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

Japan Travel
* * * * ** 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. (1959 Halloween menu, officers' mess) (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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