Tokyo Halloween 2015
Maybe because Halloween fell on a Saturday this year I got to see a level of Halloween celebration in Tokyo that I’ve never seen before. When I came here there was nothing, nothing at all. I had to make my own Halloween decorations using materials from an art supply store, and search out a proper Halloween-size pumpkin that cost a couple hundred dollars. And I had to make due with sweets that were not proper Halloween sweets. All that’s changed now. It’s changed with the Americanization of culture, with the Internet, Amazon and online shopping and the spread of businesses like Costco and Walmart. Japanese businesses are jumping on the Halloween commercial bandwagon big time, especially the shops on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, which is ground zero for Japanese teens and pop culture. Japanese don’t know what it’s all about, but neither do most Americans and Canadians. It’s useless to try to educate Japanese about things like Druid New Year, Celtic Harvest, festival of the dead, Gaelic Samhain, All Hallows’ Eve, All Souls Day, etc. For Japanese it’s just Cosplay - dressing up in costumes just for fun - something they already excel at. Cosplay is a weekend hobby for those who do it, and Halloween is on a weekend this year, so ... . Japanese already have their own festival of the dead, called Obon in August, making Halloween redundant as well as foreign.
I can find pumpkins now, much cheaper than twenty years ago, but I still have to look for them in flower stores, not supermarkets. The idea of carving a pumpkin to make a Jack-o-lantern isn’t penetrating. What Japanese do - those who do anything - is stick black decals on the skin of the gourd to make the face. They don’t carve it and insert a candle. Fire, or “kaji” is one of the traditional disasters of Japan, so candles are considered dangerous. If you are a Christian married to a Japanese, forget about Advent candles. If you are Jewish married to a Japanese, forget about Chanukah candles. Candles are dangerous, even if they are burning deep inside a pumpkin. A Jack-o-lantern is called a “kabocha obake,” or “ghost pumpkin.” It’s a revelation when I tell people that the Jack-o-lantern is meant to protect your home by scaring away spirits and ghosts, not to frighten children.
No one does Trick or Treating except Americans on their military bases, or small groups of people in controlled surroundings. Japanese homeowners are starting to display Halloween decorations, though. I saw some in the suburban city of Machida one day as I was passing through on the Odakyu Line commuter train. I’m sure that neighbourhood Trick or Treating will evolve sooner rather than later. On Saturday 31st I saw people here and there on the streets and on the subway dressed in Halloween costumes. That is also something I’ve never seen before. Were they going to/coming from a Halloween party, or just parading in their Cosplay fashion? I don’t know. The people I saw were all Japanese, not foreigners, and there was no question about their clothes. They were Halloweening. I went to the local subway station on my way to do a brief part-time job and I had to pass a group of adult Japanese Draculas to get into the station. Weird. It wasn’t even evening or night time yet but late morning.
I remember all the work and effort I spent trying to make Halloween fun with my children in the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s not that I was swimming against the tide, just that I was swimming alone in a sea of indifference. But not anymore. I feel betrayed by hypocrisy. I and other foreigners tried so hard to introduce it and then Japanese went ahead and brought it themselves.
I wonder, though, if I am betrayed by hypocrisy or betrayed by a particular aggressive commercialism which could be argued is the prime religion of our postmodern world - the theologians being the economists, the priests being the advertisers and the temples being all the shiny malls. We are all part of the commercial world since we humans are a trading species needing to eat and clothe ourselves but that is a far stretch from the world that generates wealth by making us feel bad through advertising until we buy that drink or drive that car which will bring fulfillment and joy.
Next, we’ve got to get department store Santa Clauses, something I’ve been on about for years.
October 2015 Halloween Timeline
1. Japan Times, Monday, October 26, 2015 reporting on the Kawasaki City Halloween parade on Sunday 25th. Costume parades like this are common in Tokyo, too, especially in Shibuya, and on Omotesando, near the Meiji Shrine. When they first began they were children’s events. Not anymore.
2. Japan Times, Tuesday, November 3, 2015, reporting on the festivities at Shibuya Crossing, the famous “scramble crossing” that all the tourists want to take pictures of.
3. Japan Times, Monday, November 2, 2015, reporting efforts to clean up the party on Saturday-Sunday. Shibuya Ward made a public awareness campaign out of Halloween party clean up by distributing garbage bags free of charge to people. The ward government also provided tents for partyers to change clothes in lieu of using the toilets of area stores like they’ve done in recent years. Here is a photo of actress-singer Kyari Pamyu Pamyu advertising free garbage bags with a tidy-up-and-keep-Tokyo-clean message.