Friday, October 30, 2020

October Post: Halloween in Japan 2020

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So like, I've been living in Japan for about 14 years now, and I've got to say, experiencing Halloween, or basically any western holiday is Japan is kinda weird.

I mean, they're western holidays; they're not supposed to be here.

And in a sense, they kinda aren't.

In my experience, it feels very few to no Japanese actually understand the holidays they celebrate; it's just an occasion to sell holiday-themed chocolates and merchandise.

So even though, yes, holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day and Halloween are observed in Japan, most of the time they're rather hollow and meaningless; just a decoration people put up and down.

To be fair, for most people in the US, it's kinda the same, but in Japan, it's even more so.

What you experience in Japan is kind of an empty shell of what the holiday is supposed to be like, with a Japanese take.

Take Halloween for example.

In America, we kinda build up to the holiday, with Halloween culminating on the 31st of October.

Pumpkins are carved, scary ghost stories are told, and, at least I feel, the meaning of what Halloween was supposed to be about is discussed.

We discuss the origins of Halloween coming from All Hallows Even, first celebrated in what is now the United Kingdom.

We talk about Samhain and the reason people dress up as skeletons, spirits and haunts.

In Japan, though, it just seems like a good occasion to sell Halloween-themed candies and snacks and engage in a huge cos-play block party.

Halloweenies gathering in the streets


In my opinion, it's kinda creepy, because there is this kind of subculture in Japan of people who like to dress up as anime characters and other such things as role-play lolitas and furry animals, and, rather than a one-time celebration to dress up as something you like, this is more like a good occasion to do out on the streets what is usually something you do at say, a maid cafe or secluded cos-play party.

That's what Halloween in Japan feels like to me; one giant cos-play party divorced of what Halloween was supposed to be.

Cultural differences, of course, necessarily command that the holiday be altered.

It's just strange in Japan for children to dress up and go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy.

Instead, what tends to happen, at least for the children, is parents at school get together and plan a controlled event where the kids dress up, get together, play games, eat snacks and receive pre-made bags of candy. The whole thing takes place in one large facility, no knocking on doors or anything.

As a father of three tots, I've actually been to events where some parents play the role of monsters children have to go to to trick-or-treat to simulate the door-to-door atmosphere one would normally encounter in the US.


A couple years back, our family dressed up as Super Mario characters.
It was at a local event just for families with children.


Halloween for the adults can get a bit out of control, with large parties happening on public streets and/or on the train, and the police having to come in and try to enforce laws.

In the past, where I live, foreigners had this kind of "tradition" to sort of, take over the local JR Loop Line to have what was known as the "Osaka Loop Halloween Party," annoying the locals.

I've seen footage of Tokyo Police having to reign in some of the participants which got a little crazy.

I haven't seen anything get too bad this year, though, perhaps due to corona virus restrictions.

This year, due to corona virus, events for children were often low-key; a limited list of participants and shorter party times just to be on the safe-side.

I can't tell you what the adults did, as I kinda just stay away from that scene; I'm a father now, and I need to be with my kids.

I noticed that this year, there were a lot of children dressed up as characters from the anime series "Kimetsu no Yaiba" (鬼滅の刃, lit. Blade of Demon's Bane, or "Demon Slayer" as it's known in the West.)

I'm not an anime geek in the slightest. OK, there are some anime I liked in the past, but I've never really followed anything. I really like Studio Ghibli, and in the past, back in like the late 90s, I liked Dragon Ball and Ranma 1/2, but that's basically it. So the only reason I know about Kimetsu is because all three of my boys watch the series on TV.

I'm not sure how any parent could let their kids watch this anime series at all.

My own children gushed on and on about Tanjiro and Nezuko and I never really bothered to check the show out.

That is until I noticed that the children at the schools where I teach couldn't stop talking about it.

So a few weeks back, I finally sit down to watch the show, and I'm horrified to see blood gushing, arms, legs, hands, feet and heads flying, horrific demons gnashing their teeth and ripping limbs off.

But I guess if my Japanese wife is OK with it, and the parents of hundreds of thousands of children are OK with watching this, then I guess it's OK?


I don't think it's OK, but whatever... I'm one of those sucker parents who don't want their kids to be the only ones not in the know of things... Oh well...

So anyway, where was I.

Oh yes, every school I went to that had Halloween dress up events for the kiddies, out on the streets, you can see kids dressed up as Tanjiro and Nezuko.

The green and black squares and pink Japanese print designs, not to mention the green bamboo muzzles, were unmistakable.


Tanjiro and Nezuko from the Demon Slayer series

Don't get me wrong, the anime is amazing, the story is heart-wrenching, the characters are all very strong, but for children this anime is not.

One of the things I like about this anime is how it attempts to preserve Japanese culture, tradition and folklore.


Nezuko's Kimono Design


Take Nezuko's kimono design, for example; people might be interested to know that actually, this pattern dates back centuries. It's known as "Asa no ha," (麻の葉, lit. hemp leaves), and it is supposed to represent hemp leaves. Hemp is associated with having a strong vitality since it grows vigorously without the need for a lot of care, so this pattern was often used on babies’ and children’s kimonos with the hope that they would grow up big and strong.

This may not sound like much, but this is a sort of gateway to Japanese traditional cloth prints, and now this design will forever be in this generation's mind. You see this design, you think "Nezuko." Genius! (I've already discussed another design called "Kikko" in a past post. And there are other designs in a different post regarding the JR Tozai Line)

In world where Japanese traditional culture is fading, I think what Japan needs are different ways to instill traditionally Japanese things in the youth, and what better way to do it than by bloody, gory manga where the hero slices demon's heads, arms and legs off!

I'm being facetious.

Obviously I think there was a better way to appeal to the Japanese youth regarding traditional Japanese culture, but I guess as they say, there's more than one way to skin a tanuki.

The anime is excellent, with a wonderful soundtrack, unforgettable characters and captivating stories.

That's all I have to say about Halloween in Japan this year.

Relevant Posts:

Kikkoman – What Does It Mean?

A Wonder of Osaka: The JR Tozai Line