It used to be that Halloween was mainly celebrated by Americans but the holiday has really popped off in recent years. Now you see actual queues of people outside of shops in London’s Soho, on a Friday afternoon, desperately trying to grab some spooky garb for a night out at any number of creepy establishments to celebrate Halloween.
London’s got a load going on this Halloween but the place I’ve had the best Halloween night (or nights) of my life is in Tokyo.
I’m Gav, I’m from Wales, I’m in my 30s and you may recognise me if you’ve already read about my trip Tokyo Disneyland…alone.
A few years back, after a dramatic change in my love circumstances, I headed for Tokyo on my own for, well, I didn’t know what, to be honest. I’d end up trying loads of things by myself, including going to that magical theme park, but it also happened that I’d be in Tokyo for Halloween.
I had no idea how big the Japanese go for Halloween but expected a few creepy decorations in bars with themed drinks or something. Some trick or treating at a push. Then a friend said he’d be going to a bonkers Halloween party in Shinjuku and it turned out that Japan actually goes pretty darn huge for Halloween.
This is what happened when I took on solo travel in Japan and came away with memories I’ll never forget.
A Halloween filled with ‘decadence’
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I was pretty apprehensive about going alone to something called ‘Tokyo Decadence’ for a Halloween party. I’m not a decadent man and the thought of going to a night which boasted “3 floors featuring 32 performers and 16 DJs” was…a bit much.
Three floors seemed excessive and what would the performers be doing? Like magic ‘n’ that? Also, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a building with more than one DJ in it.
This really was decadent.
I thought of binning the whole thing off and opting for some ramen and Netflix but I managed to join up with a couple of guys dressed as Edward Scissorhands and Richard Harrow, the man with half a face from Boardwalk Empire.
I’d cobbled together a rubbish costume based on the video game character Max Payne which it turns out nobody in Japan knows (though I would say less people know the half-faced fella, but there we are).
As we walked into the club, though, the horror geek inside me was glad I’d exited my ramen-flavoured comfort zone in favour of the party. Because what was inside were probably some of the best Halloween costumes I’d ever seen.
You had your normal stuff – nurses, witches, Harley Quinns – but also loads of characters based on random action figures or animes. My favourite was a man dressed as a toilet urinal with sweets in it. Here he is with my friend Edward Scissorhands.
There was so much to see, I never even made it to the third floor – though the amount of latex I saw going up there suggests that it may have been too sexy an affair for a nerd dressed up as a video game character.
The best thing about it though was that was just the beginning of my Tokyo Halloween adventure.
Friendly strangers in strange costumes
I’d got the bug from the Tokyo Decadence party (despite swerving the third floor) and was up for exploring more. Now, Tokyo completely shuts down its famous Shibuya crossing during Halloween and the entire thing becomes one massive street party.
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We donned our mismatched trio of costumes and hit the streets around Shibuya, which were absolutely filled with people having the biggest, best and cheapest Halloween party I’ve ever seen. We snaked around every side street, getting caught up in huddles of random costumed party people.
I was so sad at the beginning of the trip, having to haul my newly single self to a strange country alone, but it really forced me into a situation where I couldn’t sit back in the comfort of my partner. I had to actually make an effort with people I’d never met – something I know I wouldn’t have done had I not been by myself.
I know chatting to strangers in the street would be some people’s idea of hell but it’s basically encouraged on the streets of Tokyo on Halloween.
Terrifying costumed people wait in the streets outside awesome convenience stores, drinking cheap Japanese lager and they’re almost all up for meeting new friends – even when said news friends are (poorly) dressed like video game characters nobody recognises.
It was from my newly made street friends that I learned of a magical drink ‘The Red Eye’. Sensing that I was suffering somewhat from the night before, one of my new best friends asked me to pass them my beer before tipping a bit of it away and pouring something red into it.
Now, I’ve seen lots of vampire films to know that when someone wearing fangs (even if they happen to be plastic ones) pours a weird red liquid into your drink and tells you to drink it, you should probably scoff a load of garlic and run away.
The occasion got the better of me though and I thought, “well, vampires mostly seem like they’re having a laugh in films, so what the hell?” and necked a bit of the concoction.
What touched my throat was quite possibly the best hangover cure I’ve ever tried – and I’ve tried one or two. The Red Eye has since become a staple drink that has sorted me out on Sunday (and Monday) mornings when nothing else would do.
And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are a lot of Japanese people who love dressing up for Halloween, specifically Where’s Wally in Tokyo. At one point, I actually got taken by a herd of Wallies dancing to techno music.
It was just 20 Wallies and me for a good half an hour as I got increasingly more lost and struggled to find my friends.
The solo travel lesson
Prior to this trip, if you’d have told me I’d have been captured by a sea of Wallies by myself, in the middle of a strange city that had been turned even stranger by the fact that it turns out they all frickin’ LOVE Halloween, the idea of such a thing would have spooked me out more than the toilets on the third floor of Tokyo Decadence.
But after braving it all and really pushing myself firmly out of my comfort zone (and into an ill-fitting bald cap), it weirdly ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.
This Halloween, thanks in no small part to the learnings of my Tokyo exploits, I’m heading on a Halloween-themed party boat down the River Seine in Paris, I don’t expect there to be a man dressed up as a urinal but I’m definitely excited to see what the French have done with Halloween.