Where can you see a rotting zombie, Donald Trump and the Mario Brothers all in the same place on the same night? Well, Shibuya on Halloween, of course.
Once a year, Shibuya, Tokyo, hosts what is arguably the world’s largest costume party. It’s a time when horror lovers, otaku kids, and club-goers all join together to pack the streets of the famous neighborhood. If you’re in Japan for Halloween, don’t miss out on the festivities that include everything from dance parties to costume contests.
Still trying to figure out your plans for this year? Keep reading and you’ll be convinced to go to Shibuya. You may even get a costume idea out of it.
How does Japan celebrate Halloween?
Halloween has been getting more and more popular in Japan recently. Of course, it’s been adopted from the US tradition mostly because of Disneyland, but it’s still different. For example, the children’s aspect is not nearly as big. Rather, in Japan, Halloween is a time for enormous street parties.
While there’s no trick or treating, that doesn’t mean there isn’t candy. Stores sell a lot of special Halloween items. Restaurants also have specials and dye things orange and black. Jack-o’-lanterns are becoming popular too.
Halloween is not just the night of October 31st, either. Instead, parties rage for the entire week leading up to Halloween. If you’ve been to Japan before, you’ve probably noticed how quiet and polite the people are. Halloween might be the one exception. The boisterous parties pour into the streets, parks, and trains. It’s a wild few nights.
A number of locations all over Japan host special events and parties around Halloween time. Many of these are theme parks. For example, Universal Studios Japan, Tokyo Disneyland, and Sanrio Puroland all have special Halloween celebrations. Characters that normally roam the park become scary ghosts and goblins. Universal Studios even has haunted houses and a Halloween ride.
Additionally, large street parties break out in various neighborhoods like Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. While these aren’t exactly organized, they’re the results of so many bars and venues having parties that it just kind of merges into one.
Lately, the Japanese federal and local governments have been trying to exercise a little more control over the parties. For instance, public drinking has been banned during Halloween and New Year’s in Shibuya from 2019 forward. However, that’s the least of the festivities. Costumes, dancing, and decorations still make it the place to be.
Why you should celebrate Japanese Halloween in Shibuya
If you like crowds and energy, Shibuya is a great place to go any time of the year, Halloween doubly so. It’s the district of Tokyo surrounding Shibuya Station, the world’s largest railway station. As a result, it’s become an economic hub for Tokyo, Japan, and the entire world.
Shibuya is also a primary nightlife and entertainment destination. There are blocks of bars, clubs, and interesting shops catering to all interests. Already a place filled with people, during the holiday the streets get overrun with partiers.
Along with New Year’s, Halloween in Shibuya might be one of the largest parties and gatherings in the world. Aside from the crowd of people so thick it’s hard to even get through at times, the biggest draw is probably the costumes. Like the US, people dress up to be scary, or they might find a costume of their favorite movie or video game character. Some of these can be amazingly elaborate and creative.
In Shibuya, Halloween is also a night for making new friends. People love to show off their costumes, ask others about theirs, and take a ton of photos. It’s a great way to meet people whether you’re living in Japan long term or just there as a tourist.
When to go
Shibuya becomes a Halloween party for almost a week leading up to Halloween. For example, in 2019, Halloween was celebrated on the 26th-31st. While the district is bubbling with Halloween energy all day long, the festivities generally start around 6 PM. If you want to do anything else in Shibuya like shopping or sightseeing, it’s best to do it before then. The crowd starts thinning out at about 11 PM.
Of course, the best night to go is Halloween itself, especially if it coincides with the weekend. In this case, the crowd is likely to remain all through the night. If Halloween is on a weekday, the weekend before will also be an intense party.
Where to go
Within Shibuya, the party gets biggest around Shibuya crossing and down the Shibuya Center-gai shopping street. Hanging out in the street like this is, of course, completely free, and you get to see the crazy costumes. You can also check out and take pictures with the Hachiko Memorial Statue built for the famous dog who waited for his dead master outside Shibuya Station every day for nine years.
Many bars and clubs located in Shibuya also have special events and parties, which is how Shibuya Halloween started in the first place. Here are some of the most popular:
WOMB is a massive nightclub in Shibuya that books some of the biggest DJs in the world. This is definitely the case on Halloween. For example, 2019’s party headliner was Bill Patrick. To make it extra fun, the club encourages costumes. In fact, if you come in a full costume you get a considerable discount on the cover charge.
Club Camelot is another famous nightclub in Shibuya. It’s great for Halloween festivities because they usually do some whacky theme. 2018 was “Halloween Hospital Horror Stories,” for instance. You can be sure to see some interesting costumes. Just make sure you put the effort into your own.
Sound Museum Vision
Another boisterous nightclub, Sound Museum Vision is the place to be on Halloween. On top of decking out the club in a Halloween theme, they get the biggest names to DJ like MARSHMELLO, Seven Lions, Galantis, and more.
What to do
First of all, there are few better photo-ops than Halloween in Shibuya. This is the time to step out of your comfort zone and get to know strangers. When you see a cool costume, ask to take a photo. You can also start up a conversation about how they made the costume and why they chose it.
If you’re really into costumes, try to find a costume contest. In addition to the bars and dance clubs, you can find a lot of parties held in venues specifically for Halloween. In 2019, the largest was held at the Hikarie Convention Hall in Shibuya Hikarie. Along with food and drink, there were several costume contests.
Parties like these are all over and widely advertised. Just keep an eye out for the days leading up to Halloween. You’ll inevitably see posters all over Tokyo and announcements on social media.
Halloween in Shibuya is a ton of fun, there’s no denying it. But it’s also really messy. Every year when the sun comes up and the crowd slowly drains from the streets, what’s left behind is a layer of confetti, bottles, cans, and the odd pieces of Halloween costumes. This can be a sad side effect of the festivities, especially since Japan takes pride in and is well known for its cleanliness.
As a result, many people volunteer to clean up both during and after the party. They take big trash bags and pickers and gather as much as they can. You don’t even necessarily have to miss out on the fun. Wear a costume and pick up trash. You’ll probably have plenty of people asking what you’re doing.
What to wear
Well, obviously you should wear a costume. Like carnival and modern American Halloween, you have a wide range to choose from.
Of course, you can go with a classic horror-theme costume, a monster, a zombie, or a vampire. These are plenty common. More popular, though, are costumes based on popular culture, especially Japanese otaku culture. You’ll see a lot of video games, movies, manga, and anime characters, some world-famous, others are more obscure. Finally, you can make a costume that reflects current events. Many people dress up as celebrities or world leaders. This is a real opportunity to get creative and make something no one else will think of.
Many people buy supplies weeks in advance and put a lot of effort into designing a costume. This involves makeup, sewing, and tons of vision. Other people just buy a premade costume that they like. Either way, you’ll probably have to do some shopping. Don’t worry, Shibuya and all of Tokyo stock up during the season with everything you need. Here are some places to try:
If you don’t already know, Don Quijote is a major discount department store chain in Japan. Their locations are filled floor to ceiling with random goods you can’t find anywhere else at unbelievably low prices. During the Halloween season, this means a huge variety of props, makeup, and other costume materials. My advice? Go with an open mind and see if anything inspires you. You’re bound to see something you hadn’t even considered before.
Tokyu Hands is another department store, though it’s a bit more upscale than Don Quijote. As Halloween nears, they’ll have a lot of materials for making costumes. Plus, they’ll have full costumes as well. To make things easier, they have an online store and locations all around Japan. Of course, there’s a location in Shibuya itself as well.
Convenience stores and ¥100 shops
If Halloween is getting close and you forgot to get a costume, don’t worry. You can always run by a convenience store or one of the many ¥100 shops like Daiso and pick up a mask or some makeup.
This is probably the most convenient option. Plenty of stores in Tokyo offer costumes for rent. You can find just about anything from otaku or popular culture. Just find and reserve your costume well in advance. If you call the night before Halloween, your favorite anime character is likely to be all rented out.
Try something new
A crowded neighborhood in a foreign country filled with goblins and monsters can be scary. But isn’t that what Halloween is for? Get out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve always wanted to but never tried. That could mean talking to strangers, dressing up crazily, or participating in a contest. That’s how you get the memories and stories you carry with you for a lifetime.