Halloween in Japan

Happy Halloween weekend, everyone!

I think I mentioned when we first arrived that I was worried Halloween was maybe less of a thing in Japan this year than when we were here 5 years ago.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Halloween is everywhere.

And although LOFT still does not have a jingle (an annoying jingle, if I’m being honest) playing over and over again at an absurdly loud volume this year, Uniqlo has been playing “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas on repeat and it has wormed its way into my brain, past subway train-approaching jingles and shouts of “Irasshaimase!” in stores and all the other Tokyo sounds that lodge themselves in one’s brain, so I’ve still found myself walking around singing Halloween songs out loud to myself without even noticing, so I’m all set for holiday crazy.

In 2011, I complained that while packing for Japan, I specifically asked Don if Halloween was a holiday here, and he said no, so I did not pack my travel Halloween costume. I read an article recently that pinpoints the precise moment Halloween came to Japan: 2000, with the introduction of the Halloween parade festivities at Tokyo Disneyland. Apparently, the entire reason Halloween is a thing in Japan is thanks to Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studies Japan (in Osaka).

[Which explains why Don didn’t realize it: even though he’d been back in Japan for several-month chunks since 2000, they were never in October. And he’d last lived in Japan in 2000, so he missed the introduction of Halloween.]

This also explains in part why it is such a commercial holiday here (it’s commercial in the US, too, but in Japan, trick or treating ONLY happens in organized, registered, sponsored settings, usually with shops participating. There is no door-to-door trick-or-treating, it is mainly parades for which one registers to participate – or unofficial street parties). (This article has an interesting theory as to why trick-or-treating door to door is never going to be a thing in Japan, because it is goes against ingrained cultural values to “be a nuisance to others,” which begging for candy would be perceived as.)

Halloween was also popular at first only with gaijin (foreigners) – so much so that in 2009, Japanese people staged anti-Halloween protests in places where celebrations were huge, like Shinjuku here in Tokyo (to be fair, it sounds like we gaijin were causing all kinds of trouble). This article links to photos.

The article also explains why the Halloween colors in Japan are more often purple and green than orange and black: Japan does not have big orange pumpkins, but in the fall, green kobucha pumpkins and purple sweet potatoes are everywhere – and so Halloween is mostly associated with the delicious seasonal sweets available EVERYWHERE.

I wrote about some of the Halloween bakery goods in 2011, and of course we did indulge in Halloween melon pan this year.

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But here’s another example: HK donuts!

Every single store, train station, hotel – every commercial establishment – is decorated for Halloween. Everything has some Halloween themed product or sale or special event on offer.

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Umeda Train Station in Osaka

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Marui mall in Kichijoji

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Some other mall in Osaka-near the aquarium from the looks of it!

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The aquarium itself

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Our hotel in Kyoto had costumes on offer and a photo-taking station set up in the lobby – it took up about a quarter of their small lobby

Aardvark and I put it to good use one day when we arrived back at the hotel early.

And the costume options are fantastic!

Here are some of the quirkier Japan-themed ones (I’ll forgo sharing the, ahem, quirkier-in-general ones.)

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Buddha masks, in different colors and Buddha-styles.img_4782

Close up of the Jizo mask and one of the Buddhas. If I didn’t hate wearing a face mask, I would have had to get one of these.

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Cuttlefish and octopus-as-takoyaki (octopus balls) – both frequently sold as foods from street vendors and at festivals

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Taiyaki – a sweet-bean-paste-filled fish-shaped pancake sold everywhere, and Fujisan, the famous Mt. Fuji

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Aardvark modeled them for us.

And eventually chose one.

And the winner is…

 

Taiyaki!

In a matsuri happi coat we picked up in Osaka – Don had been searching for one with this pattern since we got to Japan.

As I said above, trick-or-treating in Japan is highly organized: you register well in advance (TIP if you are ever going to be in Tokyo over Halloween, with kids: register for Halloween events in September. Most registrations close by mid-October, and those with participant limits fill up by early October at the latest. We were so bummed we didn’t register for Kichijoji’s Halloween festivities in time, and we registered the first week in October) to participate, they are strict with where you trick or treat, what kind of bag will be used, etc. There are staff all along the route making sure you do not venture off the trail. There are route maps.

We did register in time for Shimokitazawa’s trick or treating parade, and we do love Shimokita too, so we had a fun day wandering around (well, not so much “wandering” as following a very detailed map outlining which shops offering candy WE could trick or treat at) and checking out all the fun Halloween costumes and crazy Halloween treats.

Shimokita’s is so big, there are multiple, criss-crossing trick-or-treat routes, and you are assigned to a route based on the color bag you receive (Aards’ bag was green, so we had to find the green start station, receive the green map, and trick or treat only at the green-designated places. So, even though we passed several red and blue stations along the way, they were “off limits” to us.)

It was chaos, but as Don pointed out, it was highly organized chaos. And of course, everyone politely followed the rules, so it actually worked out really well.

At the photo booth stop

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This was just a mural-painted parking lot we ducked into for a treat-break.

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There was a Shinto shrine handing out candy on our route! I was thrilled.img_6529

This one seems to have a Tengu shrine – which they decorated for Halloween.

There were some interesting treats: a bag of satsuma oranges from a grocery store (yay! We go through bags of those in a day), stationery supplies, a toy from a local toy store, etc. But obviously, candy and junk food were dominant.

Here are some of the quirky Japanese treats: the long tube treats are cheese-puff like sticks, but flavored with fish and shrimp. (Look at the middle photo close up of the shrimp! Is it holding mayonnaise?) And the fruit-leather looking package – which we received at the Starbucks stop! – is actually dried eel. While waiting in line for a stamp at the next station, the little girl in front of us eagerly ripped into it, but down, and immediately made a disgusted face and tried to spit it out.

img_6544The route also included a “stamp rally” – stamp rallies are huge in Japan. At certain stops along the way, you could get a stamp on your route map. The lines were always long for these stations, but we waited, along with everyone else.

At the end, when you reached the “goal” on your map, you were let into a special lot, where they verified you had all your stamps, and then you were assigned to a station to get your big Halloween treat-prize.

We were excited to receive a huge bag of popcorn. We had actually all been wanting popcorn, which we haven’t had since arriving in Japan, just yesterday.

And then Don noticed it’s not popcorn at all! It’s puffy chips (maybe like Veggie-chips?) but made of shrimp.

So much for that!

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Happy Halloween!

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