IKIMASHO!

Tokyo Halloween 2016: The Growth of Halloween in Japan

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The walking dead – and the cute living – take to the streets of Tokyo


Over the last ten years or so Tokyo has gone from a city that virtually didn’t celebrate Halloween at all to now hosting one of the biggest Halloween parties on the planet. To try and cope with it, this year – for the first time ever – police made the move to close down Tokyo’s famous scramble crossing to traffic so that up to 100,000 people could take to the streets and party.

Halloween in Japan is a bit different. There’s no real ‘trick or treating’ as such. No candy apples, buckets of sweets or any of that stuff. Instead, it’s a holiday that has gained momentum through commercial hype and by tapping into the country’s love of cosplay and dressing up. In the past, if you wanted to check out Halloween scenery and costumes the only real place you could go was Tokyo Disneyland.

Over the years, however, these cute designs slowly but surely made their way out of the Park and onto the streets. As a result, 50% of the Halloween costumes you see on the streets of Tokyo these days won’t even be scary in nature – with hundreds of princesses, Marios and that kind of thing. Costume crews are also massive over here, with groups of mates coming together to roam the streets dressed as SWAT teams and entire casts of video game characters.


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Now that this mammoth street party exists, the infamous Yamanote Halloween Train no longer happens. Originally started in the early 90s, hundreds of (mostly) expats used to party on board the Yamanote train line that circles the city. As the train moved from station to station, more and more people would get on loaded with booze and music.

These parties became famous not only for being the only real way you could celebrate Halloween in Tokyo, but also for the negative reception that they received from many Japanese. It was not uncommon for groups of Japanese people to protest the parties with signs saying ”Go home gaijin”. It’s easy to see why many would have been pissed off by this train madness. I can only imagine what it would have been like trying to actually commute on one of those trains after work if you weren’t actually partying.

These days, there are of course some people who still want Halloween to be banned in Tokyo. Famous Japanese comedian Hakase Suidobashi said in a news variety show earlier this month that Halloween should not be celebrated in a busy metropolis like Tokyo. But for the most part, it seems like Halloween in Tokyo has hit the mainstream and is now going to be a major permanent fixture on the annual entertainment calendar.

This year’s party seemed a bit tamer than those in recent years, but perhaps that’s because people now know what to expect. Even just three or four years ago this Carnival-esque event was very much in in its infancy and still had an illegal feel about it, not unlike the Yamanote train parties of the early days. But with this year’s street closures, it now seems like the authorities realise they need to play ball and accept the fact Tokyo Halloween is going to happen whether they like it or not.


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