When I first got here to Japan in 2001, Halloween was not a factor. At all. Well, it was in case you have been a foreigner, however Japanese individuals simply didn’t actually get it.
Now they do and are placing their very own spin on it, particularly pre-covid. So how did this occur?
The two issues which have actually made Halloween in Japan are Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan. Tokyo Disneyland held its first Halloween occasion in 2000, and every year it’s gotten larger and larger. Ditto for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, which adopted with its personal celebrations.
Both Tokyo Disneyland and USJ offered a straightforward approach for Japanese individuals to get pleasure from Halloween and laid the groundwork for Halloween to increase to different companies hoping to money in.
Prior to this, Halloween in Japan used to solely imply foreigners sporting humorous customs in bars and consuming on public transportation. The notorious “Halloween trains” in each Tokyo and Osaka have been infamous, with foreigners in costumes taking on trains and turning them into wild events, disrupting individuals’s commutes.
These Halloween trains prompted such an outrage on-line in Japan that in 2009 protesters appeared at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo carrying indicators that learn, “Stupid Gaijin, get out of Japan!” and “We Japanese don’t want Halloween!” Obviously, individuals have been upset with how these Halloween trains have been disrupting commutes in disrespectful methods, however pictures like this and Japan Probe’s protection at the moment stay curious time capsules when how Japanese individuals in costume now rejoice the Halloween in Tokyo by flooding into streets, turning both space into road events like this:
Even earlier than Halloween caught on, it appeared like it will be a logical match for Japan, being the nation that gave the world cosplay. There isn’t widespread trick-or-treating (and the place there may be, it may be extremely organized), however increasingly children are going to Halloween events and dressing up.
Then there’s an growing quantity of merchandise, which ranges from small pumpkins (normal-sized ones are extremely costly), desserts, cookies, ice cream, and extra. You now see Halloween decorations in shops and even on some TV reveals and every year, it’s increasingly standard. If you’ve lived in Japan for the previous decade plus, you’ve seen the delivery of a new vacation proper earlier than your very eyes.
But it’s not so simple as Japan importing an American vacation or simply enjoying dress-up. Take the colours related to Halloween. In America, the prevailing Halloween colours are orange and black, however inexperienced and purple additionally put in appearances. The similar is true for Japan, however purple has a barely completely different nuance.
The purple in Japanese Halloween does discuss with witches or spells, but it surely additionally refers to candy potatoes, that are fall and winter meals in Japan and which might have purple skins. There are additionally purple yams, that are, nicely, purple inside and outside.
The connection will not be misplaced on the Japanese, and also you may see Halloween desserts made with candy potatoes and even Halloween-themed candy potato meals merchandise.
Japanese pumpkins are additionally a fall meals, however they’re inexperienced on the skin, so imported orange pumpkins will not be a image of the autumn harvest, however of Halloween, full cease. So, though Halloween remains to be pretty new to Japan, the nation is already doing its personal tackle Halloween, altering it to swimsuit its personal tradition. There are, nonetheless, essential intrinsic variations between Halloween in Japan and Halloween in America. Japan-based recreation localizer and author Matt Alt, co-author of Yurei Attack!, calls Halloween a “child’s model” of the Japan’s conventional spooky season, which is in August. (Full disclosure: Tuttle, which publishes my books, additionally publishes Alt’s.)
That month, there are the Obon holidays, when the spirits of the lifeless go to family shrines and when households clear the graves of the deceased. (However, lately, some individuals go on trip or simply chill out at dwelling for a “death-free” Obon.) Still, the concept of demise is tangible as individuals go to their household graves. Spending time in cemeteries means the spooky notion stays, with individuals telling scary tales on TV. During the recent, sticky month, individuals historically inform scary tales to ship chills down their spines. Yurei, or vengeance spirits, usually seem in these tales.
“I can nearly assure you that you’ll by no means hear the phrase ‘yurei’ with Halloween in Japan,” Alt tells Kotaku. “You’ll hear ‘ghost’ or ‘obake’, the Japanese phrase for ghosts as a result of these are comparatively cute. Yurei are fucking terrifying. You can quote me on that—fucking terrifying.”
Yurei Attack!’s co-author Hiroko Yoda says that the lesson behind yurei is that in case you mistreat somebody, they are going to come again to hang-out you. “It’s a karmic factor,” she says. Yurei, nonetheless, are indiscriminate. Alt calls yurei “non secular landmines” which can be relentless and decided to kill just about whoever is in their approach, and it doesn’t matter if you’re utterly harmless or not.
The West has a extensive number of ghosts—from terrifying, vengeful ghosts to, nicely, pleasant, cute ghosts. Yurei will not be cute. They will not be pleasant. Because of that, Alt factors out, you just about by no means see “Yurei” marketed on toys. Instead, toy firms use “obake” (ghost), which appears softer.
What’s extra, Obon isn’t marketable in the identical approach Halloween is and doesn’t precisely encourage a slew of merchandise.
In the West, Halloween is intently linked to demise, with its roots in festivals of the lifeless in addition to All Saints’ Day. But in Japan, it isn’t seen that approach; it’s a vacation imported from America. It doesn’t have the shut connection to demise like Obon, thus making it considerably summary in Japan. That doesn’t imply it can’t be scary in Japan—there may be an uptick in the variety of haunted homes throughout the fall, and lots of of them are terrifying. Though, just like the Resident Evil attraction that’s been at Universal Studios Japan, they’re not centered round yurei however zombies. There’s nonetheless a clear distinction.
While the Disney model of Halloween is cute, zombies add the scares for Halloween in Japan, so it’s not unusual to see teams of younger ladies dressed up in nurse or maid outfits which can be “zombied” with the addition of blood or a troupe of younger dudes all dressed as Power Rangers. As every new era of Japanese grows up with Halloween, it is going to proceed to evolve and swimsuit native sensibilities, and it would blur strains between conventional Japanese horror and the newer Halloween conventional.
“Everyone loves haunted homes as a result of they’re enjoyable,” says Alt. “Everyone loves sweet and dressing up. Halloween turns into an excuse in Japan to benefit from the spooky season once more.” In Japan, Halloween remains to be a stopgap of kinds, permitting Japanese individuals the chance to get pleasure from one other spooky season, that’s barely extra carefree and enjoyable, as an alternative of tangible demise and terrifying yurei.
Even now, little by little, there seems to be a conflation between conventional Japanese scary creatures and Halloween. No doubt, with the passage of time, this may more than likely speed up and perhaps even converge. More and extra, it’s beginning to really feel like that would occur. Talk about scary.