A zombie army marched on Tokyo Tower for Halloween on Thursday, with a one-time sumo grand champion bringing some weight to the gathering of the dead.

Around 1,200 people turned out in full make-up to roam the streets in an event organised by a television channel and a local beauty college.

At the front was Akebono, sumo's first ever foreign yokozuna -- grand champion -- whose towering frame dominated the sport in the 1990s.

Behind him stood enough sickly and wounded undead to give unsuspecting shoppers lasting nightmares.

Yamano Beauty College president Jane Aiko Yamano said the event was a great idea.

"My daughter said 'but Mommy, you have a beauty school, you're supposed to be pretty' and now we're getting dressed up like zombies and scary creatures of the night so that was challenging for me but for our students, I think it was just so perfect," she said.

Student Tomoka Yamano, whose ghoulish get-up was of a zombie girl whose heart had been broken, said she was having a wonderful time.

"I don't always get dressed like this but today I put a lot of effort into the make up here on my neck," she said.

Halloween, whose roots stretch back hundreds of years in Christian countries, is a relatively recent import to Buddhist and Shintoist Japan.

Like Christmas, it is wholly stripped of any religious meaning, but has thrived over the last decade as a fancy dress celebration, with parties and parades everywhere from landmarks to shopping parades.

"I think Halloween has taken root as a real seasonal event in Japan," said Tsuyoshi Sawada, a spokesman at Tokyo Tower, where visitors were being given witches' hats or axes.