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It’s no trick: Shibuya Ward wants costumed partygoers to avoid congregating at its famed crossing outside Shibuya Station once again this year. In return, officials are offering a treat: A 3D Halloween on a screen in your home.

Telecoms company KDDI, along with the Shibuya government, held Virtual Shibuya au 5G Fes last year, too. A reported 400,000 people logged on over the duration of the event (though it wasn’t without glitches), but others hit the streets of Shibuya anyway.

This year the online event looks much the same, but runs longer and features an updated avatar option. The virtual cityscape at the center of it all is an undeniable representation of Shibuya crossing, with its white crosswalks, neon signs, billboards and iconic 109 building looming over it all.

Even with virtual jack-o’-lanterns and other Halloween-themed decorations dotting its streets, Shibuya is now effortlessly recognizable thanks to its frequent appearance in pop culture. More than the streets of Ginza or Shinjuku, the crossing symbolizes Tokyo’s, and indeed Japan’s, perceived frenetic futurism.

Last year, CNN posted a video on the virtual Halloween, opening with an overhead view of the crossing and Hollywood representations of it, priming Western viewers on the cultural import of the area.

“This Tokyo landmark has appeared in movies,” reads the white text at the bottom of the screen. We are shown a reel of cinematic moments set at the crossing: Scarlett Johansson’s curious gaze from “Lost in Translation,” and the crowds parting as a driver from “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’’ barrels through. We are then shown its digital rendering, “A virtual extravaganza, equipped with your personalized avatar, trick-or-treating and live performances.”

The transformation of this particular part of Tokyo into a virtual space is so easily undertaken because, to many, Shibuya, like Times Square in New York, works as an idea or imagined space. It’s a Disneyworld in the center of a city often only seen through the mediation of a screen. Shibuya is, of course, a place where actual people live and work, and for these people, as well as other Tokyoites, Shibuya is something entirely different — a real space. But for those gazing at Japan from afar (especially during the pandemic), it is an idea, reproduced on the web.

The ubiquity of Shibuya as “idea” helps to explain the popularity of the YouTuber Ramblac’s walkthroughs of Japanese neighborhoods, Shibuya in particular. These clips feature a Tokyo at its least mediated, without the pretense of extensive editing or cuts, or via the lens of Hollywood. “Walking in Tokyo Shibuya at Night of 2017” has racked up more than 3.7 million views and consists of a basic camera shot taking the viewer down several streets around the area. The video is only second in popularity to a clip titled “Walking at Night in Aokigahara Forest,” which sits at 4.7 million views currently. That area, nicknamed “the suicide forest,” likely captures foreign imaginations for all the wrong reasons.

We are so conditioned to seeing Shibuya represented on our screens that the area becomes an amalgamation of its online persona and the real space; the virtual rendering of the neighborhood increasingly collapsing and confusing the two faces. “In this age when the boundaries between the real and virtual are disappearing, au 5G and Shibuya update the neighborhood with technology,” declares the Twitter bio of the group behind au 5G Halloween Fes.

An example of this sort of mashup came last year with YouTube channel Komazawa Isolation’s rendering of the area as the world for a Grand Theft Auto-style video game. With a screen overlaid by a map and health bar, a real person acts as the game avatar, seemingly guided through the crossing and backstreets in a video game-inspired storyline. Here, where actual footage of Shibuya becomes the backdrop to a mock video game, the real is confused with the virtual, and the line between the two collapses.

In recent years, Shibuya has seen heavy investment in real estate, with new skyscrapers coming to dominate the surroundings. But further digitizing of the area through virtual new year celebrations and summer festivals might be a better way to capitalize on imaginations overseas.

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