Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review

Is Haunted Little Tokyo home to Yurei, Onryo, and Yōkai? Read our Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review to find out - if you dare!

In between weekly horror movie screenings, a daily pumpkin patch, a weekend block party, and Halloween night trick-or-treating, Haunted Little Tokyo offered a Ghosts of Haunted Little Tokyo Walking Tour on Saturday, October 13. Presented by the Little Tokyo Historical Society, the tour mixed local legends and eyewitness accounts with details about the area's past.

The historical nature of the Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour was not intended to elicit screams, but descriptions of uncanny events may have provoked the occasional frisson, and there were a few nods to the season, in the form of moody lighting, decor, and a short docu-horror film. The result was an informative and fun change of pace from the usual Halloween horror events.

Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review: Union Center for the Arts
Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Union Center for the Arts Review Interior
Hearing ghostly tales inside Union Center for the Arts. Photo by Jesse Koester of Sunshine Pictures LLC

The Ghosts of Haunted Little Tokyo Walking Tour began at the Union Center for the Arts (pictured at top), which was a church before the congregation moved to a newer building decades ago. The location is famous to horror film fans because it served as the home for the Brotherhood of Sleep in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness (1987). The tour guides referenced several famous moments from the movie, along with second-hand accounts of paranormal encounters within the building, such as an unseen voice repeatedly calling a man by name in the darkness.

Most of these stories involved creeks and bumps heard by people working late, but there was an interesting tale of a visual sighting. The top floor of the Union Center is a stage used for theatrical productions. On one occasion, an upset actor accused the theatre of being "unprofessional" because it allowed a spectator inside during a rehearsal - an old Japanese man in the balcony. The guards, however, had allowed no one inside, and the balcony was locked. A search revealed no sign of an intruder.

Despite starring in a horror movie, the Union Center for the Arts is not a particularly ominous venue, but with the lights turned down it provides sufficient mood for telling ghostly tales. Unfortunately, the active nature of the building created an early hiccup for the tour, which stopped dead on an outdoor staircase for several minutes, waiting to enter the upper floor, where prep-work on the next stage play was taking place.

*According to the guides, the Union Center was never de-sanctified, so technically it still is a church. Some people there speculate that paranormal activity may be the result of spirits taking umbrage at the lack of respect accorded to the building's spiritual status.

Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review: La Señorita

The second section of the Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour took place in the parking lot behind the Union Center. Here we heard some first-hand stories from a building owner whose girlfriend felt the touch of an unseen hand on her face. There is also a ghostly old couple who have been repeatedly seen staring silently in an area that once housed an adult Asian video store (apparently Grandma and Grandpa remain aghast in death over the smut that once infested the place).

Most interesting is a silent woman known as "La Señorita" to the workers in the building. Apparently, she appears frequently but unobtrusively, gliding down hallways or peering around corners. What is remarkable about these encounters is that, although the eyewitnesses are Latino, their description of the ghost matches details of Japanese folklore, such as the ghost manifesting without feet, appearing to float rather than walk.

Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review: Hongwanji Buddhist Temple
Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review Buddhist Temple.
Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. Photo by Jesse Koester of Sunshine Pictures LLC

Final stop on Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost  Tour was the former Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, across from the Japanese American National Museum. Like the former Union Church, this building is no longer a place of worship; the building has been preserved for its historical importance.

This section of the tour was the most "haunted," with a skeleton in a coffin, strobe lights flashing in the darkness, and mysterious eyes blinking from behind a screen. Along with a few more ghost stories from the guides, there was a short film, Night in the Museum, which mixed talking-head interviews of eyewitnesses with a dramatic enactment of the phenomena alleged to take place in the building. Though marred by amateur acting in the fictional scenes, the film uses J-Horror tropes to good effect.

After the film, the guides left us with one final tale, of a local hotel owner who insists she has never seen a ghost - and kicks out any customers who say they have! The implication is that there may be far more ghost stories to tell, but that business owners fear being tainted by a haunted reputation. Ironically, the Little Tokyo Historical Society is using these tales to lure customers to the area during the Halloween season, hoping that they will discover the area and return throughout the rest of the year.

Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour Review: Conclusion

The Ghosts of Haunted Little Tokyo Walking Tour actually involves little walking; all locations are in a one block area - more of a leisurely stroll than a hike - and there are numerous places to eat on nearby 1st Street (including our favorite, My Ramen Bar).

Overall, the haunted tour mixes spirited stories with historical information, emphasizing efforts to maintain Little Tokyo's cultural heritage by preserving old buildings and other landmarks. The supernatural is clearly being used to lure in customers who will hopefully discover and revisit the area, but the tour delivers on its promise of first-hand tales of things seen and unseen walking the corridors of Little Tokyo's venerable historic landmarks.

Ghosts of Haunted Little Tokyo Tour Ratings
  • Ghost Stories & History
  • Haunted Atmosphere
3.5

Bottom Line

The Haunted Little Tokyo Ghost Tour is not intended to elicit screams, but real-life ghost stories may provoke an occasional shudder, providing an informative and fun change of pace from typical Halloween horror events. A one-night-only event, the tour is expected to return for Halloween 2019.

Haunted Little Tokyo continues daily through October 31 with decorated shops, a pumpkin patch, and local bars with themed drink specials. Remaining special events include:

  • Mary and the Witch’s Flower – screening at 7pm on October 19
  • Godzilla (1954) – screening at 7pm on October 25
  • Haunted Little Tokyo Block Party – 6pm-midnight on October 27 on 2nd Street between Central and San Pedro Street
  • Haunted Little Tokyo Trick-or-treating – 2-7pm on October 31 in Japanese Village Plaza

Get more information at golittletokyo.com/haunted.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.