October 23, 2017

Halloween in Japan

Japan takes Halloween to a completely different level and this guide will prepare you with all you need to know to join the costumed fun.

A Jack-o'-lantern in front of Tokyo tower during Halloween in Japan

Truth be told, few things are scarier than the morning commute in Tokyo. But Halloween in Tokyo is finally stepping up as a true challenger to the throne! A decade ago, Halloween was still relatively obscure in Japan. Large-scale Tokyo celebrations were limited to foreign favorites like Roppongi, a now-banned Yamanote Line train party, and a handful of nightclubs.

Over the past several years though, a significant shift has emerged. Young Japanese adults are wholly embracing the grown-up version of Halloween celebrations. As you might imagine, in the land that gave us cosplay, you can expect to see some amazing, high-quality costumes out there!

As more Japanese adopt Halloween, the Tokyo base has shifted away from Roppongi to Shibuya over the past several years. While both of these areas continue to host enormous street gatherings, Shibuya is the prized pumpkin here. If you’re not afraid of the crowds, the famous Shibuya scramble crossing is truly a sight to behold.

Ultimately, the Halloween festivities vary depending on which day of the week Halloween falls on. This year, in 2017, Halloween will fall on a Tuesday. Because of this, you can expect at least three major days of celebrations in Tokyo. Halloween night certainly holds first place yet the preceding Friday and Saturday will be chock full of costumed festivities. The days between will guarantee to be eventful, but on a smaller scale.

Halloween Street Parties in Japan

The streets are by far the best place to start a night of Halloween reveling. These parties are the unofficial “official” Halloween events in Tokyo. Crowds gather en masse in popular spots. If you should find yourself in Shibuya, then the Scramble Crossing and Center Gai offer the main attraction. While no one can predict what Japan will do in the future, in previous years, traffic has been diverted from these areas. And, for good reason, trust me!

In a futile attempt to avoid noise complaints, there is no public music here. The spirited party is entirely what everyone makes of it. It’s easy to spend hours checking out all of the amazing costumes and making some new friends. Street parties are by far the best way to see a variety of costumes and have a great Halloween experience on a budget. It costs nothing to join in except however much you decide to invest on your costume.

Of course it is possible to bring your own drinks (or buy them from convenience stores) as public alcohol consumption is legal in Japan. Just remember not to go overboard and not to toss your empty cans and bottles on the street. Every year one of the biggest post-Halloween complaints from locals is in regards to litter. After a wild night, it’s not uncommon for both Roppongi and Shibuya to look like disaster zones.

Something else to remember is that these gatherings are extremely crowded. It can take a very long time getting from one street to another due to the massive crowds, even on the less popular days during the celebration. The large amounts of bodies also increases the risk of petty crime such as pick-pocketing and yes, groping. Considering the sheer number of people attending, these instances are relatively rare. But just to be safe, it is still worth it to keep your guard up. Wearing masks or makeup makes it easier for culprits to get away with these crimes.

I’ve said it before, but it’s definitely worth repeating; Japan goes all out when it comes to Halloween costumes. You are guaranteed to see some stunning get-ups so make sure your phone or camera battery is charged up for the evening. Luckily, most here will readily agree to pose for pictures in their costumes. Nevertheless, to avoid breaking rules about public photography (and looking like a jerk) do the person the courtesy of asking first.

One final note. I shouldn’t have to say this but NEVER use a real weapon as part of your costume. This goes for street parties and everywhere else. Not only can it endanger people around you, it can also get your arrested. Realistic-looking prop weapons are fine; as long as it cannot cause real bodily harm, it will be okay. Plastic swords and gun replicas are usually no problem. Just don’t go around hitting random people with them.

Japanese Nightclubs on Halloween

Tha Boogie Bandit drops fat beats in Japan during a Tokyo Halloween party

The next most popular spots for Halloween festivities are nightclubs. Some, such as ageHa, host costume contests with cash prizes. It’s worth it to check out the event listings on iFlyer.tv to find an event that most suits your taste. Most clubs will be offering discounts for showing up in full costume. Keep in mind that many will not allow you to enter with prop weapons. You may also need to remove your mask for an I.D. check at the entrance.

Despite their flashy marketing, know that the most crowded events are not always the best. Furthermore, wearing your full Halloween attire all night can get hot or uncomfortable. If your costume feels like this, it’s better to choose a club that is not going to be jam-packed to the walls. If you’re one to hit the dance floor, I’d also recommend that you avoid anything with a mask (unless that is you actually LIKE the feeling of latex on sweaty skin).

Note that some clubs may opt to add a Halloween themed decorations and music in their line-up. Other venues simply operate as usual but encourage people to show up in costume. For costumed clubgoers, some of the solid choices this year are:

Club Atom
Atom is not a place that typically comes to mind for a Halloween recommendation, but this year changes that. Saturday, October 28 sees Tokyo Rave collaborate with Galatea to bring forth an evening of cyberpunk. This is perhaps the only major Halloween party in Tokyo focusing on cyberpunk fashion.

Cosplay is also welcomed here. In spirit of the style, the night will not be entirely dominated by commercial music as usual. Many other non-mainstream electronic music genres will also be re-emerging at this club which was formerly a hotspot for trance and hard dance music.

Sanrio Puroland
Wait! What?! Sanrio Puroland, the wholesome theme park, is turning into a nightclub on October 28! The collaboration between Taicoclub and Puroland celebrates both Halloween and the 43rd Anniversary of Hello Kitty. If you like a splash of kawaii with your techno and hip-hop, this is the place to be. Performance lineup includes DJ Hello Kitty, Japanese hip-hop legend Muro, and more.

Tokyo Decadance
The mega-popular Halloween edition of the alternative fashion event will be held on October 21 at Christon Cafe in Shinjuku. The venue itself looks like a church and the atmosphere alone makes it well worth a visit.

Halloween in Japan & Discos

No we’re not talking about the 80’s here! The term “disco” in the Japanese lexicon means something entirely differently these days than it does in the west. Typically, the label is used to describe nightclubs that cater to mainstream demographics. Discos tend to cater more so to the mainstream after-work crowd but some specifically target foreigners or young people as well.

While these clubs are crowded, I cannot honestly recommend them for your Halloween bash. The low quality of entertainment, coupled with excessively high entrance fees, do not provide the brew for a satisfying evening. Besides, the crowds can often be rude and rowdy, ditto for the security staff.

To give an idea of entrance fees, male partygoers can expect to pay a cover charge of 5000 yen in Roppongi or Shibuya. This is noticeably higher than most nightclubs and there is generally no costume discount. Whereas a nightclub such as ageHa will invest in the overall entertainment experience, at discos you do not get anything special in exchange for the exorbitant costs.

Should you choose to visit one of these clubs, keep an eye out for street touts handing out flyers. You can often negotiate a discount on the entrance fee with them.

Do remember that the above listings are far from the full listing of events. These are hand-picked choices, but there are still many other festivities going on. Underground music lovers should be forewarned though as many clubs go for a very random or commercial music selection on Halloween. Sadly, the musical flow won’t make much sense, even at several venues which usually are more musically-conscious. Make sure to check the line-up in advance if you are picky about your music preference.

Bars & Restaurants During Halloween

Bars can be a fun alternative to nightclubs or street parties on Halloween. And this is especially true for groups of friends who want to stay together rather than get lost in the sea of frolicsome costumed bodies. Here are some low(er) key events that you might consider checking out.

XEX Nihonbashi
The Gentlemen & Ladies with Trick or Treat Horror Dining event will be held on Friday, October 27. XEX is a bit of a crossover between a restaurant, a lounge, and a club. Expect DJs and other performances at this upscale venue. Reservations are recommended for tables.

This would be a great choice for a more adult Halloween experience. See the above video from a few years ago to get a sense of the space and vibe.

Legato
Every year this Shibuya restaurant/lounge converts to a club-style space for Halloween. This year is no exception! Tokyo Monster Ball is happening on Saturday, October 28.

Ruby Room
On October 27 this venue will offer an assortment DJs, burlesque dancers, live painting, food, drinks, and vapes. There is a small cover charge and drinks are reasonably priced.

Disneyland in Japan on Halloween

Tokyo Disneyland is a surprisingly good option for Halloween in Japan

Tokyo Disneysea (the more adult version of Disneyland) has a popular Halloween event every year. It runs through October 31 and this year’s theme is Disney Villains. Expect lots of epic Halloween decor and a noticeable presence of Disney villain mascots around the park. This is a highly popular time of year at the park, so expect it to be crowded and especially so on weekends.

Nonetheless, this remains an excellent alternative for people who are not into late-night partying. Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea are also great options for families with children. The entrance fees are significantly cheaper than the American Disney parks as well.

Preparing a Halloween Costume

What to do if you can’t find a costume for Halloween in Japan

OK, now you know where to get your party on, but what good is that without a costume? If you didn’t bring one, don’t worry! There are plenty of places to buy last-minute costumes. DIY is also popular, and there are shops that can help you with that too!

Off-the-rack
The most popular shops for costumes are Don Quixote, Tokyu Hands, and Loft. These shops have branches in Shibuya but expect them to be extremely crowded around Halloween. Note that shoppers in the Shibuya area might want to head to nearby Nakameguro to check out the costume selection at that Don Quixote as it is far less crowded.

Makeup and DIY
Tokyu Hands has a great selection of special effects makeup and has branches in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro. If you want to construct your own costume, consider also checking out Okadaya in Shinjuku. The shop is actually separated into two buildings, with one side entirely dedicated to fabrics and textiles. The other side features stage makeup, hair products, details such as buttons and lace, and almost anything else you can imagine for DIY stage costumes or cosplay.

In addition, be sure to check out their wigs, wild hair dye colors, crazy and unconventional contacts, prosthetic wings and more. Just a warning, both sections of the store do tend to get a little crowded around Halloween.