Halloween revelers fill Shibuya with security tight after Seoul crush

Halloween in Tokyo's famous Shibuya neighborhood felt like it had returned to its pre-pandemic peak Monday, as revelers including foreign tourists flocked to the popular nightlife district just days after a deadly crush marred a similar event in South Korea.

Following the deaths of more than 150 people in Halloween celebrations in Seoul's Itaewon area Saturday night, Tokyo police were a major presence on Shibuya's wide avenues and tight alleys.

On the iconic scramble crossing, officers constantly urged people to keep moving, while others herded crowds by forming human chains along the iconic crosswalk.

Although celebrations fell on a quieter day of the week, crowds seemed about on par with pre-pandemic levels thanks to eased COVID-19 restrictions and Japan's Oct. 11 full reopening to foreign tourists.

Fabio Duque, a 42-year-old engineer from Colombia who arrived in his "bucket list destination" Japan on Sunday night, brought his children to see the event. But he added he and his wife had insisted they depart Shibuya by nightfall, saying, "Unfortunately we want to stay away because of what happened in Seoul."

Still, for some longtime observers, the crowds over the Halloween weekend seemed smaller and with less emphasis put on costumes. "Honestly, I thought more people would be here this year," Soichiro Udo, a 65-year-old security guard working his fourth Halloween since 2019 said.

"I expected that with the coronavirus restrictions lifted, there would be this rush of energy, but that hasn't happened, and I really get the impression there are more people coming to see Halloween than there are people dressing up for it," he added.

Shops and businesses closed early, with the Seibu department store and the Tsutaya bookstore among those in the vicinity of the famous crossing shutting at 8 p.m. Outlets such as the Shibuya Parco mall also put up signs refusing entry to anyone in Halloween garb.

Measures against the event's excesses have gathered pace in recent years, with the local government introducing a non-binding ordinance in 2019 to ban outdoor drinking of alcohol in the Halloween period. The ward also requested shops around Shibuya Station refrain from selling alcoholic beverages on Monday.

The restrictions were devised after revelers in 2018 flipped a truck over during celebrations in an official Shibuya Ward Halloween event. No such event has been held this year.

The Shibuya Ward government said the area hosted over 40,000 visitors on Halloween night in 2019, the last before pandemic measures led to a huge drop to around 10,000 in 2020 and 17,000 in 2021.

The hours before the party got under way also offered a glimpse of the dichotomies of Halloween in one of the capital's most dynamic and youthful districts.

While a soapbox speaker railed against the use of taxpayers' money to foot the bill for an "inconvenience" he blamed on people from outside of the area, a woman in a Pikachu outfit stood a few feet away, holding up a sign saying in search of a Satoshi -- the Japanese name for the Pokemon TV anime series' protagonist.

Excitement was still palpable, however.

"I let my Instagram followers vote on my outfit, and this was the overwhelming winner," said one man in his 20s from Yokohama dressed in a bunny girl outfit, who was attending his first Shibuya Halloween because "the kinds of thing that don't happen in normal life, they could happen today."

He also revealed he had not changed his opinion on attending after the shocking incident in South Korea, saying, "I don't think Shibuya would be like that, but if it looks like it is going that way then I'll take care, especially dressed like this."

© Kyodo News