Halloween in Japan

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Halloween has only recently become a cultural phenomenal in Japan. Masses of young adults have started to dress in costume and party the night away, to the confusion of many onlookers. On Saturday night in Hiroshima there were numerous “cosplay” competitions, culminating in a parade through Hondori shopping arcade. Meanwhile at school, I’ve been informing the students on Halloween as a part of “English culture” though no-one seems particularly interested, me included. Like the many people I’ve overheard discussing the meaning behind the festival, I can’t help but feel that it’s completely meaningless and just for corporations’ pockets.

My Halloween memories aren’t of real note. To be brutally honest, my family and I never really celebrated it. As a child, I never went trick or treating because I didn’t see the point. If I wanted sweets I would ask Mum, whose answer would always be “No!”. Anyway, we’d carve a pumpkin, give chocolates to the few children that came knocking on the door and maybe watch a “scary” film on TV. But we never went anywhere near the extent that some Brits and Americans go to. When I went to university we’d hit the bars and clubs in stupid outfits, but that was about it. The common image of Halloween was never of its historical/ religious origins, but of children, sweets, pumpkins and company profit margins.

Here in Japan, it’s suddenly become a recognised event that has prompted stores to put up Halloween decorations amongst the early Christmas ones. Company brands like Pocky, Kit Kat and Starbucks offer “limited edition” goods based on the festival, usually pumpkin related. However the concept of trick or treating has and will likely never catch on, unless it’s in predetermined and organised events. The thought of children knocking on strangers’ doors in a country known for its conservative values and sometimes disturbing attitude towards children, isn’t a reassuring one. Instead, young adults have started to indulge in the enjoyable side of Halloween.

I spoke with one of my teachers about it all. Last year, her family were invited to the Iwakuni US Marine Corps Air Station’s festivities. Her children liked it so much that she’s been drafted into organising a small-scale version for her street. She’s been emailing neighbours, sending letters and instructions to friends in order to coax them into participating. My mother would never do anything like that! When asking other teachers, they seemed to be under the impression that Halloween was just an opportunity for companies to make more money from selling costumes and goods.

Speaking of costumes, Don Quixote, a store in Japan that practically sells everything, is the go-to place to buy Halloween stuff. Walking through their temporary “Halloween Section”, you’ll find the usual fake blood, prop and decorations. But one thing you’ll notice is that most of it is aimed towards an adult audience. The usual outfits are there; Where’s Wally?, Mario and Cinderella. But then you entire racks dedicated to the raunchy, “sexy” versions of innocent Disney characters, nurses, dominatrixes and school girls. It’s all rather uncomfortable and very off-putting.

It’s clear that Japan’s youth uses Halloween as an opportunity to dress up in something fun, and party. But I still don’t get Halloween’s purpose. I understand the historical nature of it all, but it’s current cultural form is one that is bewildering and utterly pointless. If it’s to scare people, then the barrage of news story and stuff online that we watch is far more scarier than the £10 costume someone made. If it’s for the sole purpose of acquiring chocolate, isn’t that the point every holiday (Easter/ Christmas). I guess it’s more for the kids. It’s a time when children can pretend to be their favourite monster and roam the streets causing mischief without feeling out of place. Yet here in Japan, it’s just an excuse to dress like a zombie and drink too much. So for now, I’ll watch John Carpenter’s The Thing or Halloween, gorge on my girlfriend’s homemade pumpkin pie and lay on the couch. Happy Halloween? 

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