It’s October! The month of spooks and scares, all hallows eve approaches and all over the world children prepare to go trick or treating dressed as whatever takes their fancy (I was a ninja turtle I seem to remember). But the question on everyone’s lips is… do they celebrate Halloween in Japan?
Idol band AKB48 hawking Halloween costumes
The answer is yes…and no. Halloween is a relatively recent concept in Japan that has slowly been working its way into the mainstream for many years now. A celebration that was once relegated to Tokyo Disneyland with their annual Halloween parade has been gradually leaking out into the rest of Japan since the late 80s. Now most major cities in Japan have some form of Halloween parade, highlighted by the Kawasaki Halloween Parade and the ‘Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade’ in Harajuku, Tokyo. However Japan has plenty of its own festivals, including ones honouring the dead such as Obon, and as a result Halloween is more of a co-opted Western festival rather than a national event. Few Japanese know of the actual origins of the holiday and only know it from the mass of American pop culture that arrives on Japans shores by the day.
As a result Halloween in Japan in recent years has become a marketing goldmine, with pumpkins, candy and Halloween decorations being sold by the bucket full. This would make you think that Japan was celebrating Halloween en masse, but that’s not really the case it seems. As one Japanese friend described to me when I was researching this article “We celebrate Halloween, but not so much”. The parades are there, the decorations are up, the costumes are worn if you go to the right places and pumpkins are carved but the majority of the population outside of the major cities are don’t partake in any Halloween activities. Trick or treating is practically unheard of in Japan too for the most part, one area that is on the rise though is dressing up as Japan’s youth is seeing a rise in cosplaying for Halloween, however cosplaying is on the rise year-round, so maybe it’s just another excuse to do it!
Sadako, an Onryō (怨霊) spirit as portrayed in The Ring.
It’s not that Japan doesn’t like scares, Japanese culture has a long history of horror starting with Kaidan (怪談), traditional supernatural tales often associated with the Edo period. These Kaidan tales were told either through storytelling, Kabuki and Noh theatre, books and later films. Nowadays everyone all over world is familiar with J-Horror introduced to the West in the late 90’s with the festival appearances or The Ring and Audition, a plethora of other J-Horror films soon flooded the Western market place and it seemed like a different English language remake was due every other week. Let’s not forget either that Japan popularised the survival horror video game genre with the debut of Resident Evil (coincidentally the rather terrible Resident Evil films do better in Japan than in any other market in the world) and Silent Hill amongst others. So it’s not that Japanese culture is adverse to the concept behind the holiday, it’s just that it hasn’t quite caught-on on a national scale yet.
To answer the question then, does Japan celebrate Halloween, the answer has to be yes but just not on the national scale that we do here in the UK or that other countries do. One thing is for sure though, Halloween is increasing every year in Japan and looking at what they already do to celebrate it…the future is sure to be packed with scares.
Expect more Halloween articles this month, until then check out this video of the Kawasaki Halloween Parade!