Oct 30, 2017
Bringing Halloween to Your Quiet Japanese Neighborhood
During my childhood, I split time between the United States and Japan, and the starkest differences between the two countries from my childhood perspective were evident during holidays. Christmas in the States meant all the stores being shut, turkey dinner with the family, and gift exchanges. Christmas in Japan meant another normal day in the city, but KFC for dinner on Christmas Eve. No gifts per se, but when New Year's rolled around we could expect otoshidama, or little envelopes filled with money. There's Thanksgiving in the U.S., Tsukimi in Japan. Fourth of July in one place, and O-bon in the other. Like I said before: stark differences.
So what about the holiday that's just around the corner: Halloween?
It's hard to believe now since Halloween goods can be found everywhere throughout Japan these days, but when I was a kid, finding people who celebrated Halloween was somewhat of a rarity. You sure as heck were not gonna find any places to do trick-or-treating. I guess maybe that's one reason why Halloween kind of lost its luster for me as a child. But I do realize the Halloween happens to be some people's favorite holiday of the year (especially children), and for a kid to miss out on his or her favorite holiday can sour life abroad pretty quickly.
So what are folks meant to do if they come to Japan with children looking forward to Halloween?
Fear not, because over the past 20 years or so Halloween fever has started to catch on. All you have to do is Google Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's "Crazy Party Night" to witness Japanese pop-culture's collision with Halloween. For the most part, the Japanese are getting more into Halloween (especially the younger generations), but certain traditions haven't really caught up yet. The common Halloween events cater to adults, who in Tokyo can head downtown and hang out in Roppongi, Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Harajuku with all of the other cos-players. For the 16 and under crowd, other options must be explored.
The first thing you can do for yourself if you are a fan of Halloween is to share the Halloween culture with your neighborhood. Don't avoid decorating with jack-o'-lanterns or cobwebs or witches hats just because nobody else in the neighborhood does--heck, traditions have to start somewhere. Who knows, maybe all that folks needed in the neighborhood was a little spark to light the kindling. Maybe your decorations could serve as inspiration for others.
Second, check out local cultural exchange groups. There are plenty of other folks who already get together to share traditions and language, so it's pretty likely that they may engage in a Halloween party. Sure, they may not know certain Halloween party traditions that are prevalent back in the states like bobbing for apples or costume competitions, but that's where you come in. Groups like that are always looking for volunteers and folks who can bring their own cultural elements to the group. Of course, tact is always welcome in those situations if somebody's idea of a Halloween party is making a Halloween tree -- but hey, you can make some new traditions of your own (besides, a Halloween tree lets you double up on that Christmas tree that's gonna be coming out in a few months anyway!)
Finally, throw your own Halloween party. You may have the space in your house to do so, giving you a lot more flexibility in making a haunted house or putting a lot of different games up, but there are also plenty of places where you can meet and set something up that's more on-the-fly. The point here is you should feel welcome to invite folks and share your culture and traditions with them. I promise that you will have a lot more takers then you may expect.
Just a few recommendations for you though:
One, offer clear instructions so that nobody feels left out. For example, be sure to say if it's a costume party or not. It may seem obvious to you that you should wear a costume to a Halloween party but it may not be so obvious to someone who has never been to a Halloween party before.
Two, try to schedule it on a Sunday. Even if Halloween falls during the week or a Saturday keep in mind that a lot of folks have many other obligations. Even if you can't have it on All Hallows Eve, the point is to pick a day were the most people can enjoy it.
Third, go easy on the scares. Japan doesn't really have scary Halloween traditions--they'd really only expect to get scared when going to a Haunted House at an amusement park. Scary decorations are fine, but maybe lay off things like hiding behind a table to scare kids reaching out for candy. Again, your goal is to ease people into the traditions that are so commonplace and fun for you.
So there you have it: some ways to bring Halloween traditions from home to life here in Japan. It may not have been something that was easy to do 20 years ago when I was a kid, but I promise that you'll have a lot more success now if you just give it a shot.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).