Halloween in Japan: What’s Different? What’s not?

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Photo by Hideya HAMANO
October 31, 2015

With Halloween right around the corner, I’ve had several friends privy to the fact that I now live in Japan ask me questions about how Halloween is conducted in Japan. “Is it any different from how we do it?” they ask.

Long story short, the answer is “yes”.

Within the past ten years, Japan as a whole has shown a gradual increase of interest in Halloween, and with that an increase in commercial hype. Scenery, visuals and costumes that used to only be available for spectating at Tokyo Disneyland have become more common, but not as one might come to expect from western countries.

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Almost always, the first thing people want to know is, “is there trick or treating?” Most definitely, when many of us westerners think of Halloween, it is the first thing we think of. However, the practice of going from house to house, saying “trick or treat” and accumulating mass quantities of candy is non-existent here.

In my estimation, this lack of trick or treating in Japan is not going to change any time soon, and here is why: as I have mentioned before, the feeling of avoiding 迷惑をかける (めいわけをかける, or “being a pain/bother to someone else) is far too strong in Japanese people. Having to go around to people’s houses to gather candy would be a huge inconvenience to many people.

Many Japanese people also oppose Japan following the traditions of Halloween to begin with, so the establishment of a trick or treat system would most likely be met with a large amount of opposition.

So if there isn’t trick or treating in Japan, what Halloween is there to be had in the land of the rising sun? The appeal of Halloween in Japan lies in two things: commercialism and costumes. Many fanatics of “cosplay” (costume play) find the idea of dressing up very appealing, and this is an especially popular mindset among those is Harajuku and the otaku crowd in general.

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Taking this into consideration, this means that Halloween ends up being mostly for adults who want to dress-up. Costume parties become a focus for many establishments serving alcohol, and it becomes yet another tool at the disposal of the owners of these establishments.

Experiences at say, international schools in Japan for example tend to be different than the rest of Japan, however. Depending on the school, they may very well have parties so the children there can experience what it is like to celebrate Halloween in a western country.

At the school I work at for example, we had an activity for the kindergarteners, who came dressed up as witches, princesses, mummies and vampires. We had them go around to each classroom in the school to say “trick or treat” to whatever ghost or goblin (or teacher) was waiting for them in the classroom to receive treats or other gifts!

My fellow foreigners, what do you do to celebrate Halloween in Japan?

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Musician, Japanese language and food lover.

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