Terrie's Take 826 (Tourism Edition) -- Shibuya Becomes Asia's Party Central

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Nov 1 22:04:08 JST 2015

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Nov 01, 2015, Issue No. 826

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+++ Shibuya Becomes Asia's Party Central

Last night, October 31, 2015, was Halloween here in Tokyo. Until about 
10 years ago you could get through the last evening of October without 
even noticing the date, but somehow, some way, things started to change, 
and now in the major cities at least, Halloween has become a major 
production. As a result, companies like Don Quijote and others are 
making millions (of dollars) selling costumes, candies, and other 
light-hearted paraphernalia to help normally staid salarymen and 
salarywomen let loose for an evening.

And tourists are finding out that Shibuya can throw a heck of a party.

Shibuya has been a center for Halloween festivities in Japan ever since 
just after WWII. This is because the U.S. Air Force had 800+ houses 
built for its families in a location called Washington Heights, the site 
of today's Yoyogi Park. From 1950 until 1964, several generations of 
American kids lived in the area and celebrated Halloween just like they 
did at home.

http://bit.ly/1P49HsK (1959 Halloween menu, officers' mess)
http://bit.ly/1KPtapb (Washington Heights)

Although the "little USA" settlement was scrapped to make room for the 
1964 Olympics facilities, memories of those days were kept alive by 
locals in the area. Then, in the nineties and noughties the Shibuya area 
(but this time the precinct of Shoto) once again became popular with 
expatriate families. Foreign mothers each year organized 
trick-and-treating events in the neighborhood -- usually involving 200 
homes or so. This eventually graduated to foreign teens showing up in 
fancy dress for parties in Shibuya, and was further upgraded by local 
Japanese to the extravaganza that it is today.

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Just when downtown Shibuya (versus Shoto) became one giant Halloween 
party is hard to say. Our guess is that the massive celebrations of the 
last two years probably have their roots in the unprecedented street 
parties that followed the various wins of the Japanese womens' soccer 
team, Nadeshiko, in their 2011 World Soccer Cup campaign. The TV media 
first cued in on the street craziness when Nadeshiko won their first 
round match against Denmark in January 2010. The match win happened in 
the wee hours of a national holiday and overjoyed and very drunk fans 
went on an all-night bender in streets of Shibuya. I remember watching 
on TV the spectacle of fans dancing, blocking streets, and climbing sign 
posts, with the police watching and guiding, but not interfering.

It seems that this event was a watershed moment for police tolerance in 
Japan, and Tokyo's youth population have been descending on Shibuya to 
test that tolerance ever since. Firstly with the New Year's countdown 
street parties at the end of 2010, then again when Nadeshiko won the 
World Cup final over Germany in July 2011. The July celebrations were 
particularly tolerated because memories of the Tohoku disaster were 
fresh in everyone's minds, and the authorities no doubt wanted to let 
people blow off some steam. Either way, it reinforced the idea that 
Shibuya was becoming "party central" in Asia.

Last night's Halloween party was the finale of several prior nights of 
celebrations. There were a smattering of people roaming the streets in 
their costumes on Thursday, then on Friday the numbers swelled to 
several thousand (my guess) costumed party-goers , as well as a decent 
number of foreign tourists roaming Center Gai and its side streets 
looking for photo opportunities. The highlight on Friday was probably a 
fully caped batman character, riding a very beefy-looking black 
motorcycle around the shopping area.

But the real action was on Saturday night. By around 20:00 the streets 
on the west side of Shibuya were completely jammed with people, and the 
police had 800 officers in the area for crowd control. Unlike last year, 
the JR line continued running, so this time around authorities seemed 
prepared for the surge of humanity. Just how many people actually came 
no one knows, but news reports say that the crowd was in the thousands. 
My guess is that it was a lot more.

In fact, just how many more is of some interest to me, as it could 
establish Shibuya Halloween events as a major tourist draw in future 
years (much the same as Oktoberfest and the Rio Carnival are), and so I 
did some research. It seems that at a peak on a given week night, about 
90,000 people an hour pass through the Shibuya scramble crossing and 95% 
of these people are headed to the Center Gai area. Last night I would 
guess that the density of people was about double that of a heavy Friday 
night, which means that over the two peak hours of 19:00-21:00 probably 
there were about 150,000+ people in the area. That's a lot more than a 
few thousand, and a lot more people than 800 cops can handle. Luckily 
most people were well behaved.

What was particularly noticeable this year was the large number of 
foreign tourists, both those in full costume and those toting cameras. I 
guess last year's extravaganza was well noted by otaku fans abroad, and 
this year they wanted to witness the spectacle for themselves. They 
certainly got their money's worth. There were unfortunately a few unruly 
types as well. Although spectacular, two foreign guys in an old Nissan 
Skyline were doing burn-outs and drifting in front of the Tokyo 
department store. We are lucky that they didn't lose control of their 
car and hit some of the revelers on the sidewalks.

It has also been pointed out in the Japanese media that these huge 
street celebrations complete with people in Swat team uniforms, fake but 
realistic-looking machine guns and chainsaws, and other problematic 
props, could provide a high-profile target for foreign terrorists. Yeah, 
well, they could, but then until Abe actually sends Japanese armed 
forces into battle in the Middle East, foreign terrorists probably have 
plenty of other more satisfying targets in more militarily active countries.

In the meantime, if the Shibuya Halloween becomes an annual fixture, we 
are hoping that it will create another compelling reason to visit Tokyo 
in the late fall.

...The information janitors/


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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