A frozen cocktail may quench your thirst and a serving of unagi (eel) will give you the energy you need to fight summer fatigue, but only a scary ghost story will bring a shiver down your spine and leave you cold for the rest of the evening.
One of the latest additions to the Tokyo bar scene that is sure to raise goose bumps is Thriller Night in Roppongi, which originated in Sapporo in 2011 as Japan’s first ghost-story bar. The Roppongi branch, in a space that had previously been a shady bar hidden in the back of the Roi Building that played 1970s and ’80s music, looks like the haunted house at a carnival. Severed heads and spider webs hang from the ceiling, skulls and gargoyles line a shelf behind the bar, and lucky — or unlucky — customers may find themselves seated next to a rotting corpse.
In severe contrast to the creepy decor is Carly Jae Repsen’s “Call Me Maybe” blaring from the speakers, reminding you that you’re still in Roppongi.
For ¥3,500 you can fill up on as much liquid courage as you can handle before the hourly live horror storytelling starts. The lights go down, the bar counter shakes and figures resembling Sadako from the “Ring” movies appear on several TV screens with a piercing shriek. One of the two professional storytellers on staff, Wataru Shirotani, enters wearing traditional Japanese clothing, takes his place on a stool on the stage and spends the next 15 minutes engaging the audience with popular Japanese urban legends. On the night I visited, he told “Toilet no Hanako-san” (“Hanako of the Toilet”), the Japanese equivalent of the popular “Bloody Mary” urban legend, about a girl named Hanako who haunts a school bathroom.
If you can follow the Japanese the storytelling is compelling, and punctuated by light jokes to ease the tension. Shirotani’s smooth voice is relaxing and put the audience at ease — until a severed head dropped from the ceiling, causing everyone to jump in their seats and shriek. At the end of the show, the club music came back on, but suddenly turned off as a masked figure popped out from around a corner to surprise a table full of girls, who screamed, then burst into relieved laughter.
“The scariest part was that when we were talking to the staff, one of the mannequins suddenly joined her hands together,” said one female customer as she gawked at the corpse beside her. “I even have photographic proof!”
Thriller Night’s strength lies in its element of surprise. Even if you can’t follow any of the horror stories, which aren’t that horrifying, the calming voices of the storytellers, punctuated by scary special effects, are enough to send a chill down your spine and keep you cool for the rest of the night.
B1 Roi Bldg., 5-5-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-5411-2770; www.thriller-tokyo.com. Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.