I bought a Halloween pumpkin today. This is the one I bought. Medium size. About 2,500 yen, or $25. I found it in a flower shop near Ogikubo Station in Suginami Ward. I've been buying Halloween pumpkins for years. Not the first year I was in Japan, but ever since I had children at least. It's fun for them and me. But this year I worried that I would fail to find a pumpkin. I had been looking - flower shops are the usual laces - without success for several days. But the shop in Ogikubo was my last attempt. I knew there was a shop near the station there, and I had to go there any way, so I decided to try. Plus I remember seeing a large pumpkin there on a previous walk through the area. But I’ve learned that just because a shop has a large pumpkin does not mean that I will be able to buy it. Some flower shops have them only as window decorations, not as merchandise for sale.
In past years it had been becoming easier to find a proper American carving pumpkin, so I was surprised by the trouble I had this year. Originally the problem was that "kabocha," which is translated as "pumpkin" actually means "gourd." So most of what are sold under the name "kabocha" are in fact tiny orange or green gourds inappropriate for Jack-o-Lantern carving. Good for eating, though. When I did manage to find a proper pumpkin it was very expensive, like over $100, or 10,000 yen. The prices have come down considerably but are still much more expensive than comparable sizes in North America.
Part of my motivation to make one last effort today to find a pumpkin is that I knew I had an English class with a 3-year old girl in the evening and I thought it would be a wonderful experience for her to help clean a pumpkin. (I did most of the carving at home before going to the school. All the girl had to do was dig her hand in the goo and pull out the seeds.) I was right, too. The girl, and her mother, loved it. Many pictures were taken. She was fascinated by peering inside through the top at the burning candle and the warm glow. She was very smiley. She took home a paper cup full of pumpkin seeds. I urged her mother to wash them then wrap them in wet tissue for several days, check them every day, and watch them germinate and sprout roots. I later learned that her mother baked most of the seeds and they ate them with salt and kept only a few to germinate.
Halloween is really catching on here. When I arrived in 1989 there was nothing. Now department stores, dollar stores, school windows, variety store, and advertising goods are all prepped for Halloween. I even saw a recent television newscast with Halloween pumpkin motifs decorating the stage behind the announcers. There are children's costume parades on public streets. Not just foreigners, but Japanese and their young children, too. There is no widespread Trick-or-Treating, but there is certainly localized Trick-or-Treating. On the American military bases, of course, but also in Japanese neighborhoods here and there. My wife and I used to organize a neighborhood Trick-or-Treating party in our neighborhood for our children's friends for many years. We gave it up after our youngest finished elementary school.
But Halloween here will never rise to the level of what it is in North America. As I have written before, in Japan Halloween is contextualized as a kind of cosplay. There is no Christian All Saints / All Souls tradition to accompany it. No Celtic tradition. No slow evolution of customs and beliefs over time. Instead, like it does with so much else, Japan has just imported a version of the modern festival wholesale.
Jack-o-Lantern images are everywhere, but no actual Jack-o-Lanterns. This is why I was so surprised to find such trouble this year finding a proper pumpkin. Japanese know the single most famous Halloween decoration, but for them it is just a poster. They are mostly unacquainted with genuine Jack-o-Lanterns carved from large orange carving pumpkins.
Today I left my fresh Jack-o-Lantern at the English school to display during the week. I will be back there two more evenings this week, so I will have more than one opportunity to fetch it home. I would like to bring it home to burn on my balcony on Halloween Night.