CREEPY CORNER: My Visit to the "Ghost Bar" in Tokyo

Our server was a ghost. At least that's what she told us.
Publish date:
February 26, 2015
ghosts, creepy corner, spooky stuff, tourist attractions, japan, Traveling Abroad

When you decide to be my houseguest, there are a few things that you can be assured of:

1. Caffeine. I will never be stingy with my coffee or tea. Or I'll make my husband share his energy drinks that taste like pennies with you.

2. An abundance of toiletries. I myself am a minimalist when it comes to cleansing, but I love accruing toiletries to offer my guests. My hoard is your hoard.

3. If you express even the tiniest interest in something campy, spooky, garish, and/or macabre, you can bet your organic jasmine green tea that all that tapping away at my computer is me searching for directions to the latest creepy attraction I've found.

And that's basically how we ended up at Yurei Izakaya, or "ghost bar," in the Kichijoji area of Tokyo, an hour before the trains stopped running.

My friend Joy is visiting right now, and being the lovely and enthusiastic creep that she is, was totally game to visit the ghost-and-funeral-themed Yurei Izakaya. So with my husband in tow (he's become something of our mascot on this trip), we got on the train during rush hour in Tokyo and raced toward what I was positive would be a SPOOKTACULAR evening.

If you've been following my Japan adventures, you know what comes next. I got lost. It's really not worth going into all the details AGAIN, but let's just say that each time we got on a local instead of an express train, and every time Google Maps sent us down the wrong dark alley, I realized our ghost adventure was becoming less of a "night out with the ghouls" and more of just an exercise in determination.

But we made it. We were tired, a little cranky, but we had one hour to spend at the bar before we'd be stuck in Tokyo for the night if we didn't get the last train. And dagnabbit WE WERE GOING TO MAKE THE MOST OF IT.

It's moments like these that I experience a split-second of terror that I've lead two of my most favorite people in the world into a boring, stupid, waste of time and money. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't (such is the gamble with a lot of Creepy Corner endeavors). But in this case, I lucked out, Yurei Izakaya was good.

It was more than good, it was a horror lover's dream.

If you're the person who loves the way the Halloween section of your local megastore smells and enjoys A Nightmare on Elm Street just as much as The Babadook or Ju-on, this is your mothership.

It's a small bar on a quiet side street that you could pass by and not even know is there. But take a closer look (being able to read Japanese helps, too) and you'll see that the front entrance is decked out like a Japanese haunted house.

Step into the street level entryway and you're bathed in black light. Daunting music and recorded screams play, a la the cassette tape of "scary noises" they played at your middle school Halloween carnival.

We headed down a very dark staircase to the bar itself. The staircase might actually have been the "scariest" part of our visit, as it was barely lit by black light, and I'd read that there were "booby traps" hidden along the passageway.

I felt like Velma leading the Scooby gang down the stairway. "Watch out for booby traps!" I called out, and just as I said it, a hair dryer blasted me in the face, a fake spider dropped down from the ceiling, and the lights flickered. I yelped louder than I care to admit, and I heard the staff giggle from behind the door at the bottom of the stairs.

You won that round, Yurei Izakaya.

When we crossed the threshold of the actual basement bar (Joy wondered how long they'd been waiting for us fools to make it down the stairs), we were immediately greeted by a ghost.

Well that that's what she told us. A server dressed in white burial garb, met us at the door and proceeded to escort us into the "land of the dead." Apparently the dead prefer black lights, neon paint, and all the rubber body parts a clearance sale at Party City has to offer.

It was kitschy but committed, and I appreciated that. While the bar most certainly had an eerie "fright night at the theme park" atmosphere, what really made it fun was the staff's commitment to playing the part and making you play the part.

Once the Scooby Gang and I were seated, our server explained the menu to us (they have English menus, too, FYI) and then proceeded to explain that she was a ghost. I couldn't understand everything she said, but from what I gathered, she cheerily told us her name, how she died, and who she was in life. She also had a special mixed drink named after her.

She then explained that to summon her, we had to ring a prayer bowl at our table. She bowed and left us to look over the menu.

Death puns and word play were all over the menu. "Death Rice Dishes," "Ghost Brothers" dishes, the "Death Menu." Many of the dishes were "bloody" this, "death" that. They also had a few offal or organ dishes (intestines, heart, gizzard, liver, gristle). These animal parts tend to be popular in Japan anyway, but I'm sure their inclusion on the menu was no mistake.

We settled on a round of drinks (all you can drink or all you can eat specials are available, for those of you who can actually manage your time and don't get lost), "bloody" potato fries, "death" rice cakes, and one of the house specials the "ghostfire flaming spare ribs."

I rang the bowl and our ghost-server came scurrying over. When she reached our table, she loudly clapped her hands and several giant spiders with glowing eyes descended from the ceiling. Apparently this was a thing. I, of course, jumped and giggled like an idiot every single time.

She took our order, and within a few minutes she was back with our drinks. Now normally, in a setting like this with a group of friends, you'd all clink glasses and say, "Kanpai!", essentially, "Cheers!"

However, our ghost-server instructed that instead of saying Kanpai we should say Namu, or what could be the Japanese Buddhist version of "amen." Namu is more appropriate for a funeral, she explained.

We all hesitated a moment, glasses raised. I know at least from my perspective, I was wondering if I should actually say it. It was at our hesitation that our server became impatient and started all but jumping up and down, pantomiming our glasses clinking and saying, "Namu! Namu!" When we finally obliged, she smiled, thanked us, and scurried back to her kitchen/grave/ghost hangout.

The evening continued to be delightful. The food was surprisingly tasty (I've heard this is one of the few theme restaurants in Tokyo with pretty decent food) and the servers seemed to really enjoy trying to gross us out with each dish. "This is BLOOD . . . this is WORMS," explained our server when she brought the "tomato sauce" french fries and pickled bamboo shoots.

The "ghost-fire flaming spareribs" might have been the second most scary thing of the evening. They weren't kidding around with that flame. It was tall, intense, and almost singed my hair.

Before you leave the Yurei Izakaya, definitely go to the bathroom. They boast a "human skin" wallpaper, and it doesn't disappoint. I'm not easily freaked out, but going to the bathroom in a tiny room lined with faces contorted in torment was a little unsettling. Remember that episode of Punky Brewster where Alan's zombie face gets stuck in the wall of a cave? It reminds me of that. Nonetheless, I'd highly recommend it.

With our train minutes from leaving us in Tokyo for all eternity with the yurei (kidding, just until 6 a.m. when the trains run again), it was time for us to leave. We paid our bill (a little on the expensive side for a bar, but the drinks were big and the service excellent) and were bid farewell by the ghost staff.

We made our way back up the dark stairway (where again I yelped at the hair dryer blast) and emerged back into the land of the living.

While this was definitely not the creepiest Creepy Corner adventure I've had, it was one of my favorites. From the moment the black light hit me, I couldn't stop grinning a big, goofy, neon grin.

Yes, Yurei Izakaya is a little hokey, but it hit a silly-scary sweet spot for me. The next time you find yourself an hour outside of the heart of Tokyo, I'd highly recommend trudging down into the depths of the ghost bar, and meeting a spirit or two.