made for children. It usually takes place on the last weekend in October on a Saturday. It’s a very short event that only lasts from 13:00 until 14:30 and though entry is free, you will need to register in advance. It takes place in the famous Omotesando and Harajuku areas where children will parade through and can go trick or treating in various stores for candy.

    Admission: Free

    Location: Omotesando and Harajuku

    For more information, you can visit their website by clicking here.

    Roppongi Hills Halloween

    Is an annual parade for up to 3000 children. This is a fun rally for children but everyone is eligible to enter. It usually takes place on the last Saturday of October and the hours are from 10:30 to 13:30. It is quite a fun experience as the children need to have a mobile phone with a dedicated app from the organizers. The children need to check in at multiple locations around Roppongi Hills with the app. After they collect more than three check-ins they receive a  full pack of candy and sweets. 

    Admission: Free

    Location Roppongi Hills

    For more information, you can visit their website by clicking here.

    Final Thoughts on Halloween in Japan

    Halloween in Japan truly is a wonderful experience;It is unlike Halloween in the western world. We advise you to go have fun but take precautions. Do not forget Halloween in Japan has no cultural context at its core. Halloween is a day imported from the western world to have fun and to escape from the hectic work life in Japan. Escaping and relieving stress for one day in a cool, spooky, or fun costume!

    Here is a video of the Halloween event One Coin English held in 2019.

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