CosPlay vs. Halloween
One of the most freakish and weird aspects of Japanese pop culture is the phenomenon called “CosPlay.” But before I write about CosPlay I ought to say something about the affinity Japanese have for abbreviations - especially English words used in Japanese. There are a lot of English loanwords used in daily Japanese. But there are also many Japanese inventions of English, or English-sounding words used in their own manner to suit their own designs. In cases like this I say that they are speaking Japanese even though the words and word-fragments coming out of their mouths are English. Abbreviations are cute and, as I have written before, cuteness is important in Japan’s group culture as a mechanism for appealing to each other. But in addition, abbreviations are cool and stylish.
Here are some examples: the famous Pokemonanimated character and toys is short for “Pocket Monster;” “terebi” is short for “television;” “make” is short for “make up;” “passacon” is short for “personal computer;” and dozens of others. Do you remember the “Tamagochi” craze of ten years ago? “Tamago” means “egg,”and “chi,”in this instance, has no meaning. It is just a cute sound used to finish the word and make it sound appealing. (That is almost literally exactly how my wife explained it to me in English.) “CosPlay” is one of these. It means “costume play” and it refers to young adults who dress up as characters from some media that they favor. Most CosPlay people dress up as animated comic and cartoon characters like Cutie Honey, or the more famous Sailor Moon. They hang around with their friends, dressed similarly, for God knows what purpose. Some of the more serious-minded (crazy?) aficionados attend conventions of such people.
The cute cartoon character type of CosPlay is popular, but perhaps equally popular is the German-Gothic demon-worshipping punk rock fashion of CosPlayers. They are usually teenage girls decked out in black looking like they just came from an ogiastic coven baby feast. You used to be able to see these young people best on weekends where youth hang out - places like Harajuku on any Sunday, or the neighborhoods around Shibuya Station. But these days you can see them almost anywhere in Tokyo any day of the week. They buy their gear at specialty clothes stores that look like a cross between the toddler section of a department store and an adult sex shop.
And then there is the North American foreign community here who bring their holidays and festivals in their bags when they arrive at Narita Airport. One of these is Halloween, a festival of the dead imported to America with Irish immigrants in the 19thcentury, and also a New Year celebration of the old Druid cult of the ancient Celts. Japanese do not need to imitate Halloween as a festival of the dead because they have their own such festival in summer, called “Bon.” Even today, great numbers of Japanese typically travel to visit their ancestor’s/family’s gravesites, clean us the headstones, plant flowers, burn incense and pray during the August Bon festival. But then, Japanese do love a party, which explains their penchant for imitating foreign festivals like Christmas even if they do not understand them.
Now about our Halloween celebrations this year. For several years I have bought a pumpkin for carving into a Jack-o-Lantern and my wife and I recruited neighborhood housewives and my children’s school friends for participation in a costume parade on the local streets and Trick-or-Treating. Until last year it worked well. Then we had some trouble with the manager of my building over noise and other disturbances caused by the grade schoolers traipsing through the building. So this year my wife rented a “chiki center,” a kind of public room for rent from the local ward office, to hold all of our organized Halloween Party in. It worked out very well. Everyone who was participating - 28 children and their parents - met in a local park and then paraded along the street to the chiki center. To get there we had to cross the street at an intersection featuring a police box (“koban”),the famous feature of Japanese police force projection into individual neighborhoods. As we walked past the lone policeman who was on duty there saw us and stepped out onto the sidewalk to give us a friendly hello.
“Is this CosPlay?” he asked.
Obviously, he had no other context in which to place the sight of people in public wearing outrageous costumes. The point is that despite Halloween affectations being a common sight in October all over the place - in department stores, convenience stores, flower shop windows, bookstores, etc. - it remains a foreign thing that Japanese do not understand. (It bothers me that many Westerners - Americans and Canadians especially, the very people who ought to understand Halloween the most - do not understand it either. Here is the lesson for North Americans: Halloween is NOT a “holiday.” It is a festival. The more I hear North Americans talk about Halloween the more it seems that people there have grown too stupid to know the difference between a holiday and a festival - or, indeed, that there even is a difference. It feels like (perhaps because so many of them are raised on the awful crap that the Disney corporation pedals as family entertainment) people’s sense of reality has come to be some kind of Alice’s Wonderland in which language and words can mean anything the users damn well want them to mean in any situation, regardless of objective conventions and long historical usage.)
Oh, well. I already look forward to next Halloween. But I said to my wife this year that because of our children’s ages we probably do not have very many of these events left. I guess children stop “doing” trick-or-treating in the junior high school/middle school years, which means that our daughter is on the threshold of stopping. Her younger brother probably has another six more years of it in him. So, families “do” Halloween for 12-to-15-years, depending on the age spread of their children. Christmas lasts a little longer. Of course, as they age couples always decorate for Christmas and celebrate the holidays. But if they have children I figure that they will stage about 20 big family Christmases. By the age of 20 the children are grown, they spend more time away from home - with school, or work, or boyfriends and girlfriends - and being adults by that time it is less intense at home for their middle aged parents.