*Update, June 20: Drinking is now officially banned by Shibuya Ward in public areas during Halloween on October 25, 26, 27, 31 and November 1, 2019. Climbing up street lights, signs and roofs is also a criminal offense. The details of penalties for anyone drinking in Shibuya on these dates are still to be outlined.*
The west Tokyo district of Shibuya is one of the busiest in Japan, home to the famous “Scramble” crossing and more iconic shops and bars than you can shake a stick at. There’s one particular time of the year, though, when Shibuya goes into overdrive. We’re talking, of course, about Halloween.
Last year was a high point of mayhem, with multiple arrests during the weekend before Halloween. Fights broke out, property was vandalized, a truck was overturned and, of course, the area looked like a rubbish dump when the sun finally did rise. In the cold light of day, it seems Shibuya’s residents, shopkeepers, and the local government decided it had had enough.
Reported by NHK World, Shibuya Ward has announced it is banning public drinking at certain times of the year, including Halloween and New Year.
How Halloween in Tokyo got cray
What seems to have started as overflow from Shibuya’s numerous bars and clubs as the Halloween night grew late has, in the last decade or so, formed into a massive and still largely impromptu street party. If you’ve seen any photos of Halloween in Japan, you’ve almost certainly caught a glimpse of the hordes of people — according to The Japan Times, more than 70,000 by 2015 and growing every year since then.
Recently, police experimented with temporarily pedestrianizing streets, including the iconic crossing, to relieve the pressure and keep people from staggering about on roads with cars on them. “DJ police” were even introduced in 2016 to give instructions over loudspeakers, and interpreters for them brought in in 2018.
This isn’t the first time the authorities have attempted a crackdown on Halloween festivities specifically. The semi-legendary “Gaijin Train” tradition stems from foreign residents in Tokyo and Osaka riding their city’s Yamanote and Kanjo loop lines, getting steadily more drunk as they circle the city around Halloween time. The tradition is believed to have started in the early 1990s and is officially banned. Depending on the year, official response varied from grim acceptance to stopping the train and ordering revelers to disembark. It was the subject of ultra-nationalist protest for several years, but since the mid-2000s the partygoers have taken the party off the train to the streets on Halloween.
Reactions online to the Halloween drinking ban
About a dozen arrests out of literally thousands aren’t that bad going, but the general opinion is that last year went too far and everyone must pay the price as a result.
On Twitter, @rockkinlife sums up the prevailing mood:
— ロッキン・ライフの中の人 (@rockkinlife) May 19, 2019
“Public drinking has been banned in Tokyo thanks to Halloween: If you don’t draw your own boundaries at festivities, the organizers will have to make stricter rules. Thus we’ll gradually lose freedoms and get bored. I think it’s best to be careful with these things,” he tweeted.
For @hanachantousagi, though, some parts of Halloween are more “take it or leave it:”
— はな@転勤族の妻 (@hanachantousagi) May 16, 2019
“If you don’t want to meet a pervert on Halloween, don’t go to Shibuya. If you don’t want to be attacked by a stroller in a crowded train, don’t get on a full carriage. […],” they said.
For @shiro_inoue however, one of the problems stems from that most Japanese of city features — a total lack of public bins. Pointedly, he’s replying to another tweet bewildered at the lack of bins in Japan despite their presence in every other major city in the world.
— Shiro Inoue (@shiro_inoue) May 20, 2019
“I’m always puzzled by this. In Shibuya at Halloween and fireworks at Enoshima, there’s apparently no alternative but to get volunteers to clean up. The government doesn’t seem to be thinking anymore. You can take away the bins but we’ll still have terrorists,” he tweeted.
Tokyo is said to be removing bins from stations and public areas in the run-up to the Olympics, so this problem may only get worse. As @Tsuki_Yomix further points out, it’s not just Halloween when Shibuya’s full of littering drunks.
— ツキヨミ (@Tsuki_Yomix) May 14, 2019
He captioned a picture of a litter picker and a bag full of cans; “People are talking about alcohol being banned around Shibuya Station, but it’s not just at Halloween that people drop empty cans on the street. It’s cool if you’re coming from an hour away in rural Saitama or Chiba, but let’s try to behave like adults, yeah?”
Halloween 2019 will be the first test of Shibuya’s public alcohol ban. This is one of the last chances to fine-tune large-scale events management before an even bigger influx of tourists coming to Japan for the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. If they think costumed revelers are bad, I can only hope they’re prepared for rugby fans.