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Japan has imported and adapted ideas and technologies throughout its history. This has included holidays and Halloween is one of the more recent of these imports. So, in 2019 I went to the Shibuya Scramble to experience how this holiday had been adopted in Japan.

In this article I’ll review the development of Halloween in Japan, the Shibuya Scramble event, my experience and what I took away from it all.

The Development of Halloween in Japan

The history of the development of Halloween is long. From its origins in the Celtic festival of Soen, the introduction of Hallomas (All Saint’s Day) from which the name is derived and to the eventual creation of the modern holiday in North America. In contrast, its history in Japan is short.

For Japan it all began in the ‘90s when foreign residents brought Halloween celebrations from the U.S to Japan. Though it started small, it has grown to rival Valentine’s Day in Japan.

The development of Halloween in Japan started with illicit train parties introduced by Western residents in Tokyo. Despite, or perhaps because of, the controversy, Japan’s younger generation have continued this practice. The popularity of dressing up and riding the train end-to-end is such that there are now specialist trains for this.

Halloween’s introduction into the mainstream came in 2000 when Tokyo Disneyland held its first Halloween themed event. Following their success story, other venues realised the commercial value of the holiday and started their own themed events for the holiday.

Nowadays, if you visit a Japanese amusement park after dark in the run-up to October 31st you will be find the ghosts of the park characters haunting the grounds.

As Halloween has evolved, it has grown more popular. It is now possible to go to any number of Halloween parades, haunted houses or parties. Which brings us to the Shibuya Scramble event.

The Shibuya Scramble Halloween Street Party

The most famous and even notorious Halloween party, is the one that takes place around the Shibuya Scramble (Tokyo’s enormous pedestrian crossing that has gained international fame).

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

In essence, it is an impromptu outdoor costume party which started attracting serious numbers in 2011. Since then the annual turnout has swelled and in 2018 100,000 people joined in the festivities.

As the crowds have grown year-on-year, the local officials have been left scrambling to catch up (pardon the pun). In 2019 Shibuya ward spent 100 million yen (approx. $1 million) on security for the event. Along with this spending, the ward authorities decided to ban alcohol on the streets and sales of takeaway alcohol in the area.

These precautions were taken as a response to the drink fuelled events of 2018, which saw 13 people arrested and a small truck overturned in the street. As this suggests, Shibuya Scramble at Halloween can get rather rowdy.

So, what was it actually like?

Halloween in Shibuya: My Experience

Halloween has never been a big part of my year. Beyond a little apple bobbing in my childhood and the odd night club event while at university, Halloween more-or-less passes unacknowledged for me. But last year I decided to see how it was marked in Japan.

Despite warnings from co-workers of the vast crowds and rowdy atmosphere, I made my way to the Scramble to see what it was all about. Besides, by this time I had been in Tokyo for a little while and my confidence in handling a large crowd had grown.

The Bad

From the moment of my arrival at Shibuya station, my abiding memory of the night of 31st October 2019 is of a sea of humanity. Soon I found myself sucked into this mass of bodies.

Dotted along either side of the street were a few outnumbered and harassed-looking police officers. While there was little to no realistic prospect of being able to take more than half a pigeon step in any direction, the police instructed the crush of people to ‘continue forward, please.’

However, this initial crowd was a mere appetiser to the nightmare instore on the far side of the Scramble. There, every square inch from shop-front to shop-front had become an enormous mosh-pit as some in the crowd decided to have fun pushing and shoving the mass of people this way and that.

This maelstrom of the willing and unwilling claimed me for more than 45 minutes. Buffeted this way and that by waves of pursuing zombies, superheroes and anime characters, I managed to reach a subterranean subway entrance.

The Good

Having only just avoided death-by-cosplay, I used the empty underground walkway to circle around and resurface in the streets behind the Scramble. This is where the best of the Shibuya Halloween party was to be found.

These smalls streets and alleys were full of the most impressive costumes I’ve ever seen. There were zombie costumes that would have gone unnoticed on the sets of the Walking Dead and popular culture costumes whose attention to detail was staggering.

By far the best costume was an ensemble piece consisting of a full-grown Winnie-the-Pooh surrounded by black-suited secret service guards. All involved were committed to their roles. It was a clear crowd favourite for the commitment and the topical political satire.

Exhausted from my struggles with the crowd, I enjoyed the best of the costumes and made my way home. In spite of the mayhem, it was a fun event. But other than not to challenge the Japanese to a costume contest, what did I learn from this experience?

A Different Face of Japan

Japan has an international reputation for order (if not regimentation), organisation and the highest etiquette. While this may be true, the Shibuya Scramble at Halloween shows a more chaotic side to Japan. For me it further cemented Japan as a country of contradictions.

It is perhaps reasonable to interpret the chaos as a communal release of tension. A tension built up in the course of everyday life in the Tokyo metropolis; long work hours, packed commuter trains and little respite.

I found the mosh-pit crowd reminiscent of the commuter frustration that from time-to-time boils over on the morning commute. The over forceful shove to get off the train or a strained exchange between two businessmen, the Shibuya Scramble Halloween mosh-pit on a microscale.

Some go further and interpret the behaviour at the event to be a reaction against a society that demands an ever-higher price for diminishing rewards. A feeling that many in developed countries can empathise with.

Halloween in Shibuya: The Future

Whatever the behaviour’s true origins, the Shibuya ward authority feels increasingly compelled to take a firmer hand at the event. This has lead to increased security and the introduction of alcohol bans. But it stops short of prohibiting this unofficial gathering (though that may be advisable given the current world health crisis). How this will change the free and youthful vibe of the event will be interesting to see.

Photo by Felix Fuchs on Unsplash

Perhaps the trend towards increasing commercialisation of the holiday in other areas of Japan provides a hint. In recent years Halloween has almost matched Valentine’s Day revenues, generating 130 billion yen in sales.

This corporatisation may have already arrived in Shibuya. A branch of Burger King in Shibuya introduced a ghost theme to coincide with the annual gathering in 2019. Perhaps as more businesses follow suit this spontaneous gathering will evolve into something new.


Since the 1990s Halloween has experienced a significant rise in popularity. But as always Japan has adapted this import to suit itself. The supernatural element present in its Western counterpart is ignored, while the costume element, already a staple of Japanese culture, is front and centre.

In my opinion, that is where the fun is to be found. Just remember, if you decide to experience this face of modern Japan, be sure to bring your costume A-game.

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