How Halloween in Shibuya Became Notorious

How Halloween in Shibuya Became Notorious

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Shibuya Halloween - 2018
How did Shibuya's Halloween celebrations grow out of control? One commentator says the blame lays squarely with the media.

Japan is no stranger to wild, drunken parties. We’ve written before about the riotous celebrations that marked the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the ushering in of Japan’s modern era. But these days, one event in particular – Halloween in Shibuya – has become particularly notorious for its over-the-top excess.

Last year’s Halloween festivities in Shibuya took a drastic turn when drunk crowd-goers took things too far and overturned a small truck (軽トラ; keitora). Police arrested at least five other revelers for groping and unwanted touching. As a result, this year street drinking bans were introduced in June and over 100 security guards employed to guard the famous Shibuya Scramble. Mass retailer Don Quixote agreed not to sell alcohol during the Halloween season.

How did Halloween in Shibuya grow out of control? One commentator says the blame lays squarely with how the media covers it.
Some partygoers having good, clean fun in Shibuya. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Shibuya has long been the venue for out-of-control Halloween celebrations. Yet other fun Halloween celebrations happen in other metropolitan areas. Kawasaki hosted a parent-child parade, and cosplayers gathered in Ikebukuro. There’s also the gimmicky Jimi “Mundane” Halloween contest celebrating the everyday. So why is Shibuya a magnet for unruly behavior and the sole target of criticism by the media? Marketing and consumer behavior professor Matsui Takeshi (松井 剛) resolved to figure that out.
“Japanese Halloween” – How Madness Led to An Overturned Truck

Why “Only in Shibuya”?

Matsui suspects that part of the attraction to Shibuya is due to media coverage:


“…people don’t come to Shibuya to “discover” the unknown, but rather to “confirm” what they saw reported in the media.”

Matsui describes the event as attracting, not just party-goers, but “rubberneckers” who are there to see a spectacle – like a drunken brawl, or an overturned truck. They look for these things because it’s what they’ve been conditioned to expect to see. He cites the work of English sociologist John Urry, who argues against the notion that tourists go to a place to “explore” and discover new things. Tourists, Urry argues, largely take trips to “confirm” the things they’ve already seen on television and in other media.

In other words, if you see hundreds of costumed people having fun, of course, you’d want to go see for yourself. Shibuya draws crowds year-round, so it’s inevitable for something like this to happen. It’s ironic that the media criticizes something they had a hand in perpetuating.

A Quieter Halloween in Shibuya (For Now)

This year no trucks were overturned, although some people got creative and dressed up as the infamous truck for a good laugh. At least 4 arrests have been made, with one arrest related to unwanted groping. Despite the public drinking bans, people still found ways to get booze, and beer cans littered the streets. Fortunately, over 100 hosts got together for a massive cleanup effort of Shibuya.

Roughly 100 hosts (all in coordinating outfits, no less) gathered to help clean up Shibuya in the aftermath of Halloween.

Young people and alcohol is a difficult combination to crack. Drinking bans and more security can only do so much. If one outlet is blocked, people will seek out another, even if that means toppling trucks over. If the media stopped focusing solely on Shibuya, would that keep people from gravitating there? One can only wonder.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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