How the Japanese Celebrate Halloween
With Halloween fast approaching, where better to look for celebration inspiration than Japan? After all, the Japanese love their festivals (celebrating approximately a whopping 200,000 a year!) and are masters of everything colourful, quirky and creative; it’s one of the reasons we’re obsessed with all things Japan, after all!
From the surprising origins and misconceptions of Halloween in Japan, to the very best Japanese Halloween candy and costumes in existence, keep reading for a full insight into how the Japanese celebrate Halloween.
Halloween In Japan; American Origins & Japanese Differences
Surprisingly for the country that trademarked cosplay, Halloween arrived late to Japan, and only gained true awareness and popularity when introduced to the mainstream Japanese public by Disneyland. Halloween therefore first officially arrived in Japan in the year 2000, when Tokyo Disneyland held their first Halloween event.
Ever since, there has been a substantial growth in Halloween’s popularity amongst the Japanese public, and this has veritably exploded in the past 10 years, with the festival now increasingly commonplace. However, not all facets of Halloween have reached, or gained prominence, in Japan. Unsurprisingly, for a country with such high regard for the respect of others, trick or treating remains non-existent, as the practice conflicts with the prominence Japan places on not being a pain to others.
Furthermore, despite Disneyland Tokyo’s spooky events and décor, Halloween events and attractions on the whole are still much less prolific in Japan than in western countries. Notable hesitation exists surrounding the festival itself, especially with the older Japanese generation, and Halloween therefore hasn’t been accepted completely in Japanese society just yet, evidencing just how novel the festival truly is.
So, How Do The Japanese Celebrate Halloween?
Without such classic Halloween staples as trick or treating or haunted houses, you may be left thinking; how exactly did Halloween take off in Japan, and how do the Japanese celebrate the festival? The answer is simple; cosplay!
Cosplay, or Kosupure, is absolutely huge in Japan, a staple of their popular culture, and especially prolific amongst the younger Japanese generation. Whilst the practice originated in America, moving over to Japan in the 1980’s, the term was first coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi, a prominent Japanese film director and producer. Cosplay proceeded to blow up in Japan in the 1990’s, becoming more commonly and skilfully practiced in Japan than any other country. It’s therefore no surprise that Halloween is predominantly celebrated in Japan via cosplay, with the western festival giving Japanese youth another excuse to break out their cosplay skills!
Today, many Japanese schools and businesses allow staff and students to dress up on the day of Halloween, whilst popular Halloween street parties focus heavily on the displaying of costumes (as seen in Harajuku, Roppongi and Shibuya).
Due to this focus on cosplay, Halloween in Japan therefore differs greatly to western countries in that, whilst children do partake in the festivities, the holiday itself is substantially more aimed at adults than children; a juxtaposition to the likes of the States and the UK.
The ‘Japanese Halloween Festival’; Obon
Not to be confused with Halloween, the ancient Buddhist festival of Obon is a 3 day event honouring late ancestors, which reunites families with their ancestral spirits through visitations to household altars.
Whilst Obon celebrates and remembers the departed, with similarities to other cultural festivals honouring the deceased, such as the Mexican Day of the Dead, it is an entirely different festival to Halloween, with none of the same practices or connotations. The festival also takes place in July and August (region depending), rather than October. However, due to its’ similar Halloween-like themes, the religious festival of Obon is often, and wrongly, thought of as a ‘Japanese Halloween Festival’ of sorts.
Obon predominantly involves hanging lanterns in front of homes to guide ancestral spirits, as well as making offerings, to free spirits of their agony and anguish. It is also a time for relatives to return to their ancestral homes, and visit and clean ancestral graves. Obon is therefore much less light-hearted than Halloween, with a clear focus on pain and suffering (quite literally; ‘Obon’ means ‘to hang upside down’).
How To Celebrate Halloween, Japanese Style
In spite of Halloween still being a growing phenomenon in Japan, the costume inspiration the country is providing has proven plentiful (and we mean plentiful). Indeed, perusing just a couple of Japanese cosplay boards on Pinterest offers enough Halloween costume ideas to last a lifetime!
Likewise, due to their year-round love of sugary confections, and despite the lack of trick or treating taking place, Halloween candy has massively taken off in Japan, with a plethora of Japanese Halloween candy and desserts readily available across the country within the spooky season. Japan now serves up some of the most exciting and unusual Halloween candy ideas, with many confectioners, such as Pocky, beginning to regularly release their own Halloween themed treats.
In terms of Japanese Halloween décor, you simply can’t go wrong with using origami paper to create a whole range of origami Halloween decorations. From ghosts and ghouls to paper pumpkins, all can be beautifully crafted with origami, creating Halloween décor that’s both unique and tasteful. See our blog to discover more about Japanese origami!
Despite being a fairly recent addition to their society, the Japanese have, on the whole, enthusiastically embraced the spooky season in all its glory, amalgamating it beautifully into their pre-existing cosplay culture, and making Halloween in Japan a unique and thoroughly Japanese experience. Their inimitable and endearing take on different holidays is just one more reason why we love Japan; now you’ve discovered how the Japanese celebrate Halloween, why not explore their Christmas and New Year’s festivities too? From all of us at The Japanese Shop, have a very happy Halloween!