Japanese in the spirit


POSTED: Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Laie Lady is back to make an encore at the Polynesian Cultural Center's haunted lagoon, and she's not alone — there'll be plenty of Japanese tour groups along for the ride.

When PCC introduced its haunted lagoon last year, it banked on attracting kamaaina and mainland visitors searching for Halloween fun. It had not bargained for the overwhelming response from Japanese visitors that caused lines to snake around the lagoon for most of the weeklong event.

PCC took a hint and planned a monthlong event this year which began Oct. 2 and runs through Halloween, to accommodate strong demand, said Von Orgill, PCC's president and chief executive officer.

“;We needed to make space for the Japanese tour groups,”; Orgill said.

Although there is not a direct cultural reference to Halloween in Japan, these visitors love the ghost stories and hoopla that surround Halloween in Hawaii.

“;Japanese travelers have always looked for something new,”; said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. “;The fact that they like this event affirms their desire for unique things, whether it be the Haunted Lagoon or the Honolulu City Lights, which have also been popular with Japan wholesalers.”;

Most Japanese do not celebrate a Western-style Halloween; however, the younger generation who may have learned about Halloween in English class or participated in events at Tokyo Disneyland have embraced some of the customs, said Ken Kessler, general manger of Atlantis Cruises Navatek 1.

For some time, Japanese visitors to Hawaii have frequented the Navatek's Halloween Cruise, Kessler said.

“;The interest is there. It's as much curiosity as it is anything else because it isn't part of their culture,”; Kessler said, adding that Japanese visitors will comprise about 30 percent of Navatek's Halloween guests.





        » What: Polynesian Cultural Center hauntings

» When: Through Halloween


» Times: Canoes depart periodically from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. A keiki version of the ride, snacks and souvenirs are available.


» Admission: Kamaaina, $15 for adults ages 16 and up; $10 for keiki ages 5-15. Fast Passes, which cut wait times, are available for an additional cost.


» Information: Polynesian Cultural Center's ticket office at 293-3333 or visit the PCC Haunted Lagoon Web site at http://www.HauntedLagoon.com.


Halloween decorations are sold in Japan's larger cities, and young adults might throw Halloween parties or go to a Halloween-themed event at a nightclub, Kessler said.

“;Halloween is a very niche celebration in Japan,”; said Akio Hoshino, senior vice president of JalPak International Hawaii. “;No one is aiming to be in Hawaii for Halloween, but if they are here, they will enjoy it.”;

When Naomi Sellers was growing up outside of Tokyo, interest in Halloween had only started building, she said. Instead, Sellers recalls visiting the traditional spook houses that are part of the summer Obon, a time when the Japanese believe their dead ancestors return.

“;Spook houses are quite popular in Japan. They know the concept, but to do it during the Halloween season is new,”; said Sellers, who is PCC's promotional coordinator of Japan sales.

Unlike a classic haunted house, the PCC's Haunted Lagoon takes guests on a spooky canoe ride that twists through the PCC lagoon under dark bridges and past ominous shadows where the Laie Lady and other creatures await.

“;Our guests spend a lot of time lounging by our lagoons. If they come here, they get to see a different kind of lagoon,”; said Dori Hughes, who works at the front desk at the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa when she's not canoeing past monsters and grabbing colleagues for dear life.

“;I'm sure our guests will like it,”; Hughes said after her preview ride. “;It's something different.”;

Japanese visitors are drawn to the opportunity to participate in a Hawaii-themed, amusement park-style event more than they are to the concept of Halloween, said Irene Honma, PacRim Marketing Group's senior director of international sales and marketing.

However, aggressive marketing in Japan is building desire, said Dave Erdman, president of PacRim Marketing, which is one of PCC's marketing partners.

“;This concept by PCC just shows great out-of-the-box thinking and really smart, proactive marketing in a challenging environment and for a short-term event,”; Erdman said.

The event is posted on PacRim's Japanese-language portal, and its YouTube video has drawn about 1,900 views, he said.