Japanese have very little consecutive holiday time in which to take extended holidays or vacations. There are many national public holidays in the Japanese calendar, but the majority of these are single day events. New Year’s (one week), Golden Week (three days), and O-bon (one week in August), are the longest consecutive holidays. This helps explain why when Japanese travel they all travel at the same time, and always in a rush. They do not enjoy five weeks of paid summer holidays like what you find in Europe. The effect is that holiday time in Japan is more like work. There is nothing relaxing, leisurely or pleasant about it, which fits Asian notions that labor is the purpose of life, rather than the opposite view that prevails in Western cultures.
The summer time O-bon holiday is interesting. It is a time when people return to their hometowns and tend to their family grave sites - washing the headstones, lighting incense sticks, reciting prayers or Buddhist sutras. O-bon is a festival of the dead, comparable to but in fact nothing like Halloween in the West.
Japanese really have no need of sinister, terrorizing ghosts, goblins, ghouls and monsters in their mythology so long as they have Cosplay geeks.
In Japan, O-bon is a happy time when one’s ancestors’ ghosts return. It is a time to visit with the beloved departed and a time for the departed to visit with and see their descendents. By comparison, Halloween in the West is a sinister event, awash with evil imagery. In the Western perspective, ghosts abroad in the world of the living bear sinister connotations, indicating that there is something wrong: the souls of the dead have failed to pass over to the next life, or the ‘other side.’ But lacking a tradition of a “next life,”ghostly presences in Japanare more familiar and familial. Lacking the dichotomy of Good and Evil in their theology, there is little that is sinister about ghosts here. That does not mean that ghosts are not scary in Japan. Indeed, there is a fantastic tradition here of scary ghoulishness. But I think the root of the fear is not demonic like it is in the West. Yes, there are demons in Japanese tradition. But, again, they do not compare to the Satanism is Western theology.
Halloween is not a typical or traditional Japanese event, but like in many countries in the world the days the power of American popular culture has placed it, or transplanted it into the calendar here. But that does not mean that Japanese observe and celebrate Halloween in the same manner as North Americans do. Halloween here is coming to be observed as a grand kind of “Cosplay” festival fitting adults more than children’s festival. “Cosplay,” or Costume Play, describes people - mostly young people - who like to dress up on weekends in some kind of fantasy costume. Tokyo is well known for young girls dressed in gothic Nazi garb, or pink baby doll clothes, or French maid costumes. Most famous of all, I guess, are the animation geeks, or “otaku” who walk around dressed as their favorite cartoon characters. They attend conventions and costume competitions open to international competitors where you get to see all the goofy foreign fans of Japanese mangacomic books come dressed as Cutie Honey, or the Masked Ranger, etc. You see them walking on the streets looking like what a North American would immediately label freakishness, and yet not even turning heads here. It’s interesting.
Japanese really have no need of sinister, terrorizing ghosts, goblins, ghouls and monsters in their mythology so long as they have Cosplay geeks. Remember, real life is stranger, and therefore more entertaining than fiction. For the even-minded soul Reality by itself is exciting enough without escapist fantasy.