With Halloween coming up, I’ve had several friends ask me questions about how the holiday 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 expect from western countries.
Trick or treating rarely happens in Japan
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 (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.
Instead, Halloween in Japan is all about dressing up
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 (geek) crowd in general.
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 places serving alcohol and the like around late October.
The scramble crossing in Shibuya used to be the place to party with over 70,000 drunk people crowding its streets annually. Unfortunately, after a truck was overturned amongst the chaos last year, public drinking will be banned in Shibuya during the Halloween season. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out this year.
That said, experiences at international schools in Japan, for example, tend to be different than the rest of Japan. 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 teach 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.
Some companies let their employees dress up for the day—for a little behind-the-scenes PR—though it’s still not that prevalent. The staff here at GaijinPot always make a point of getting into costume though!
Do people tell ghost stories on Halloween in Japan?
Japan has a long tradition of spooky folklore but it’s actually in the summer that Japanese people celebrate the spirit world, which peaks with the Buddhist festival of Obon in August. At this time, horror films and shows fill cinema and TV schedules, and horror-themed bars and restaurants get booked up.
Speaking of ghost stories, GaijinPot is collecting readers’ own anecdotes of paranormal experiences they’ve had in Japan as part of this year’s Halloween festivities. Share your story by via the form on this page for a chance to be featured on the blog later this month!
How will you be celebrating Halloween 2019 in Japan? With the Rugby World Cup final on Nov 2 there’s going to be a ton of excitement building up this month. Better get your costumes ready!
This post was updated on 10/01/2019.