People all over the world go on a hunt for the perfect costume, bring out their spooky decorations and RSVP to tons of themed events come October. The month of Halloween unites all the industries, even in Japan. It might as well be in the Japanese blood to go all out for anything and everything. Japan is pretty festive all year round, so why skip out on the Western spooky celebration?
But, just like everything else in Japan, the country has a twist in how they celebrate Halloween. It’s not quite the same as in the West — no houses will be decorated and trick-or-treat is not practiced — but expect the streets and shops to be flooded with Halloween spirit.
Let’s take a look at how Halloween actually came to the country, as well as the present traditions the Japanese have during this festive season.
History of Halloween in Japan
So, how did Halloween get introduced to Japan? This Western tradition is quite a new holiday in Japan that it’s not even an actual holiday — much like Christmas.
Before Halloween caught on with the locals, this celebration was only celebrated by foreigners. A lot of them dressed up in random costumes, filled up bars and packed the trains with drinks in hand. All these public spaces turned into their very own parties and disrupted the flow of daily life in Japan.
The Japanese people saw no reason to celebrate this Western spooky festival — they have their very own (which we’ll get to in a minute). But Tokyo Disneyland made a move in 2000 by hosting its first Halloween event, just like the other Disney resorts in the rest of the world. More and more people started to visit this attraction in autumn, and with the rising popularity, even Universal Studios Japan caught on!
And so did restaurants and retail stores — Halloween-themed merchandise popped up on the market as well. Everything from orange, black and purple combo decor to pumpkin goodies are scattered around the country.
Japanese Halloween Traditions
Source: Tim Brockley (flickr)
Not all of the traditions of Halloween made its way to Japan — trick-and-treating is one of them. There’s no such practice here because the idea of knocking on people’s doors randomly goes very much against the Japanese culture. In Japan, doing all of that is considered as bothering others unnecessarily — a big no-no in Japanese culture.
What did actually survive the trip from the West is the dressing up. In fact, the Japanese were more than welcoming with the activity. I mean, Japan is the world of cosplay, anyway. Regardless of age and gender, the locals participate in this tradition.
Another famous tradition of Japanese Halloween — even though it’s more like a weekly event than just on Halloween — is to go down to Shibuya and drink all night long. Locals and foreigners alike are seen mingling and having the time of their lives. This gathering event over the years became more and more chaotic, so much that a truck was overturned during one of the Halloween madness and now, public drinking is banned in Shibuya during the Halloween season.
There are also tons of other parties, parades and festivals all throughout Japan, specifically Tokyo, with people flaunting their costumes while enjoying the music, food and atmosphere! Japanese companies and schools also have Halloween parties for their workers, faculty and kids!
Another West-imported tradition of Halloween is pumpkin-carving, even though it’s not as popular in Japan. One thing to note: the pumpkins here aren’t orange, they’re purple! If you’re looking to get the whole traditional jack-o-lantern, you might need to fork out a bit more for imported orange pumpkins.
Remember when I said that the Japanese go all out? They do, even for this West-imported holiday. You can literally see their enthusiasm on every corner and street in the country. As soon as October rolls around, expect Halloween-themed everything!
The most common Japanese Halloween decoration is food — every shop will have some sort of Halloween treat. Some will even go all the way and have special Halloween menus using seasonal ingredients like sweet potatoes. Yes, pumpkin too, but in Japan, it’s all about seasonality! Let’s not forget cutely decorated dishes, complete with witch hats and pumpkin carvings.
There are also tons of light decorations on the street lamps, alleyways and neighbourhoods — and it’s different every year!
Celebrating Halloween in Japan: Where To Go?
Don’t panic if it’s your first time celebrating Halloween in Japan. You probably won’t know exactly where to go, but I’ve got you covered. You can easily walk into a local bar in a Halloween costume on Halloween and see others all dressed up too.
But if you want the full experience, there are quite a few spots for that!
Looking for a chill but not so chill space to party, Shibuya is your best bet. It’s the original Halloween spot where the expats go to party, and nowadays, the Japanese people are also joining in the fun with their own wacky outfits!
As soon as you step off the train, you can’t miss the crowd. Surrounding the Hachiko statue and near the Shibuya Scramble, you’ll see everything from zombies and spooky ghosts to bloody doctors and animal onesies.
On Halloween night, it gets extremely packed — so packed that you take one step every two seconds and it takes you at least five minutes to get to the other side of the Shibuya Scramble. What does that say about this popular Halloween location?
Pop in and out of bars and clubs to celebrate your Halloween night. Restaurants, however, can get booked up fast, so make a reservation in advance if you want to have a nice Halloween dinner with your group of friends.
Tokyo Disney Resorts
Source: PeterPanFan (flickr)
The best place to celebrate Halloween in Japan is where it all began: Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. If you want to read up some more on these Disney Resorts, check out our article, “A Guide To Tokyo’s Disney Resorts”.
At these famous amusement parks in Japan, you’re guaranteed an extremely fun time; the rides are already thrilling on normal days, but when it’s Halloween, most of them switch it up and have a spooky theme.
You might even be greeted by characters walking around dressed in costumes (on top of their actual costumes — how cute), and every corner is propped even more with webs and pumpkins. If you think the original Disney treats are tasty, wait till you have a bit of the Halloween treats.
Visitors come all dressed up too — but of course, expect tons of Disney costumes. But anyway, you’re lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket for Disneyland or DisneySea on Halloween, a time with numerous exclusive entertainment. Who would ever say no to that?
Source: Hideya HAMANO (flickr)
Not in Tokyo? Don’t worry, Kanto has their own Halloween spot: Universal Studios Japan. It’s just as amazing, full of fun and attractions that are also themed for Halloween!
USJ has the whole amusement park turned upside down for the season and you’ll get exclusive entertainment that only comes around that time of the year. Don’t be bummed that you can’t get to the Disney Resorts, because USJ is even more spooky on Halloween, because they have Halloween Horror Nights! If you’re looking for a bit more of a scare than usual, this is a safe bet.
Obon: Japan’s Very Own Spooky Season
Halloween pales in comparison to Japan’s own spooky season, Obon. Some say that compared to Obon, Halloween is like the kid’s version of it.
Obon happens in the hot August summer and it’s one of the most famous festivities in the whole year. During this holiday season, the Japanese believe that the dead visit the household shrines and the families visit as well as clean the graves of the deceased. Similar to Halloween, ghost stories are being told and people visit haunted attractions all throughout the whole traditional spooky month.
While Obon is still strongly practiced, the fact of the matter is that Halloween now also has a foothold in modern Japanese culture — dressing up in dramatic costumes, drinking all night long in Shibuya and devouring spooky-themed treats. While it’s not as traditional as the other, it’s still an annual practice to go all out to get the best Halloween experience they can ever imagine.