All Aboard the Halloween Trains of Japan

Photography by Osaka Subway

Halloween in Japan gained popularity in 2000 when Tokyo Disneyland hosted its first Halloween-themed event and has since continued to grow into one of the most celebrated dates in the diary. Today, Halloween is a billion-dollar industry celebrated by an estimated 20 million people across the country.

They celebrate the date with their own interpretation. As opposed to following traditional family and children-orientated activities such as trick-or-treating, instead, Halloween is largely celebrated amongst adults, focusing mainly on costumes and gothic decorations. Everywhere from shops, nightclubs, bars to homes, are decked out with pumpkins and silly-string cobwebs surrounded by bustling streets of zombified cartoon characters. 

Great care and consideration are taken into fancy dress, and the traditions of Halloween mark the perfect occasion to express their creative outlets. As a result, the streets are flooded with audacious outfits, from cute to terrifying.

The appeal of dressing up has always been a common interest in Japanese culture, with Halloween becoming more popular so has the rise in commercialism and costumes. Cosplay is an activity and performance art where participants known as cosplayers dress in costumes and outfits representing fictional characters. The subculture has become an influential movement throughout Japan and with the phenomenon particularly popular in areas such as Harajuku.

In Ikebukuro, Tokyo, the district best known for entertainment and anime, groups are dressed up in Manga or Anime characters throughout the streets. Over the Halloween weekend the annual Cosplay Halloween Festival is held with up to 20,000 cosplayers parading the streets in their beloved characters. 

Photography by Big Ben

Various Halloween-themed events surface throughout the city, flash mobs and zombie runs filled with groups of people parading different sites. In addition, street parties are typically thrown in parks and squares, with areas sometimes closed off to stop traffic passing. 

The infamous Halloween trains in Tokyo and Osaka were known for foreigners riding the commuter lines in costumes. This craze started in the 1990's when American expats started throwing wild Halloween parties on trains and disrupting citizens' commutes. Now, it has become a popular tradition, particularly for the younger generation in recent years and has turned into a mainstay for Halloween celebrations in the city. 

Today, Japan's Halloween trains have become more of an organised event, with websites dedicated to signing up for parties across the city. In some cases due to the unpredictable disruption, parties are kept secret until shortly before the event. Notifications are announced through e-mail and blogs shortly before the event stating, “Halloween Party; 9:02 pm October 31st Northbound from Shinjuku station - BYOB”.

It's not often commuters see carriages crammed with zombies and vampires riding the trains up and down the lines partying. More recently, the Randen Line, which runs from Kyoto city to the Arashiyama district, now offers zombie-themed train lines and discounts for costumed passengers. For many, the fun is observing regular, straight-faced commuters mixing with hello-kitty zombies and other audacious, scary looking outfits. 

Overall Japan's imitation of Halloween sounds like a modern adult playground, who wouldn’t want to participate and/or observe fancy dress, street parties and halloween trains? Safe to say Halloween in Japan is celebrated in a unique way… sign us up!

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