Hot Summer Nights And Horror In Japan (Plus, Tokyo’s Top Spooky Spots)
Bone-Chilling Experiences Amid Scorching Heat
Obon is now all gone and forgotten but its haunting spirits are likely to stick around for just a little longer.
For many of us Obon is just a lucky excuse to take a few days off work and go on vacation, but traditionally in Japan, it’s the time of the year when people return to their hometowns, clean their family graves, and spend time with their spiritual ancestors. According to Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, this is the time of the year when the gap between the spirit world and ours is the narrowest, meaning it’s also the time when ghosts and all manner of supernatural beings come out to play.
As such, in the peak of summer, you’ll notice a lot of ghost-inspired events happening across the country — from TV programs of real horror stories to a sudden rise of obakeyashiki (horror house) attractions, private horror tours and tons of spooky events. You get it, the Japanese summer is also about putting our fears to test. Plus, there’s no better way to cool down in this scorching Japanese heat and humidity than hearing (or experiencing) a spine-chilling story or adventure.
Kimodameshi: The Japanese Blair Witch Project
Kimodameshi (肝試し or きもだめし), a mainstay horror event in summer most commonly challenged by brave college kids, literally means to “test your liver.” It is a bravery challenge wherein groups or individuals head into cemeteries, haunted houses, abandoned structures or even dark forests to prove how brave they are. The goal is to reach a certain distance inside a usually presumably haunted place, try to remain calm and scream less, and ultimately even bring back an item from there to prove they made it. Kimodameshi has inspired tons of Japanese horror movies such as Real Kimodameshi, Toire no Hanako san, Vauxhall rideshow Escape from dead school and more. Kimodameshi is also, as creepy as it sounds, a date activity in Japan. I’ve done a few in the past on group dates and given myself nightmares in the process, but those are honestly some of the best summer memories I have.
Unfortunately, most abandoned structures near Tokyo simply aren’t safe to enter or are patrolled private properties, so if you’re interested in spooky dates you might want to visit a sanctioned haunted spot instead. Haunted Tokyo Tours, for example, is one group of brave individuals that offers customized macabre walking tours around Tokyo in English.
Obakeyashiki: Tokyo’s top horror house attractions
Horror house attractions in Japan can run the gamut from comical to downright terrifying but surely make for great date spots too — especially in the early stages of your relationship.
The Japanese summer is also about putting our fears to test.
And while horror houses are a dime a dozen in summer in Japan, Tokyo has four that are actually worth a visit. I’ve ranked them here from least scary to those that’ll chill you to the bone.
Asakusa Hanayashiki Obakeyashiki (浅草花やしき お化け屋敷)
One of the oldest amusement parks in Japan, Asakusa’s Hanayashiki has two haunted attractions; one haunted house that’s suited to all ages (for ages five and up), and a ghost mansion (ages ten and up), wherein you wear a set of headphones and the story takes place all around you.
Access: 5-min walk from Asakusa Station
Admission: ¥1,000 (adults), and ride tickets for ¥100 yen each (separate from admission). The haunted house costs three ride tickets.
Mystic Mansion Tale of Pandemonium (妖屋敷～大江戸百鬼夜行奇譚)
Part of Odaiba’s Joypolis, this ultra-modern 3D theater centers around the world of Japanese yokai, supernatural creatures of all kinds, in an old haunted home. This ride is only for ages thirteen and up. This spot is perfect for fans of classic Japanese horror.
Access: 2-min walk from Odaiba Kaihin Kouen Station
Odaiba Kaiki Gakkou (台場怪奇学校)
Located in Odaiba’s Decks complex, this haunted school is designed for maximum creep factor and will have you screaming in a heartbeat — my friend nearly lost her voice after visiting it once. If you are prone to heart problems, dizziness or fainting, or are pregnant, you will probably not want to visit this haunted house.
Access: 2-min walk from Odaiba Kaihin Kouen Station
Honancho Obakeyashiki Obaken (方南町お化け屋敷 オバケン)
Located at Honancho Station in Tokyo’s Suginami ward, Obaken is a haunted house built inside a real house. This attraction requires a reservation in advance, and is based on a running storyline, with 2018 being their fifth season. I can’t tell you much more about it without spoilers, but I can say that they made my ex cry from terror.
Please note though, this haunted house in the past has had its guests sign a waiver saying that they are not responsible for any accidents/injuries or health issues that its guests may experience, so if you have heart problems, anxiety conditions or any light sensitivities, you may want to ask about their set up before making any reservations to visit.
Access: Arrive at Honancho Station’s Exit 3A five minutes before your scheduled visit, and a staff member will meet you.
Price: ¥2,500 in advance, ¥2,900 on the day
Immersive Kimodameshi: VR horror games
If you’re not a fan of horror houses, but still want to give you and your date a good scare, you should try a horror VR game at one of Tokyo’s many game centers.
If you want to check one of these out, head to VR Zone Shinjuku or out of Tokyo to the VR Zone Portal in Namco in Lazona Kawasaki or Yokohama World Porters in Kanagawa, or the Namco in Aeon Laketown in Saitama prefecture.
At any of these locations, you’ll find the horror game, Escape Hospital Ward Omega (脱出病棟Ω Dasshutsu Biyoto Omega), which is an escape-the-room game played by two players that will have you freaking out in no time. This game takes about 12 minutes to finish and costs ¥1,000 per person, but is well worth the cost.
So if you want to spice up your summer, take advantage of the season and enjoy a spooky date. Just watch out for uninvited guests.