I’ve never really been into Halloween, but I quite enjoy occasions that mean I get to dress up in stupid clothing. So when the opportunity to visit one of the most famous fancy dress street parties in Japan came up, I couldn’t say no! Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
Visiting Halloween in Shibuya isn’t going to be worth it for the majority of people. The crowds are huge, the authentic experience and connection are lacking, and there’s little to do other than walk around. However, if you’re looking for thousands of the most creative and visually exciting Halloween costumes in Japan, this is the place to come!
So, what makes this world-renowned gathering not worth your time, and why does everyone think it is?
The History of Halloween in Japan
Halloween in Japan has a relatively brief history but has rapidly gained popularity in recent decades. The origins of Halloween in Japan can be traced back to the late 20th century when it was primarily introduced through commercial interests (Similar to Easter in Japan).
Initially, Halloween was embraced by businesses and retailers looking for new marketing opportunities, particularly those selling costumes, decorations, and sweets. This is pretty similar to a number of occasions or holidays in Japan, and to be honest, the entire world.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Halloween began to make its way into Japanese pop culture, with costume parties and events mainly organized by foreign residents and enthusiasts. These gatherings were often attended by young people who saw it as a chance to dress up in creative costumes and enjoy a taste of Western-style festivities.
However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Halloween truly took off in Japan, driven by the widespread influence of social media and international cultural exchanges. Shibuya, a bustling district in Tokyo, became the epicenter of Japan’s Halloween celebrations, drawing thousands of people each year.
This is the first time I heard about Halloween being properly celebrated in Japan, though perhaps it’s because of the huge numbers that turn up each year.
Today, Halloween in Japan is not only about costume parties but has also become an opportunity for businesses, neighborhoods, and families to participate in the fun. Local shops decorate their storefronts, and even convenience stores sell Halloween-themed treats and products. 7-Eleven is of course one of those businesses!
Interestingly enough, of the many festivals and holidays that Japan celebrates throughout the year, Obon may be more closely related to what we typically consider to be Halloween in the West. Families visit graves, perform rituals, dance, and attend festivals in remembrance and respect of deceased loved ones.
Getting ‘forced’ to join in with the dancing with a bunch of Obasans at one of these festivals was definitely something I’ll remember for a long time, though that’s a story for another day!
The crowds and the chaos
To figure out whether visiting Shibuya on Halloween is worth it for you or not, you need to question the reasons you’ve come to Japan and what you hope to get out of your evening. I’ll tell you right now that if you’re looking to see how another culture celebrates Halloween and have a chilled-out night, this isn’t somewhere you should come.
I’ve talked a little bit before about when and why Japan is crowded, but visiting Shibuya on Halloween takes that all to the next level. I’ve heard about these ‘legendary’ Shibuya Halloween street parties for years, but what I was met with was more people than I’ve ever seen in one space at the same time.
There was barely any space to move, no time to stop walking, and little time to appreciate the (admittedly awesome) costumes that you’d pass by. Luckily we’d booked into a nearby hotel because I cannot imagine heading back on the train in this situation. …Even though falling asleep on a Japanese train is completely acceptable!
Only a couple of days after the tragedy in Korea, I must admit I was a little apprehensive to purposefully venture to an area that I knew was to be filled with people. We arrived in the city at around 3 O’clock to check in and get something to eat, and the streets were already fairly busy.
From that moment until late at night, there were police absolutely everywhere.
While I understand they were here to move everyone on to prevent any unfortunate situations from occurring, being able to constantly hear commands shouted by the police didn’t really give it the best atmosphere.
I also popped into don quijote in Central Shibuya to buy a V for Vendetta mask, and you’d be absolutely right if you thought that was a bad idea on my behalf. Loads of people, really hot, small spaces, what could go wrong!?
Finding something to do in Shibuya on Halloween
Thinking about going for a drink somewhere in Shibuya on Halloween? Forget it.
To be fair I doubt you’ll even have time to stop moving for long enough to see if any of the places have space to sit down. And spoiler alert: they won’t.
But hey, perhaps you think that this’ll be a good time and place to visit Shibuya Scramble? Nope. Take a look at that picture and tell me honestly whether you think walking through that is going to be pleasant?…
Look, it’s not all that bad, there are a fair few fun costumes as you can imagine! My favorite of the night was these dogs, of course!
As well as seeing several similar dressed-up dogs, I also saw a pig in a pram too… Honestly, these animals were my favourite thing about the night.
In fact, there were quite a lot of pet owners that had dressed their animals up and then parked themselves out of the way so people could stop and get a picture of them. I much prefer this approach to the one where people stick their camera phone in your face to try and grab a photo of your costume, apparently personal space means nothing in this kind of event…
Pros and Cons of Visiting Shibuya on Halloween
Ok so it wasn’t my idea of fun, but this is your holiday, and it’s up to you to make that decision. So to make it easier for you, here is a list of the pros and cons of visiting Shibuya on Halloween.
- Unforgettable Atmosphere: Shibuya on Halloween is going to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. The amount of people, the amount of costumes, it’s going to be incredibly hard to replicate this atmosphere anywhere else. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the buzzing capital of Tokyo, either!
- Creative Costumes: The creativity of the costumes on display is damn cool. You’ll have the opportunity to see some of the most imaginative and eye-catching outfits, making it a paradise for costume enthusiasts and photographers. Both me and Nadia had our photo taken a number of times.
- Nightlife and Entertainment: Numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants in the area host Halloween-themed events and specials, making it a fantastic destination for those looking to enjoy the nightlife. I know people that have been to these events and they do speak highly of them. However as I’ve said before, you’ll be unlikely to be able to attend any of these places or events unless you’ve booked beforehand. So don’t leave it till the last minute!
- Overwhelming Crowds: The sheer number of people in Shibuya on Halloween was incredibly overwhelming, and that’s coming from a person who usually has no anxiety or unease around a lot of people. Navigating through the dense crowds can be challenging, and you might find yourself stuck in one spot for extended periods of time (luckily we were by a vending machine when this happened to us 😉
- Traffic and Transportation Issues: Halloween in Shibuya leads to significant traffic congestion and transportation delays. Trains and buses can be packed, and you might experience delays getting to and from the area. For us, this simply wasn’t worth it so we stayed in a hotel. I honestly can’t imagine how horrendous Shibuya train station would have been at this time.
- Safety Concerns: As with any large gathering, there are obviously going to be safety concerns. The Japanese police were pretty much all over this to be fair, but they can’t prepare for every eventuality.
- Limited Interactions: Due to the massive scale of the event, personal interactions with locals or fellow revelers can be limited. If you’re seeking deep cultural experiences, this isn’t the place you should come to. There were a lot of tourists which makes me think that most Japanese people and locals realize it’s not a particularly pleasant place to come on Halloween.
While visiting Shibuya on Halloween is an experience you won’t soon forget, it’s not without its challenges. Whether it’s worth it visiting or not depends on your love for Halloween, your tolerance for crowds, and your willingness to embrace the chaos.
In case you haven’t guessed, it wasn’t worth it for me but at the same time, I’m glad I’ve done it. Does that make sense?