Trade association upset over Halloween attraction with hundreds of authentic figures.
Much like its predecessor in California does, every autumn Universal Studios Japan gets into the Halloween spirit with a collection of spooky, limited-time attractions. This year, the Death Eaters are taking over the park’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter area, but there’s also some domestic-style horror to be found in one of USJ’s haunted houses, named Tatari–Curse of the Living Doll, which opened on September 10.
There’s a lot of impressive craftsmanship that goes into making traditional Japanese dolls, and there’s no denying that finer examples are true works of art. That doesn’t change the fact that highly detailed dolls have an inherent creepiness to them, which is something USJ is tapping into with Tatari. The park’s website assigns the haunted house its highest terror level, says that guests under 12 years of age will not be admitted, and describes the attraction thusly:
“At the back of an eerie, abandoned village sits a decaying shrine. Enshrined there are living dolls, filled with malice. Strange phenomena have been occurring, one after another, and now the terrifying attempt to quiet the curse begins.”
Universal Studios has a well-earned reputation for going all-out in its Halloween attractions, and those brave enough to step into Tatari will find hundreds of Japanese dolls waiting for them. But while that all sounds like a properly frightening experience, the park has received a letter of protest from the Japanese Doll Association, an organization made up of doll manufacturers and retailers.
In particular, the association takes issue with where the dolls used in Tatari come from. Universal Studios didn’t have its prop masters custom-make them for the haunted house, nor did it go out and buy them in bulk from local merchants. The dolls inside Tatari are being loaned to the park by Awashima Shrine, in Wakayama Prefecture.
Awashima Shrine is also known as the “Doll Shrine,” because the institution has amassed a huge collection of dolls, donated by their owners as a sort of memorial service for the figures.
We visited the shrine a few years back, and yeah, it can be sort of an unnerving experience. Awashima Shrine is already a popular destination for tourists who’re attracted to the occult and supernatural, but still, the Japanese Doll Association is upset about Universal Studios using the figures in the manner it currently is. “Using Japanese dolls as objects of terror will considerably harm people’s image of such items,” the letter reads, while also asserting that it is inappropriate to decorate the attraction with dolls that were not given to the shrine with such a purpose in mind.
However, Universal Studios has declined to alter Tatari in any way. “The issues pointed out in the letter [from the Japan Doll Association] have no legal basis, and the attraction will continue as originally planned,” the park said in a statement. “However, we will take the association’s valuable opinion into consideraton.”
Online reactions to the developments have included:
“So, USJ doesn’t care.”
“Come on, USJ, just buy some used dolls to use instead.”
“Well, a lot of people do think [Japanese dolls] are really scary.”
“Is it OK for the shrine to be loaning the dolls out?”
“They really should have sent the letter to Awashima Shrine.”
So just in case the hundreds of dolls weren’t creepy enough, Tatari can now also boast a real-life back story of businesspeople ignoring protests about their supernatural-themed undertaking, which sounds like something straight out of a horror movie. On the bright side, Awashima Shrine has previously stated that it’s “unlikely” that any of its dolls are vessels for malicious spirits, and if that puts your mind at ease, Tatari will be open until November 6.