This year, many people in Japan celebrated Halloween early. Last weekend saw parades, parties and trick-or-treating at special events across the country, but for those who grew up in places that historically celebrate the holiday, Oct. 25 may have been a bit too soon to get spooked.
Thankfully, there are still frights to be found for anyone who wants to celebrate Halloween closer to the actual date of Oct. 31. From an exhibition that centers on film director Tim Burton to haunted houses and spooky theme restaurants, any day can be Halloween.
Tim’s terrifying trip to Tokyo
After making stops in cities like Prague and New York, “The World of Tim Burton” will touch down in Tokyo just in time for Halloween weekend.
From Nov. 1 till Jan. 4, the Mori Arts Center Gallery in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills complex will be the temporary home for some 500 works related to the American director. The exhibition will then move to the Event Lab at Grand Front Osaka from February. It includes a wide array of media: comics he drew before he was famous, sketches from unrealized projects, sculptures and props from his films and unseen video footage.
Burton is well-known for his gothic aesthetics and quirky take on fantasy. His works include the cult classics “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and, his most recent, “Frankenweenie” (2012). Visitors to the exhibition, however, will be treated to ideas he had for another “Batman” film, and his concept for the delightfully titled “Little Dead Riding Hood.”
Burton’s take on filmmaking has earned him a devoted fan base, but it’s the lasting influence of his work that has won him global recognition. Independent curator Jenny He, in collaboration with Tim Burton Productions, reportedly tries to imbibe the aura of every city the exhibition has occupied and regurgitate it through Burton’s warped filter. His work is stylistically specific, but features characters such as Sally from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” that might resound with the characters found in Tokyo’s kimo-kawaii (grotesquely cute) subculture.
Some works in “The World of Tim Burton” are personal and were probably never meant to be shared with the wider public at the time of their creation, which will hopefully give visitors a more intimate insight into Burton’s way of thinking. (Madeline Barbush)
Haunted houses and hospitals
Haunted houses in Japan draw on everything from old ghost stories to modern-day nightmares. Fuji-Q Highland in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, hosts one such modern fright-fest called the Ultimate Horror Labyrinth. Set in an abandoned hospital, visitors have to make their way out of the building with nothing more than a flashlight — and don’t expect the slightest bit of hospitality. Infected patients have come back from the dead and are ready to attack anyone that stands in their way. The course is spread over two floors and takes 50 minutes to complete. Entry is ¥500.
If you can’t get to Yamanashi for your fill of disease and discontent, then maybe you’re just crazy enough to visit a psycho ward on the other side of the country. On the website of the Thriller Fantasy Museum at Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture, visitors are graciously asked, “How can we escape from the crucible of madness and darkness and fear!?” They must be referring to the museum’s mysterious confinement ward, which, by the way, you willingly walk into through an entrance that reads “Emergency” in all caps and bleeds down the door frame. Are you game to face a “crucible of madness”?
All sorts of dead reside at Greenland in Arao, Kumamoto Prefecture. The story behind this one goes that one day little Sachie realized that her teddy bear had disappeared and was replaced by a doll branded with her name on it. Since then, her school has been infested with supernatural phenomena, poltergeists and horrifying immortals — but there’s no word on any JET Programme teachers working there. Why couldn’t Sachie have just held onto her old teddy?
Toei Kyoto Studio Park has adopted “Ushi no Koku Mairi” as its Halloween theme this year, which translates as “Shrine Visit at the Hour of the Ox.” Doesn’t sound too bad, until you learn that a lone, scorned woman sneaks into the shrine late at night with a nail, hammer and something resembling a voodoo doll, as the Toei studio attraction bases its frights on an old Japanese curse. It’s said that certain shrines in Kyoto are ideal for this kind of ritual, making the old capital a great place to seek revenge this weekend. (Madeline Barbush)
Outlets serving dishes of dread
A night out at one of Japan’s popular theme restaurants can be frightening year round, but some establishments are going the extra mile and offer Halloween-themed menus until this weekend.
The Lockup is a favorite among tourists due to the theatrics of its staff. With branches across Japan, this theme restaurant is styled like a dungeon — and the occasional “jail break” will no doubt get you howling (in fear or with laughter) while dining on a special Halloween meal of skull-shaped chicken, pasta with eyeballs and “R.I.P.” cake. Make sure to wear your scariest get-up because groups in costume get free original cocktails — but only until Oct. 31.
For something a little less scary, but equally as festive, head over to the Coffee House California at the Sunroute Plaza Tokyo or Coffee House L’Avenue at the Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, for all-you-can-eat Halloween night feasts. These Tokyo Disney Resort-affiliated venues have concocted dishes featuring seasonal vegetables to serve as holiday treats. However, these menus, along with Tokyo Disneyland’s Halloween festivities, will all come to an end on Oct. 31.
The Clayton Bay Hotel in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, is also cooking up something wicked with its Halloween menu. Spider-web pizza, devil’s pork steak and ghost potatoes stack the menu.
If you’re looking for ghoulish sweets, check out Yokai Shokuhin Kenkyujyo (loosely translated as the Demonic Food Laboratory) in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture. Inspired by Shigeru Mizuki’s horror manga “GeGeGe no Kitaro,” the store sells eyeball-shaped mochi treats that are perfect for trick-or-treaters. The only thing scarier than these sugary snacks might be the dentist’s bill. (Catherina DePaz)
A scary-movie marathon may be just what the witch doctor ordered on Halloween weekend. Luckily, Japan has more than a few classics to deliver the chills.
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989): Before the kids go to bed, check out Hayao Miyazaki’s heart-warming animation from 1989 in which a young witch seeks independence in a new town.
“Audition” (1999): Definitely not for the faint at heart, this movie is one of the most disturbing in Takashi Miike’s filmography. Be warned: Its realistic depiction of torture could cause more than a few sleepless nights.
“Cure” (1997): Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s psychological thriller traces a serial killer who turns out to be a hypnotist, but a twist ending will wake you from any trance.
“The Curse” (2005): Although the film is directed by Koji Shiraishi, its found-footage quality tells of how main character Masafumi Kobayashi, expert on all things paranormal, disappears in the process of making a documentary.
“The Great Yokai War” (2005): Another of Miike’s, this fantastical adventure for kids follows a boy named Tadashi chosen to protect all things good. He is tested in battle and finds help in monstrous places.
“Psycho Break” (2014): Don’t just watch, get involved. Known elsewhere as “The Evil Within,” this video game for PlayStation and Xbox starts with a gruesome mass murder at a hospital and leads into earthquakes and terrifying monsters known as the Haunted. Just try to make it out of the weekend alive. (Emi Ando)
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