How is Halloween Celebrated in Japan?

Published October 15th, 2022

Halloween has slowly been gaining popularity throughout Japan for the past two decades. It is a Western holiday with no roots in Japan, so how did it become such a beloved and widely spread event?

It first began being celebrated in small clusters by expats in the 1990’s. The first official Halloween celebration in Japan, however, began in 2000 when Tokyo Disneyland held its first Halloween party. In the years leading up to the first official Disneyland Halloween party, some guests would dress up during Halloween and visit the park. By 2000, Disneyland was hosting the Happy Halloween Twilight Parade, and visitors and characters alike were dressed for the event. The park, of course, still holds its annual Halloween celebrations. Now, from mid-September to early November, Tokyo Disneyland is decked out in spooky décor. For the Halloween season, guests can enjoy the spooky sights, buy exclusive Disney Halloween merch, and enjoy Halloween-inspired treats.

Hallowainstreenland © Saturne / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Universal Studios Japan opened in Osaka in 2001, and quickly joined in on the fun. In 2002, it held the Hollywood Halloween celebration, and has been celebrating the holiday ever since. Now, the park hosts Halloween Horror Nights from early September to early November. During this time, the park is decorated in the spooky spirit and zombies roam the pathways to scare guests. There are horror-themed attractions as well as a child-friendly Halloween parade during the day.

Universal Studios Hollywood © Jeremy Thompson / flickr / CC BY 2.0

Once these two mega parks began celebrations, Halloween festivities started to spread throughout the country. Prior to this, Halloween was something only known through Western media. However, Halloween in Japan does vary from the classic Halloween seen in the West. In Japan, trick-or-treating is not a common tradition. Instead, Halloween parties are the most popular activity. Because of this, Halloween is geared more towards adults, who take the opportunity to dress up, drink, and party.

One of the biggest parties is the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival, held in the Sunshine City shopping complex in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The celebration takes place over two days leading up to Halloween. More than 20,000 cosplayers, usually cosplaying anime and manga characters, celebrate. Another major party is held at Shibuya Crossing, in Shibuya, Tokyo. The Shibuya Crossing is a famous landmark in Japan due to its unique crosswalk. On the night of Halloween, thousands of people dress in spooky costumes or anime cosplay, and celebrate in the packed streets in and around the Crossing. The event is so large that the surrounding roads are closed off and trains to Shibuya Station are limited. Roppongi Hills, also in Tokyo, holds a Halloween parade and party as well.

Shibuya Halloween 2018 (October 31) © Dick Thomas Johnson / flickr / CC BY 2.0

Smaller celebrations can be found throughout the country, though Tokyo is the reigning king when it comes to big Halloween celebrations. Outside of the city, you can visit Sanrio Puroland for a kawaii version of Halloween. Like Disneyland and Universal Studios, Sanrio Puroland is decorated (adorably!) during the Halloween season. Another unique Halloween experience is held at Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch-inspired theme park in Nagasaki. During the season, the park is decorated with hundreds of lit-up Jack-o-lanterns and other illuminations.

One last activity we need to mention are the infamous “Halloween Trains.” These parties were the first Halloween celebrations to take place in Japan. They were established in the 1990’s by expats, who would celebrate Halloween with rowdy partying on subway cars. Of course, these celebrations did receive backlash, especially before Halloween gained popularity in Japan. On Halloween night in Osaka and Tokyo, the normally organized and pleasant trains would be overcome with flashmob-like parties put on by expats wearing costumes. These train parties would be loud, disruptive, and often leave a mess in their wake. Since the 90s, more restrictions have been implemented on these Halloween Trains, but they are still held each year. Now, attendees can sign up in advance for these parties, which are much more organized. They even have separate cars, some for children, some for adults. Though Halloween Trains were not initially embraced by the Japanese, they are a longstanding Halloween tradition that have prevailed even through adversity and change.

Shibuya Halloween 2017 (October 31) © Dick Thomas Johnson / flickr / CC BY 2.0

Like with other Western holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Halloween is used as an opportunity to have fun and enjoy some unique goodies. Limited edition Halloween foods are very popular in Japan. Big brands such as Krispy Kreme and Starbucks will offer limited edition Halloween treats and merchandise that is highly anticipated every year. Parks such as Disneyland and Purioland will also offer Halloween treats only available at their parks and Halloween-themed merch that is only available for a short time. Restaurants, bakeries, and other eateries join in on the fun too. Some Halloween-themed foods include curry or bento boxes with rice shaped into pumpkins, or parfaits with adorable Halloween characters made out of candy or cookies. Foods that have been dyed Halloween colors such as black, purple, green, or orange are especially popular. And of course, candy companies all over Japan take this as an opportunity to release some truly unique flavors and treats!