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Although the time for ghosts and ghouls in Japan is traditionally in summer — the Bon holiday in August finds families welcoming the spirits of relatives returning from the afterlife — Halloween has become part of modern-day Japan’s cultural calendar.

And it’s no surprise. Dressing up in elaborate costumes and cosplaying is a popular pastime regardless of season; there’s a long list of traditional ghost stories and other freaky folktales; and kimodameshi (literally “testing the liver”) challenges see teenagers daring each other to visit graveyards and other spooky sites.

Halloween is a seasonal excuse for people of any age to dress up, decorate and eat way too many treats. Although the pandemic lingers on, here are ways for everyone to enjoy this frightfully fun holiday.

Mickey Mouse and friends welcome guests to a spooky ghost celebration during this Halloween-themed parade at Tokyo Disney. | © DISNEY
Mickey Mouse and friends welcome guests to a spooky ghost celebration during this Halloween-themed parade at Tokyo Disney. | © DISNEY

Fright fest

Although large-scale events like the Kawasaki Halloween Parade and the unofficial gathering of costumed thrill-seekers in Shibuya are no longer on the cards, Halloween 2021 will still see the reemergence of some in-person events.

Serving up a particularly Japanese spin on Halloween, the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival 2021 is going ahead on Oct. 30 and 31 with additional COVID-safe measures. Ticket numbers have been limited to reduce crowds and, instead of a tote bag, masks will be given to all attendees and must be worn at all times. Activities of note include the Cosplayer of the Year competition.

The fantastical Halloween-themed parade over at Tokyo Disneyland is also taking place from mid-September through Oct. 31, with Mickey Mouse and all his friends dressed up for the occasion. Visitors to the park are required to wear masks, undergo a temperature check and practice social distancing, so if you want to catch the parade make sure you grab a spot early.

COVID-safe Halloween events are also happening in other city centers. Yokohama, for example, is hosting a Halloween 2021 Online Photo Campaign through Oct. 31, which involves hunting down a series of scary pictures hidden around the Motomachi area for a shot at winning prizes.

And if you really want to test your liver, haunted houses provide the perfect place to do just that. The fright fest on offer through Nov. 7 at Universal Studios Japan Halloween Horror Nights in Osaka is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

Many compact local events are also taking place around the country. Check out the information boards around your neighborhood or community pages on social media sites for details of these usually family-friendly parties. Tickets for these small-scale gatherings are usually only a few hundred yen.

While some of the monsters on the loose at Universal Studios are frightful, others (like these Minions) are quite cute and kid-friendly. | UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN
While some of the monsters on the loose at Universal Studios are frightful, others (like these Minions) are quite cute and kid-friendly. | UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN

Horror show

If you want to really scare yourself silly, a slew of horror movies are available on streaming sites.

Those with younger children can catch the 2021 “Muppets Haunted Mansion,” a 50-minute Disney+ special, or delve into the animated beauty of Studio Ponoc’s “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” adapted from the 1971 novel “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart.

For adults, the J-horror genre has a wealth of frightening options, so you can terrify yourself by watching movies like “The Ring” (“Ringu”) or “Pulse” (“Kairo”) as much as you want. Or you could just go with perennial favorite and spooky-lite “Ghostbusters,” to remind yourself that you ain’t afraid of no ghost. Just don’t blame me if you can’t sleep.

Spooky snacks

One of the best things about Halloween, aside from the costumes, has to be the food. This time of year brings the perfect excuse to indulge in an array of creepy candy and pumpkin-themed desserts. There’s no shortage of Halloween-related snacks on sale in shops like Kaldi and big-box supermarkets such as Aeon. Packs of dagashi-like candies take on spooky themes, and dressed-up versions of beloved cartoon characters — think witchy Pikachu — are plastered over packaging.

Dressed-up versions of popular cartoon characters can be found on snack packages around Halloween in Japan. | REBECCA SAUNDERS
Dressed-up versions of popular cartoon characters can be found on snack packages around Halloween in Japan. | REBECCA SAUNDERS

Sourcing ingredients for classic seasonal treats like pumpkin pie can be difficult in Japan, but getting creative in the kitchen can produce something equally delicious — ghost s’mores dip anyone? On the other hand, Japanese ingredients can create wonders such as Jack-o’-lantern onigiri (rice balls), or cook up a regular omurice with a horror house twist: frankfurter fingers emerging through the yellow omelette casing drenched in “blood” (ketchup).

Simple snacks like chocolate rice crispy cakes with the addition of marshmallows for ghoulish eyes, or sandwiches cut into the shape of ghosts are a breeze. Check out some eerie-yet-easy recipes online for more inspiration; party (and more) site Happy Birthday Project has a wealth of creative Halloween gastronomy.

And while trick-or-treating may be a fairly hard-to-find experience in Japan, a nice way to reverse the custom is to share some of your homemade treats with family, friends and neighbors. Keep it COVID-safe by leaving them at the door.

Monster mash

A full-scale bash might not be a good idea, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a bit of Halloween fun with a small group of friends. Spruce up your house with some creepy decorations, get on your ghostly garb and host a party with family and friends via video chat. Quiz yourselves into oblivion, swap urban legends and ghost stories, or have a remote pumpkin-carving competition.

If the sun is shining, you could also plan an outdoor event; the weather in Tokyo, for example, is still fairly mild this time of year. Park protocols vary, but getting a small group together and heading out (maintaining social distance and wearing masks, of course) is fun whether you’re a child or a “big kid.” Masks may still feel medical, rather than monstrous, but Halloween can still be as spooky and sensational as you want it to be.

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