Lifestyle

A handy guide to fright nights in and around Tokyo

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

In an attempt to tap into the growing interest in the supernatural during summer, a number of companies are offering services that allow participants to experience a taste of what lives in the shadows.

Hato Bus tourist agency, for example, offers two types of ghost tours every year: a Koshakushi to Iku Yoru no Kaidan cruise tour (a night cruise featuring a ghost storyteller) and an Otera de Kiku Kaidan no Yube tour (an event held at a temple on Mount Myoken Hosshou in Yanagishima at sunset featuring a ghost storyteller).

Meanwhile, Yokohama-based taxi company Sanwa Koutsu launched an Anatano Shiranai Taxi no Sekai tour this year, which takes passengers on a tour of haunted locations in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“It’s the first time for us to hold such a tour,” says Motoharu Takiguchi, who is in charge of public relations for the company. “Our president thought that a scary tour would be perfect for summer.”

Dozens of people have shown an interest in the tour already, Takiguchi says, with the service becoming fully booked after just three days.

Fifty more groups are currently sitting on a waiting list.

“We plan on holding the tour again next year if we manage to get a decent response from our customers,” Takiguchi says.

Those looking for something a little less organized might wish to check out the ghoulish Thriller Night Roppongi bar in Tokyo.

The bar originated in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in 2011 as the country’s first ghost story bar. The bar’s manager, Hiroki Yamada, wanted to create something that had the feeling of a theme park while also including a touch of humor.

The Roppongi branch has been open since May 2014, offering guests a decor that looks more like something you’d find in a carnival fair ground’s haunted house than a bar in Tokyo.

Severed heads rest on shelves, spiderwebs hang from the ceiling and macabre dummies that resemble corpses sit amongst the customers.

The bar offers an all-you-can-drink menu for ¥3,500 for the first hour, with one-hour extensions available for another ¥2,500. While this sounds a little pricey, a storyteller recounts an assortment of ghost stories for 15 minutes every hour.

Thriller Night Roppongi features three main storytellers: Wataru Shirotani, Ayako Yamaguchi and Takahiko Murakami, who goes by his stage name, “Murakami Rock.”

“I’ve always liked ghost stories,” Murakami says, who sports a mohawk and bow-tie, and looks a little bit like a ghost himself. “I used to meet up with my friends and share scary stories. I initially tried to pursue an acting career in Sapporo, but decided to try this on Shirotani’s suggestion.”

Murakami admits he’s still learning the trade and is seeking more opportunities to perform outside of the bar. He says that he feels more comfortable speaking from personal experience.

“Shirotani performs in a traditional rakugo style,” Murakami says. “I want our customers to be able to relate to my stories, so I have decided to speak on a more personal level. I often tell stories based my own experiences — for example, the spiritual experiences I have encountered since I started living by myself.”

Yamada is constantly on the lookout for new ghost storytellers, holding regular auditions to allow interested parties an opportunity to test their skills.

“We typically ask anyone who’s interested in auditioning to prepare a story and perform in front of us,” Yamada says. “We get all manner of people applying, from college girls to senior citizens.”

Looking ahead, Yamada plans to turn Thriller Night Roppongi into a form of management company that will allow young storytellers to hone their skills.

“We now hold auditions, which is the best way to seek new talent,” Yamada says. “In future, I’d like to be able to send this new generation (of storytellers) off to events outside of the bar.”