As a kid, I loved Halloween. My brother and I would go all out decorating the house with tombstones, cobwebs, and corpses made out of old clothes stuffed with newspapers. Plus, how can you not like a holiday that gives you not only free candy, but an excuse to stay up past your bedtime eating it too?
So I’ve been happy to see how whole-heartedly Japan has been embracing Halloween, which each year seems to get bigger and bigger here. Some neighborhood shopping arcades have started inviting trick-or-treaters and passing out candy, and there are now multiple costume parades in the Tokyo area. As a matter of fact, Japan is so psyched for Halloween this year that stores started selling decorations in August.
About a week ago I was up to my usual jet-setting expat escapades (shopping at 100-yen store chain Daiso). But while I was living the high life by picking up a pack of sandwich bags, I noticed this display at the front of the store.
Even though it was still August and I was sweating from the summer heat, Daiso is planning two months ahead with a wide variety of Halloween decorations, party supplies, and costume accessories.
Considering that many communities and theme parks in Japan now have some sort of Halloween festivities, this two-month head start on getting ready for Halloween is now no shorter than the period spent gearing up for Christmas. But then again, maybe my local Daiso just happens to be run by a manager who really likes Halloween, right? So to see if this was an isolated incident, I walked the couple of blocks to my neighborhood’s other 100-yen shop, which is part of the Silk chain where I found an entirely different, but no less extensive, lineup of jack o’-lanterns, witches hats, and “devil katyushas.”
And just to make sure this wasn’t a purely localized phenomena of Halloween fever overtaking my little corner of Yokohama, I decided to check on a Daiso branch in Kawasaki, and sure enough, number of its shelves were filled with all manner of festive orange, black, and purple (Japan’s honorary third Halloween color) items.
This being Japan, there’s a bit of a localized twist to a lot of the wares. For example, trick-or-treating still hasn’t become mainstream enough that you’ll need a pillowcase to carry your haul, and even the plastic jack-o’-lanterns and goodie bags are more modestly sized than their American counterparts.
There are also a couple of uniquely Japanese items. For example, full-sized orange pumpkins are kind of hard to come by in Japan, but 100-yen shops have a handy substitute in the form of these paper lanterns with jack-o’-lantern faces.
Daiso’s halos and angel wings were kind of a surprise, but I guess they do make for a nice thematic balance with the “devil katyushas.”
It’s not like this is simply a matter of Japan having decided that summer is already completely over and done with, either. Next to the Halloween decorations Daiso had an array of paper fans, and Silk had positioned its merchandise right next to the food and plastic cages for beetles, which Japanese kids usually hunt and collect during the summer months.
But why is Halloween’s popularity skyrocketing in Japan? Odds are it’s due to a variety of factors. After cherry blossom season in the spring and summer festivals, there aren’t a lot of fun events in the fall, so Halloween is a good excuse for a little high-energy leisure. There’s also the fact that Halloween combines dressing up in costume (i.e. cosplay) and eating sweets, two things Japan is crazy about. And last but not least, unlike Christmas, which in Japan is mainly a holiday for serious couples (or at least sophisticated social gatherings), Halloween is more about simply having a good time while acting a little silly.
Add in the fact that you can now decorate your home and deck yourself out for just a couple hundred yen, and it’s not hard to see why so many people can’t wait for Halloween, and aren’t waiting for summer to end before they start getting ready for it.
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