It was the other day at the office and I was suddenly asked if I liked obakeyashiki, or ghost house attractions. Why now?! Well, apparently in Suginami in Tokyo there is a haunted house experience called Obaken that only operates on weekends. Made by a film production company, it sits by itself in a shopping arcade in a building that is a renovated, regular condo. None of us knew what to expect but even the PingMag editors, despite not being fans of this type of attraction, were intrigued by the place and wanted me to take a look…
You can spot a poster for the haunted house after you leave the gates of the station.
As we fearfully made our way towards our destination, we realized it was just before Halloween, so there were lots of pumpkins out in front of the stores. The faces had all been cut and shaped by hand. And on the other side of the road were graves!
After arriving we checked in at the reception inside a stylish cafe next door, and then got an explanation from the owner, Mr Obaken.
The haunted house is based on a segment of a 2013 film and the story is about a girl who dies in a traffic accident in Tokyo. She loses one of her precious red high heels. Walk down the streets of Tokyo and you might hear the click of high heels behind you — and then turn to see a girl with long hair and only one red shoe. “Where is my shoe?” she asks…
You have two missions in the haunted house. You have to find the way to unlock the second floor and then you have to find the girl’s red high heel. So just these two things? Easy, right?
You are given a pair of cotton gloves and wireless headphones. The first is just for safety but through the headphones you will hear eerie music, and they also stop you from talking to your companions. You are basically shut off from the sounds of the outside world. Going inside, you are first guided to a dark and small room where you watch a short video apparently shot on a smartphone by someone who witnessed the accident. This sets the scene…
When you’ve finished watching you go off in search of the high heel! The whole time you can hear spooky background music through your headphones and have to go forward in the pitch black… But if you don’t go forward you can’t get out. Sounds like living hell? Well, without giving away too many spoilers, we’ll give a summary of the experience for you…
Sometimes in your ears you can hear the clicking of high heels… “Come over here…” says a girl’s voice. All the sound effects are controlled in real time in order to crank up the fear factor!
The website says it takes around 10 minutes to get around the haunted house, but we were inside for 40 minutes! I was about ready to give my own high heels if necessary! The videos and effects certainly stay in the memory. You may find yourself hearing the sounds of high heels even after you’ve left!
We then spoke to Mr Obaken to get the “behind-the-scenes” scoop!
Why did you want to make a haunted house attraction?
Our company is a video production and food and drink company, but when making films you rarely get to meet the end user. I wanted to make something that didn’t exist and where you could interact more with the final customer.
At weekends or days off, most people head to Shinjuku or Shibuya to go shopping. But I wanted to do something fun like turning the residential places into an amusement park. So to be honest, it could have been something different, not a haunted house. Perhaps a ninja house or a karakuri house of tricks. Well, I like horror movies so I thought a ghost house would be interesting to try. I even like to scare other employees in the company sometimes! [Laughs] It’s pretty interesting to have a company that runs a ghost house?
It’s unusual to hear about a company that makes haunted houses. And all the interior is done by hand, right?
Yes. Officially, it’s research for the company. For example, we think about all the things like the walls, desks, the shelves. If we can do this, then we can take it to the next level and make a film.
It felt like a really good school culture festival event.
Yes, that’s the kind of atmosphere it has. It’s fun and we can do all kinds of things we it. After all, we’re not located in an amusement park so we can do anything. Winter isn’t the season so there are fewer visitors. We do extra things, like ghost house group dates, surprise birthday parties, and other packages. And we can film this and give it to visitors as part of the deal.
That’s one of the strengths of being a film production company, right?
Yes, we want to do things that you can’t do at a regular haunted house attraction.
You just mentioned how you can do anything because you’re not located inside an amusement park. Are there are other benefits to being in a normal shopping street?
The area comes to life. If you’re in an amusement park in the countryside, it might well be packed but it doesn’t lead to any rejuvenation for the place, does it? [Laughs] And it’s relatively cheap to do it like this. But saying that, unless your attraction is good, you’ll get no business, so that’s a weak point.
How many visitors do you actually get?
Well, our maximum capacity is for about 15 groups per day. We get reservations for around half that and then a few more come along, so there’s something like 10. There are also many who come from quite far away just to visit us. And there’s lots of people in their twenties and thirties and couples. We have a monitor, though, so we can see everything people do! [Laughs]
What’s happening while the visitors are moving around?
On average people spend from 15 to 20 minutes inside. We have to find the right moments during that time to do things, so we’re pretty busy. And it’s funny to see how people respond and what they talk about. I mean, we’re getting money for scaring people, right?! Of course, we really make a go of it, but on the other side, we’re also just mucking around. It’s an interesting job, and if you play around then it’s bound to be fun.
Do you match the way you scare people depending on the visitors?
The general pattern is fixed, but if the audience is super scared then the staff will ad lib to up the ante a bit. [Laughs] We can get carried away when people are scared. [Laughs]
Well, it’s fun for the visitors and fun for the staff, then. But is there anything you are mindful about?
These kinds of attractions are usually controlled by sensors but what’s scary depends on the person, right? I thought we should be changing the timing for the sounds or the kind of sounds. We really prize the real-time experience and want to run a ghost house in this way as much as possible.
A ghost house customize just for scaring you! And there’s even another one in Honancho in Suginami, Premium Obaken, for the real hard-core!
Honancho Obakeshiki Obaken
2-4-29 Honan, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Only open on weekends (irregular)
14:00-19:45 (last entry)
Reservations until 17:00 the previous day