Trick or Treat! Halloween in Japan: How and Where to Celebrate
Despite being a largely North American tradition, Halloween has been enthusiastically embraced by the Japanese to become one of the country’s largest annual celebrations. With all-night street parties, dazzling costume parades, extravagant decorations, and ghoulish gourmet delights, Halloween is a big deal in Japan! So, how exactly do the Japanese celebrate Halloween? And where are the best Halloween parties and events? Plus, do they even trick or treat in Japan? Read on for a comprehensive guide exploring all this and more!
Oct 21 2021 (Oct 25 2021)
Do They Celebrate Halloween in Japan?
While a big deal in North America and other countries, Halloween is only just taking off in Japan. Naturally pairing with a love of cosplay, seasonal festivities, and pop culture, Japan has begun to rapidly embrace Halloween, leading it to become as familiar as Christmas and perhaps even rivaling traditional celebrations like Tanabata and Obon.
Beginning with small-scale parades and themed candies, the 2010s has seen Halloween in Japan blossom into a month-long celebration culminating in enormous events and parties. Instead of trick or treating, Halloween in Japan is all about decorations, costumes, celebrating, and feasting! It has become somewhat of an event for young adults rather than children, with Halloween nights swarmed by locals donning lavish, gruesome, and raunchy costumes alongside drunken escapades and frantic partying. That being said, there are plenty of wholesome, family-oriented activities in Japan for Halloween, many of which are held during the day by local businesses, municipalities, and theme parks.
How Long Has Japan Celebrated Halloween?
While many attribute the origins of Halloween in Japan to Disney, there were actually Halloween celebrations in Japan recorded as early as the 1970s. The first known instance occurred in 1970 in Harajuku, Tokyo, with the store “Kiddy Land” offering a range of Halloween-themed toys and merchandise. The first-ever Japanese Halloween costume parade was subsequently held in Harajuku in 1983, an event that still continues to this day. From then on, several other businesses joined the trend and gradually began selling Halloween products and hosting their own events.
Disney kickstarted their own Halloween celebrations in Japan with a small-scale, one-day event in Tokyo Disneyland Toontown in 1997, which was also the year the legendary Kawasaki Halloween Parade debuted. Things really heated up with the introduction of Disney’s full-scale Halloween Parade in 2000 along with Universal Studios Japan’s inaugural Halloween event in 2002, both serving to place Halloween firmly in the minds of Japanese people.
Halloween culture has also spread through English schools, with many international teachers holding Halloween events for children and encouraging them to dress up and share candy. As for the mega-popular street parties, there have been reported crowds of costumed partiers congregating around Shibuya Crossing as early as 2000 before picking up steam through social media in the 2010s to grow into Japan’s most famous (and notorious) Halloween party.
How and Where Do Japanese Celebrate Halloween?
Being a largely commercial affair, the first signs of Halloween in Japan begin with decorations and advertising in stores. Many businesses will offer special Halloween promotional campaigns and limited-edition Halloween items starting from the beginning of October or even earlier. After advertising, the next most prominent sign of Halloween are the events and festivities held by places like Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, Sanrio Puroland, Tokyo Tower, and more. Many of these events are aimed at families and run from September to November.
Finally, once October 31st and its closest weekend rolls around, the fun really kicks off! This is when much of the commercialized Halloween disappears in favor of a grass-roots party culture that has developed around places like Shibuya, Roppongi, and Ikebukuro in Tokyo and Dotonbori in Osaka. The streets overflow with partygoers dressed up as anime characters, monsters, celebrities, professions, or whatever meme or icon is trending that year. While some also opt to head into surrounding clubs and bars, many will happily spend the entire night out on the street flaunting their costume, drinking with friends, and soaking in the intoxicating atmosphere.
While largely a friendly, welcoming affair, recent outdoor parties have tended to get out of hand, leading to a government crackdown focused particularly around the Shibuya area. Amplifying this is the spread of COVID-19 and the global pandemic, leading many to reevaluate the safety of large, unruly gatherings. If you do decide to join an outdoor party, stay safe, follow guidelines, and keep away from trouble.
How Do Children in Japan Celebrate Halloween?
As stated above, the after-dark streetside Halloween festivities have a rowdy, drunken vibe that is largely unsuitable for children. Instead, Japanese children will celebrate Halloween at theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland along with local dress-up events and daytime parades. While there’s no trick-or-treating in Japan, there’s plenty of Halloween-themed candy on sale for kids to purchase and enjoy. Some children may also dress up and experience trick-or-treating during English classes, particularly if they attend an after-school “eikaiwa” English conversation class with a foreign teacher.
What to Eat on Halloween: Japanese Halloween Food
Alongside costumes and parties, food is also a big deal during Halloween. Bakeries, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores across Japan will offer limited-edition Halloween treats resembling jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts, black cats, witches, devils, and more. Many tend to be pumpkin or sweet potato-flavored renditions of conventional treats like tarts, cakes, scones, danishes, or Japanese wagashi. Starbucks are particularly renowned for their range of Halloween drinkware and beverages/snacks, while brands like Krispy Kreme, Disney, Antenor, Godiva, ROYCE’, Lindt, Ishiya, Baskin Robbins, the Pokémon Cafe, and many others also release their own much-anticipated Halloween delights. Many prominent cafes, restaurants, and hotels also serve a Halloween-themed high tea or lunch featuring adorable cakes and treats, often crafted with incredible detail.
How to Celebrate Halloween in Japan
Celebrating Halloween in Japan is super easy - all you need is a costume and an event! You can purchase a costume online or visit a retail store like Don Quijote (pictured above), Daiso, or one of Japan’s numerous 100 yen shops. If you want to splash out on something special, cosplay shops in subculture hubs like Ikebukuro, Akihabara, or Den Den Town are your best bet. Since it's mid-autumn, the days will generally be pleasant but the nights chilly, so try to wear a costume that’s naturally warm or bring a jacket.
To find an event or party, check out the list below and see which one suits your style! Prior to joining an event, make sure to confirm the details online as many have set themes, rules, and other specifications. If you’re joining a street party, refrain from drinking in an alcohol-prohibited area, stay out of residential streets/private property, dispose of your trash with care, and keep an eye out for police guidance and avoid getting caught up in trouble. Always plan your way home in advance and be aware of the time in case you miss the last train (generally around midnight in major cities).
On the other hand, if large crowds or Halloween itself is of no interest to you, then it’s best to avoid going out in a major city during late October. Many of the trains, streets, and clubs/bars in the commercial and nightlife districts of Tokyo and Osaka will be absolutely packed on the night of the 31st and closest weekend, which may interfere with other sightseeing plans.
The Best Halloween Parties, Events, and Parades in Japan
While contents and dates may change, here’s a general look at what Halloween parties, events, and parades you can expect in an average October in Japan. Always check the details online before heading out.
*Note: Many of the following events have been cancelled or altered due to COVID-19.
Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo)
Attracting over 1 million people, the outdoor party at Shibuya Crossing has rapidly become Japan’s largest Halloween gathering. Generally held on the night of October 31st along with its closest weekend, this unofficial, informal gathering sees swarms of partygoers coming together from all over Tokyo to show off their costumes and let loose. The main party takes place on Shibuya Center Gai Street and Scramble Crossing, which is also surrounded by dozens of bars and clubs hosting their own Halloween parties.
Unfortunately, despite being the most famous Halloween event in Japan, the party at Shibuya Crossing has grown somewhat out of proportion in recent years. This has resulted in property damage, trashed streets, several arrests, increased police presence, and a localized ban on public drinking during the Halloween season to try to calm the chaos. If you choose to attend, stay safe and don’t drink outside!
Roppongi Hills (Tokyo)
Roppongi is another of Tokyo’s premier nightlife districts often frequented by local expats and passionate clubbers. Like Shibuya, the streets become flooded with costumed partiers hopping between bars and clubs during Halloween night and the closest weekend. However, in recent years, the outdoor party in Roppongi seems to be steadily declining in favor of Shibuya.
For more family-oriented fun, the daytime month-long Roppongi Hills Happy Halloween festival boasts plenty of Halloween-themed activities and food along with a large parade. Keep an eye on the events page of the Roppongi Hills official website for details.
While you’re here, don’t miss checking out the unnerving giant Maman Spider Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. Standing at over 9 m tall, it’s a natural counterpart to Halloween sure to send shivers down your spine!
One of the most popular Halloween events in Ikebukuro is the Ikebukuro Cosplay Festival in the otaku hub of Otome Road. With over 20,000 participants, it’s a fantastic opportunity to experience Japan’s cosplay subculture at its best. Event dates will change each year, so check online for the latest info.
Nearby is the FUN! FUN! HALLOWEEN! festival at Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City, which features several events and performances largely aimed at children over the entirety of October.
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea (Tokyo/Chiba)
Halloween runs at both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea from mid-September until the beginning of November. Both theme parks host an enchanting Halloween spectacle featuring Halloween and fall-inspired decorations, merchandise, food, parades, and shows. For younger children, Disneyland is more light-hearted and less focused on the scare-factor, while DisneySea is a little more dark and centered around Disney villains. All visitors are allowed to wear Disney-themed Halloween costumes during this time.
Sumida Aquarium (Tokyo)
Sumida Aquarium, located in Sumida City in Tokyo, uses its jellyfish exhibitions and more to weave together a surreal and spooky atmosphere augmented by lights and visuals. Naturally floating like ghosts, jellyfish are the perfect counterpart to Halloween! The event is generally held throughout all of October.
Tokyo Tower (Tokyo)
Tokyo Tower, one of Tokyo’s most distinctive icons, often features Halloween decorations and a special light up event during October. A more quiet, relaxed affair, the event showcases projection mapping, audio-visual shows, and Halloween-themed photo spots. If you haven’t made your way to this must-visit landmark yet, Halloween is a great time to do so!
Sanrio Puroland (Tokyo)
If horror isn’t your thing, the sweet and wholesome Halloween festival at Sanrio Puroland in Tama City, Tokyo, allows both children and adults to enjoy Halloween without the scare-factor. Being the company behind Hello Kitty, Pompompurin, My Melody, Little Twin Stars, and more, you can spend your Halloween surrounded by adorable characters dressed up in charming Halloween getups.
Kawasaki Halloween Parade (Kawasaki)
Another of Japan’s most iconic Halloween events, the Kawasaki Halloween Parade boasts over 2,500 participants with a history stretching back to the late ‘90s. The parade is known for its elaborate and painstakingly crafted costumes, with many spending an incredible amount of time and money to make a lasting impression on spectators. Held during the afternoon, the event is family-friendly and a far more suitable place to take kids to see costumes than Shibuya. That being said, many go to great lengths to ensure their look is truly terrifying, so don’t be surprised if you get a few shocks! The parade is generally held around Kawasaki Station and the La Cittadella shopping district during the afternoon of the last Sunday of October. Once the kids go home, the night takes on a slightly more adult vibe with a live DJ party at La Cittadella.
Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)
The thrill of Halloween isn’t just limited to Tokyo - Osaka has plenty of its own unique craziness! The pinnacle of this is at Universal Studios Japan, who hold their own horror-themed Halloween events which are far more extreme than the child-friendly Disney. 2021’s rendition sees participants thrown in the middle of a zombie apocalypse while exploring a haunted village inspired by the yokai manga GeGeGe no Kitaro. There’s also plenty of lighthearted activities for kids like trick or treating and character shows if the horror elements get too much.
Like Tokyo, Osaka has its own thriving unofficial outdoor party centered around the iconic Ebisu Bridge and Dotonbori area on October 31st and its closest weekend. Peaking around 7:00 PM and lasting until the early morning, scores of costumed partiers will flock to the bridge and surroundings to show off their getup and have a good time. There is also a street party and events happening at the nearby America-mura (American Village) mainly concentrated around the Shinsaibashi Big Step shopping mall and Sankaku Park. Shinsaibashi Big Step also holds daytime Halloween events worth checking out.
“The Absolute Halloween” party held in the downtown district of Sakae in Nagoya is the largest Halloween event in the central Tokai region of Japan. While many stay outside on the surrounding streets, the event is technically a Halloween block party hosted by 13 or so neighbouring venues and clubs, with the most popular being “club JB’S.” Music is also a big deal here, with DJs playing hip hop, EDM, anime songs, and house late into the night.
Sapporo’s premiere outdoor Halloween party naturally takes place in its bustling nightlife district of Susukino. The largest gathering can be found around the Tanukikoji Shopping Street along with the area surrounding the Round 1 amusement center on Halloween night and the closest weekend.
Halloween at Clubs and Bars
For more structured and indoor Halloween events, your best bet is to search online for Japanese clubs and bars and see what they have to offer. Even outside Tokyo and Osaka, the bars and clubs of most cities and towns will host their own smaller Halloween events, so there’s no missing out. Unlike street parties, these will likely have an entrance fee and restrictions, however, you’ll be able to enjoy DJs, live music, shows, costume competitions, and more. If you’re travelling solo and want to meet new people, these are probably a better option than street parties.
Some of the major clubs in Japan with Halloween events include:
- Shibuya (Tokyo): VISION, WOMB, TK SHIBUYA, Harlem, CLUB CAMELOT
- Roppongi (Tokyo): Maharaja Roppongi, V2 TOKYO, ESPRIT TOKYO, MUSE
- Osaka: Giraffe Osaka, Club Bambi, G2, VANITY
- Yokohama: The Bridge
- Nagoya: CLUB SANGO, iD cafe, club JB'S, CLUB W, the emporium
- Sapporo: KING XMHU, Riviera, BOOTY, GOSSIP LOUNGE
For bars, search for the closest HUB, English/Irish pub, or international bar. These often hold Halloween parties and are a pretty good bet if you’re in a smaller city or town.
Celebrating Halloween the Japanese Way!
Halloween in Japan has grown from a low-key commercial venture into one of the largest and wildest celebrations of the year. Every October, the parties get bigger, the costumes more impressive, and the decorations more extravagant. If you’re looking to meet new people, have fun, and dress up, then use this guide to find an event and start celebrating Halloween like the Japanese!
Top image: Mix and Match Studio / Shutterstock
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.