Ghost Bus brings Japanese-style frights to Hawaii

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Customers of the Ghost Bus Hawaii watch a short movie that introduces the narrative before boarding.
Customers of the Ghost Bus Hawaii watch a short movie that introduces the narrative before boarding. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ghost Bus Hawaii
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Surf, sun, sand and ... screams? A new attraction in Hawaii is looking to add a fourth "s" to the traditional trio visitors seek out in the Aloha State. 

Ghost Bus Hawaii, a horror import from Japan, has rolled into Honolulu offering a new activity that promises to send heart rates soaring. 

The Ghost Bus is a concept from Japanese horror creator Michaelty Yamaguchi, who has worked on haunted houses and in the film industry. The bus does not move during the experience, and guests remain seated. The bus is equipped with a variety of audiovisual and sensory effects and deploys a cast of actors to deliver frights and thrills. 

"The Ghost Bus is an exciting experience that has been a favorite for people of all ages in Japan for many years," said Kenji Takahashi, general manager of Travel Plaza Transportation, a subsidiary of the company behind the new attraction, JTB Hawaii. "It has been a tough couple of years, and I think people are ready to travel and have fun. I want people to join us on the Ghost Bus and release their stress. We can see it. People are screaming on the bus, and after they leave the attraction, everybody is smiling."

The Ghost Bus initially launched just prior to Halloween 2021, but then it closed in December as the Covid-19 omicron variant sparked a surge in cases in Hawaii. The attraction was relaunched on March 1, and through April 29 it is parked in front of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Monday through Friday. On Saturdays and Sundays in April, the Ghost Bus will be stationed at the Ka Makana Alii mall in Kapolei. Then, starting on May 2, the bus will be parked at the Waikiki Beach Marriott through Oct. 31.

A pivot into haunted attractions

JTB Hawaii primarily serves the Japanese market, which before the pandemic sent more visitors to the Aloha State each year than any other foreign country. When the pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020, JTB's business fell to zero, Takahashi said. 

"We used to handle more than 4,000 customers every day, and then overnight, Japanese tourism completely disappeared," Takahashi said. "So, we started to think about, as a transportation company, what are we going to do? We can market to the western market, the visitors from the mainland, but other companies have been doing that for 40 to 50 years. It's really hard to get into the market." 

With buses available for conversion, the company decided to offer something new to Hawaii that would draw attention and bring in some revenue. Haunted houses are a popular year-round activity in Japan, and Takahashi said they also see the Ghost Bus as another opportunity to share Japanese culture in the United States.

"American horror tends to be more monsters and zombies," Takahashi said. "While Japanese horror is a little bit different ... little girls are seen as scary." 

Along those lines, the Ghost Bus narrative revolves around a young girl who must conquer her fears by confronting them. However, the program has been adapted from the Japanese original to better appeal to a U.S. audience. 

"The experience is in English, and the story has been changed," Takahashi said. "We adapted it to make it more Hollywood-style horror. It's still Japanese horror, but with a hint or twist of Hollywood. This version is more bloody than the Japanese one, and there are more monsters and that type of thing."  

In March, Hawaii ended its statewide indoor mask mandate and its Safe Travels program for screening incoming travelers that required those entering the state to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test in order to bypass a self-quarantine period. With restrictions dropping and travel picking up in the islands, Takahashi said, the bus, which can accommodate up to a dozen customers at one time, has been gaining momentum.  

"Right now, we are set to go through Halloween of this year, and then we'll make a decision on the future after we see how things go and how busy we are," Takahashi said.  

Takahashi said the company is feeling hopeful for 2022, especially as international tourism returns. 

"I think we'll start to see a big uptick in Japanese travelers coming to Hawaii in May and June, and then most of our package tours from Japan will be booked for July through the end of the year. We expect to be busy in the second half of the year," he said. "We're finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel." 

The Ghost Bus experience lasts 15 minutes and costs $15 ($13 for Hawaii residents), and the minimum age is 8 years old. Children between ages 8 and 13 must be accompanied by an adult.

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