Japan Haunts from old school to new school

3 years ago 1

Daikanransha is a 377 ft tall Ferris wheel in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan

Today was another spectacular day. Well actually it’s the day after- I have not really been keeping track of time or ya know, what day it is. I’ve averaged about three hours of sleep per night—I feel like my time here is so limited that I can not stand to waste it sleeping. I can do that on the plane.

So I started this morning early because I wanted to beat the rain (and boy did it rain). I walked over to Hanayashiki  which is Japan’s oldest amusement park. In my book I am talking about the history of amusement, thrilling activities, and haunts so what better place than Hanayashiki to get an idea of what it was like over 50 years ago (and judging by my visit not much has changed, but that’s ok!).


On my way there  I stopped by the Sensō-ji Temple in Asakausa. It was really beautiful, there were also a TON of kids there on a field trip I guess. They were having fun cleansing themselves with the smoke before entering the temple.





From there I went into Hanayashiki and felt transported back to another time, or another universe. It almost felt like parts of The Langoliers, totally abandoned which makes you feel uncomfortable, where is everyone? It was just me and about ten kids, but I was there right when it opened on a school day with rain in the forecast, so it makes sense.  And I love that it was desereted, I’m a big fan of those old abandoned amusement park photos, this made me feel like I was in one!



I rode all the rides, I went to all the haunted themed attractions and took a TON of photos. I could live there, it has a little bit of everything wrapped in a cute package.

I felt like I experienced the entire evolution of the haunted attraction industry within half an hour. They have a dark ride (old old school), a haunted mansion (old school), and a ‘modern’ haunt (getting to be old school).  I’m not going to break down each attraction here (well my first draft I did and it ended up being five pages long and no one reads that much text today, I’m lucky if anyone is reading this far). But they were a ton of laughs, not scary to me, but I’m sure some kids still get a kick out of the ghost and goblins that pop out. I find it amusing and enjoyable because it reminds me of the haunts I went to as a kid, black plastic and scary skeletons. Again it was more fun and good humored that ‘OMG GET ME OUT OF HERE’ scary.  I could have stayed all day just wandering around the tiny park but it started raining horribly and I had more haunts to get to..


I went down south to the Decks at Odaiba. Here there is a place called Joypolis and another haunt I wanted to check  out called “Horror Diaba School” (roughly translated). What happened next is one of my favorite moments of my trip. I was the only one in line for the haunt (it was what around 11:00 on a Thursday in a beach destination on a rainy day…) and a gentleman came out and told me the directions (all very familiar, with the addition of straight up telling people not to stand still or ‘scared too long’, goodbye line back ups). He walked me through the hand out in English, highlighting certain things about the story (I’ve noticed all the haunts in japan are VERY narrative drive).

But I’m not giving any details of the haunt here, you’ll have to go yourself. But I was thrilled, there were some new ideas that I cannot wait to share with ScareHouse.  Anyway I go through, and while it was small and there were not a lot of actors, I SCREAMED MY HEAD OFF. Seriously, it was great.  I came out and the man was standing there again and asked if I wanted a picture and I was like hell yeah! I told him that I worked with haunts in the US and then for the next hour we attempted to have a conversation about haunted attractions. It turns out he (his name is Yuurei Hirano) is the designer and building of the Odiaba haunt and has set up haunts in Taiwan and around Japan, we pulled up each others websites, he’s been on TV in Japan, I showed him my site, it was all a mixture of charades and pictionary. We exchanged information, followed each other on twitter and became facebook friends. He’ll be getting an email form me this week with the help of a translator. We were like two kids in a playground who just discovered we both love the same movie. I’m really looking forward to talking with him.



This is getting long.  I’ll keep it short.

That evening I went to meet with a reporter with RocketNews and his wife at Yurei Izakaya (Ghost Bar)  about 40 minutes east of the city (CNN wrote about it here).   Again, the Japanese really know how to make scary fun and just ridiculous. You walk in and each table has a spider hanging from it, you can clap to activate the spider, or raise a severed arm to draw your waitress’s attention. It was a lot of fun and really great to talk to people who live here and give the insiders perspective. (Check out RocketNews, every post is awesome).  The legit scare came when they brought the food, there is no way real fire of that intensity is safe in a small restaurant. But it was awesome!

I’’m sad to go home, I really like Japan. Everyone is nice and it’s very clean despite there not being trash cans on every corner (seriously where are they?), there is an insane amount of cute (Kawaii) things EVERYWHERE, the ladies could definitely teach me a thing or two about style, and of course, they know how to make a great scary, fun, thrilling, experience. 

I’ve learned so much and can’t wait to share it with everyone, so until next time Japan, and up next—Bogota, Columbia! (in between I’ve got Transworld and then Toronto, for the Edge walk at the CN tower, and some other adventure that is on my calendar but I have no idea what it is or where I’m going, I’ll figure it out later).

Now I think I’m going to get some sake and eat some sushi for the first time since being here (seriously my friend Laura Kingsley is going to have my head for the lack of culinary exploration I’ve done, I’m sorry Laura!).

And then a panda showed up…

3 years ago 2

Suicide Forest This has been quite a day. I started the day at the base of Mt. Fuji in the Aokigahara forest, also known as the ‘Suicide Forest’ due to the hundreds of people who have chosen the spot as their final destination (Vice did a very moving documentary you can watch here ). I’m not actually going to blog about my trip there, that conversation needs a lot more than a blog post to truly capture, instead I’ll just say this—death is one of our biggest fears, but for many living is the hard part.  This is a topic I’m anxious to dig into, but not here.


While I was there I also visited the Saiko Ice Caves  which were SO COOL. We’re talking ‘oh my god Christian Bale must be sitting right around the corner’ cool. I wasn’t expecting the degree of, well, danger that was very clear and very present. I’m used to visitor and tourist areas being as safe as a bounce house and tall enough to fit a giraffe but these warning signs were not joking (at least I think they were warning signs).

There is still a great deal of snow at Mt. Fuji, it was a harsh winter and the ice in the caves was thick. Luckily I was the only one there (and the only one on the hour bus ride) and I had free reign to explore and TOUCH ALL THE THINGS (another tourist attraction no-no). So I poked around and imagined my life as a superhero. It was fun and nature never ceases to remind me that it rocks.


From there I came back east to Tokyo, I managed to navigate the multiple train transfers until I got to Shinjuku. Now, at this point I had been pretty much isolated without much interaction with, well, anyone so coming into the Shinjuku station was a bit overwhelming to say the least.  I figured out though (because I’m incredibly cheap) that I could walk the final trek to my Tokyo hotel rather than transferring again to a non-JR line (that will make sense to some). So I ventured out onto the streets with my iphone maps in hand. Some people budget for fancy meals, I budget for data SIMs abroad, honestly I couldn’t care less about the food, sorry foodie friends– I’ve been living on convenience store crap and green tea.  Anyway I walked the 2 miles to my hotel, which really was very nice. I wanted to explore the city and this was a great way to get my bearings. 

There were so many free bikes! (joking) Honestly though I do love that people here feel comfortable leaving their bikes (and sometimes purses?!) on the street with no lock. That is awesome. It makes me think too about the connection between safe societies and thrilling attractions…..

Thanks to Scott who posted about my adventures in the Haunted Attraction Industry Facebook page I met a guy who knows a lot about haunts in Japan and within a day he connected me with a friend of his here in Tokyo who was willing to go with me to The Lock Up (you need at least 2 for a reservation). This place was bananas.

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It wasn’t scary, but it was a great example of how we can use scary material and imagery to create fun and engaging activities. The entrance and set design was better than a lot of haunted houses I’ve seen, it definitely set the mood. And it was packed, these places (it’s a chain) are full every night.

Once you pass the several very intimidating doors, you’re greeted by a scantily clad law enforcement agent who puts you in cuffs and leads you to your ‘cell’ which is actually your dining room.

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There you’re locked up and told of the evening specials. I ordered some drink that came in a     beaker with a side of what tasted like smashed up sweet tarts (alcohol and sugar, sure why not!).

Then, as you’re enjoying your eats and drinks the whole place goes into lock down. The lights go out, some heavy metal music starts playing and black lights come on.Then you can order a variety of foods that come in the form of of macabre arrangements, Freddy Krueger chicken spears, grave yard pork, drowning dumplings, you get the idea.

And then a clown comes by.


And then a panda shows up (sorry for the image quality, this was happening in lightening speed).

Photo Mar 12, 8 52 00 PM

And the law enforcement agents chase these characters through the cell block.

There is also some criminal running around in a skull mask.

The loud speaker is booming with narration of what is happening, apparently the panda is a thief and the clown is an escaped criminal and chaos is ensuing.  It’s kind of nuts. At one point I think a fire extinguisher went off….

Then the lights come back up, the loudspeaker says something and you continue on with your meal.

Again, not entirely scary but that’s not the point. It was fun, it built anticipation, and it was an engaging experience.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

Tomorrow–Hanayashiki  and Joypolis!

Here we go!

Welcome to Japan

3 years ago 1

Mt. Fuji

Hello everyone! This post is coming to you from the base of Mt. Fuji, yes in Japan. This is the first of a handful of international adventures I’m undertaking for my upcoming book SCREAM: Adventures in the upside of Fear. I’ll be going to Bogota and Toronto later this year, along with hopscotching across the US to experience as many thrills and chills as possible.

I made it here yesterday after a very pleasant 14 hour plane ride from Toronto (I had a seat in the bulk head, so I just kept thinking of David Sedaris and his opinion of that seat and laughing). Anyway I wrote the whole time and was comfortable so it was all good.

During my layover in Canada I spent a good amount of time reflecting on how dependent I’ve become on my phone for engagement and what it would mean not to have that for a whole 24 hours. I kept finding myself reaching for it and then realizing nothing was going to be there (did you know we look at our phones an average of 110 times a day? Edith Zimmerman over at The Hairpin also did a cute story about our special relationship with our phones). But once I let go of the idea of being connected it was fine and even freeing, my time was my own. That point really opened up the creative flood gates because I ended up writing about 20 pages for my book (which for me means about 6 pages of usable text, ha!).

After arriving and immediately getting a SIM card with data for my iphone I continued the next leg of my trip out here to Mt. Fuji. It involved changing trains three times, and I have to pat myself on the back for getting from platform to platform with relative ease. I just kept asking myself what the most intuitive option would be and then I go with that– it usually works out. More importantly though everyone has been so insanely nice to me. I looked just a bit confused at one point and a nice woman asked me where I was going and pointed me in the right direction. It just makes me want to be nice to everyone, it is contagious.

I finally made it to my hotel around 8:30pm on Monday– I had left Pittsburgh at 4am on Sunday (after daylights savings time, so really 3am). I’m not really sure what kind of crazy time travel happened in between but I went to bed immediately. I only woke up in a panic twice.


Yesterday I spent the whole day at Fuji-Q Highland. This amusement park is known for its coasters and a couple of big haunted houses so it was a natural choice for my adventures.





The day was amazing, the rides were unbelievable. My favorite was the 4D coaster, the Eajanika. As soon as you walk into the queue area your heart starts racing and the anticipation is unbelievable. Everyone was literally bouncing behind the gates waiting to be let on.


This coaster has seats that rotate 360 degrees, so you have to take your shoes off along with anything that could fall out. Once you’re strapped in the floor drops out and they tip you upside down as you make your way around the first curve. And then it hits you, you are being held in by harnesses and if it breaks you’re going to die. That thought never really left my mind but as I was flipped and twisted and whipped around and around I screamed my head off and enjoyed the incredible adrenaline rush. When it was over (and you’ll have to read the book for the full breakdown of this ride and more) I had tears coming out of my eyes, I was sweating, and very close to just jumping out of my skin or passing out.

It. Felt. So. Good.

It was exhilarating. I jumped out of my seat and even though I do not speak Japanese, and we had not talked at all while waiting in the long line, my fellow riders and I all high-fived, smiled, and threw our fists in the air. I felt close to them. And then I wanted to turn to a friend, someone close to me, and share with them what it felt like. But I was alone, whomp whomp.


One of the reasons these activities are so amazing and fulfilling is because we share them with people we care about (we even get a physiological kick from doing so). They are still fun when you’re on your own, but one thing I’m quickly realizing about these adventures—I need to bring people with me.

I haven’t even gotten to the haunted houses….but I should probably go to sleep, you’ll just have to read the book!

Stay tuned for more! Up tomorrow—the Aokigahara Forest.