For most people, the words “haunted house” call to mind images of oddly nostalgic buildings tucked away towards the back of amusement parks. The sight of young couples, or families with children, entering, the sound of the ensuing screams from (usually) the girls and kids, and the participants hastily making their way out from the exit.
The haunted house is said to have its origins in Japan during the Edo period, a time when popular culture began to blossom, and the public became interested in new experiences and horror. In the following Showa period they became more commonplace, becoming standard permanent attractions at the various amusement parks which sprung up across the country, and the image of the “haunted house” recognized by people today began to take shape.
Not limited just to haunted houses, a lot of popular content is based on the appeal of “fear”. Here are the results from a survey of 10,000 people (※1) conducted at the end of 2016 by FRI (Fields Research Institute).
Summary of answers regarding people’s favorite elements of “Tokyo Ghoul”.
Popular Elements of Tokyo Ghoul
Summary of answers regarding people’s favorite elements of “The Walking Dead”.
Popular Elements of The Walking Dead
While, at first glance, it seems like a negative feeling, people’s nature attracts them to things which invoke feelings of fear.
In recent years, as a venue to experience these feelings of dread and horror, the haunted house has begun to create new value by bringing activity to previously empty areas, using cutting-edge technology to allow people to experience new things, and bringing some spice to people’s free time.
As summer is also at its peak, in this two-part series, I would like to examine the latest trends in the city’s haunted houses, shine some light on just what it is that people gain from these frightening experiences, and conduct an interview with a horror producer.
■Decks Tokyo Beach SEA SIDE MALL 4F: Daiba Haunted School
This haunted house is tucked into one corner of the Decks Tokyo Beach shopping center in Odaiba. It originally opened in 2004 as the “Daiba Haunted House”.
In 2006 it underwent renovations, and was given its current name.
Daiba Haunted School
This haunted house is noteworthy for being the first real haunted house in the middle of the city, not within an amusement park. It is also said to be the scariest in Japan.
Haunted houses are following a similar trajectory as arcades once did, as entertainment facilities which start off as unusual places, frequented by a few die-hard fans, and gradually evolve and develop to attract more customers and enter the mainstream. “Daiba Haunted School” was the place that put haunted houses on this course.
I have visited most of the permanent haunted houses within the city, including the “Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear” at Fuji-Q Highland recognized in the Guinness Book of Records, but the Daiba Haunted School is on a different level in terms of terror.
■The Appeal of “Daiba Haunted School”
The setting is an elementary school, closed for forty years, and rumored to be cursed. Participants choose a student who died in the school, and are given a mission to hold a memorial for the departed pupil.
The mission makes participants more aware of their surroundings, making them more nervous, and enhancing their reactions to the terrifying performance inside.
I think another notable feature of the School is the skill of the staging to create fear.
As they feel their way through the dark and quiet space, completely isolated from every-day life, people become unable to control their imagination, fearing that something will jump out, this envelops them in a deep sense of uneasiness. At that point, the vibrating sounds of some unknown thing moving around quickly can be heard not just from the front, but from behind as well. Frightening words are also rained down upon the participants.
These gimmicks, and the quality of the direction, are on a different level than the obvious, designed-for-children, direction found in the old amusement parks. The participant is relentlessly assailed, without leaving the brain a moment to process things rationally, and it is fair to say that the body responds reflexively to the fear.
Apparently, the School does not use prerecorded sounds, but rather hidden staff carefully time sounds and vibrations in accordance to participants’ movements and reactions. They are also known to target certain members at the end, or in the middle, of a group, to frighten, and throw off the entire group’s balance. I can definitely see this as being the most terrifying haunted house in Japan.
■A Haunted House in a Detached Home in Honan-cho～ Obaken “Ifu Musebi-ya” (House of Choking Fear)
Obaken is the name of a haunted house made in a detached home in a corner of Honan-cho on the Marunouchi line.
Since its inception in 2012, the haunted house has opened with a new theme every year, and is currently in its 5th season. It is called “Ifu Musebi-ya” (House of Choking Fear). Set in a specific world, the story gradually progresses at specific intervals, starting on June 23rd.
In most haunted houses, participants walk from the entrance toward the exit while partaking in the frightening experience. A unique feature of this haunted house, is that participants are asked to clear several missions with their friends while experiencing the terror.
The current Season 5, Chapter 1, is entitled “An Encounter with Fear”, and has participants play the role of searching for cheap property in Honan-cho. Within the house resides a demonic killer, and the mission has participants overcome various trials and hidden mysteries in order to escape.
Last month, four staff members from here at FRI went and experienced it first-hand.
That day it is my first time visiting Honan-cho station. As I walk through the appearance of the small station platform, I remember reading about the aforementioned setup on the official website, and am stuck by the illusion of having stepped into another world.
Being Guided through Honan-cho…
A representative of Obaken meets us at the station and guides us on foot to the “cheap property”, a weathered old home. I was surprised more than anything that such a house would exist in this place.
The Exterior View of Obaken
The 4 FRI Staff Who Participated. And After this…
After listening to the instructions, and storing our bags, we frightenedly made our way up the dark stairs of the house.
■The Appeal of “Ifu Musebi-ya”
There is just enough light in the house to vaguely see. From this point, to avoid spoilers, I’ll just write about bits and pieces of certain elements. It is a unique experience that you have to try for yourself to understand.
・Unlike a regular haunted house, it’s not a doll or a gimmick, but a real performer, who comes up the stairs as the killer.
・If you do not hide properly, you will be discovered and locked away somewhere.
・In order to escape you have to use your eyes and ears and search for items in the dark,
・The key is to cooperate with the other participants.
Inside the Home
Even the Fridge is…
After our experience, I sat down to talk with Obaken’s Shomoji Yoshizawa, who supervised the creation of “Ifu Musebi-ya”’s 5th Season.
Obaken’s Shomoji Yoshizawa (Center)
――Why did you choose a house in Honan-cho?
Our idea for Season 5 came out of a planning session to decide how to use a property our operating company (i.h.s. group) had purchased back when we were doing Season 4.
Usually I like a Western feel, for example, the movie “SAW”, and had been doing it that way. This is the first time we have a more Japanese feel.
――What brought you to start producing haunted houses like this?
I’ve liked horror since I was a kid. I often thought about what happens to people when we die. I’ve always wanted to see a ghost, but unfortunately, I don’t seem to be very connected to the spirit world, and I’ve still never seen one (laughs). Later, in my student years, I started making music videos and doing video production with Ken Hibi, who runs Obaken with me. I was involved in lots of processes, editing, lighting, CG, prop and set creation, and while I was doing it I realized that I could use all of these skills to set up and built a haunted house, and here I am.
――When designing a haunted house, is there anything you place extra importance on? Anything you’re really particular about?
How to make people have an enjoyable time. From the beginning, I wanted to do something completely different than the traditional haunted house. I thought of making something with mazes, and laser traps, rules that prevent you from moving, and the mission system, and so on, and that turned into these plans.
――Is there anything difficult about your plans this time for Season 5?
All of it (laughs). When the house was purchased, it was in really bad shape. While cleaning it, and reinforcing lots of the details, I had to think a lot about how to turn the flow of a living space into a haunted house. It might look like just an old house, but in reality, there is a lot of technology inside of it. The fluorescent lamp that looks old at first glance, actually contains 90 LEDs, speakers are set up at over 30 spots to provide the background and performance sounds, and so on.
The Terrified FRI Staff Searching the House. Paralyzed with Fear
――In addition to turning this home into a haunted house, you’ve also turned an entire hotel into a horror event, “Obaken Hotel”, had a camp in a village infested by zombies, “Zombie Camp”, an event where you run to complete missions and survive, “Obaken Run”, all sorts of original plans. What is the goal of Obaken?
I want to revitalize resorts in the off-season, make places where people gather. I’m thinking of using the haunted house to start making the area around Honan-cho into a sort of amusement park.
――Why do you think people are attracted to haunted houses, and fear, which, at first, seems like a negative feeling?
It goes without saying, the ghosts in haunted houses are all man-made. I think people want to be startled, and scream, and do things out of the ordinary to relieve stress. It’s entertainment. I once opened a haunted house in Singapore, and the way people reacted was just like it is here in Japan. The only thing that was different was that in Singapore guys would go in together, I don’t feel like there were as many female customers there.
――If there are any issues business-wise, please tell me.
Since the number of customers always declines in the winter, we’re trying to hold events in all different areas, sell DVDs and merchandise for “Obaken’s Scary Stories”, collaborate with other companies, and take a story, break it up into chapters, and spread out its release over time. Moving forward, I’d like to expand more overseas as well.
■ What I Learned this Time
Stimulate people’s imagination by giving them missions based off the story and world-building, and send them on an unknown frightening experience. The “tension” as fear approaches, and “relaxation” after successfully hiding or avoiding danger. Being impressed by the tricks used in the performances and how good the costume make-up was (“How did they make that?”). The feeling of “enjoyment” that comes with the “relief” of having cleared the mission. Being able to “relate” with friends after sharing a unique and frightening experience.
This is why haunted houses are entertainment.
Daiba Haunted School
Honan-cho Haunted House Obaken Season 5
>>Continuing onto the Part 2
・Why is Nico-nama better than other livestreaming services?－The appeal of “Nico-nama”, according to livestream hosts－
・93% of people in Japan haven’t experienced VR yet! Have you?
・An IP business model for the sharing generation which uses time as its main value standard
(Article: Kazuya Yoshida)
(Coverage Cooperation: Kenichi Nakamura)
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.
（※１）Fields Yoka Survey 2017
A web survey carried out in December 2016 which surveyed 11,646 people across the nation from elementary school age to 69 years of age. It queried their behaviors in relation to and their sense of values regarding free time.