Thanks to the popularity of American TV programs, Hollywood, and the internet, Japanese people became interested in Halloween towards the end of the 20th century. Seeing the commercial opportunities in this growing trend, shops and businesses in Japan also began to embrace Halloween, around the beginning of the 21st century. Since then it has become a yearly event and fits in with Japan’s already established obsession with ‘cosplay’ (i.e. ‘costume play’).
‘Cosplay’ is generally associated with Japanese ‘anime’ or animation, and many young Japanese people love dressing up as their favorite character from a popular TV or comic book animation series, such as ‘One Piece’, ‘Dragon Ball Z’, ‘Sailor Moon’, and so forth. The recent popularity of Halloween has seen a natural extension of this to incorporate traditional Halloween characters such as witches, black cats, ghosts, vampires, zombies, skeletons, monsters, and so on.
As early as late September, shops begin to display Halloween merchandise including colorful candy, bright orange ornamental pumpkins, witches hats, a myriad of Halloween-themed decorations, toys, banners, cups, pens, stationery and even simple, cheaply-priced costumes. While some enthusiasts prefer to buy professional costumes on-line or from a shop that specializes in such, others are happy to pick up less expensive costumes from department stores, toy stores, and even masks and wigs and so on at Japan’s numerous 100-yen shops. Even cheaply made costumes can look surprisingly good, especially in photos, although they can be flimsy and may not last more than one or two outings.
A costume that I bought over a decade ago, and which was very popular every year at the public elementary schools and junior high schools where I worked was that of Darth Vader, from Star Wars. Admittedly it cost me about a hundred dollars at the time, but it has lasted for ten years, and looks fantastic in photos. It is starting to show wear and tear now and I must try and get myself a new costume. My wife, Mandy, on the other hand has varied her costume over the years, from that of the Disney character Jasmine (Alladin), to a black cat costume, and more recently that of a sexy witch. But it’s all just for the fun of dressing up.
Some folks tend to think of Halloween as evil, and certainly it can be if taken to that extent, but in Japan, Halloween is nothing more than playing with costumes. Children like playing ‘dress-up’ and Halloween is simply the adult version of that. There are no activities associated with witchcraft or devil worship, not that I’ve seen anyway. Halloween in Japan appears to consist mostly of dressing up in costumes, attending parties either at home or in restaurants and nightclubs, perhaps even Karaoke, and the most evil thing that I’ve experienced is the hangover the next day, and even that is almost non-existent these days.
‘Trick or Treating’ doesn’t seem to happen as much here in Japan as it does in America. When it does happen though, it is arranged beforehand, usually occurs only in a local neighborhood, and parents of children participating in this event actually buy and deliver the candy to homes they expect to visit before the event begins. Japanese people would never assume to ask, or have their children ask for things from others – it’s not the Japanese way. The parents will often accompany their children on the trick-or-treating and thank the people for giving their children the candy. As they actually bought it themselves, it’s more a ‘thank you’ for participating in the event and making Halloween special for their child.
Halloween, like Christmas, has also become a good opportunity for teaching English expressions and sharing foreign culture with Japanese children and adults alike. Wishing you and your family a happy Halloween this year.