Halloween is a historically Celtic holiday that was recently imported to Japan just over 20 years ago.
It started in 1997 with a “Disney Happy Halloween” event in Tokyo Disneyland, and was soon followed with similar events at Universal Studios Japan (Hollywood Halloween) located in Osaka and Sanrio Puroland, in west Tokyo.
Over the years, the holiday grew throughout the country, especially in large cities like Tokyo and Osaka. With that, the business of halloween grew. Pumpkin themed everything, candies, and plushies made their way into stores and the already existing community of cosplayers and otaku quickly used this as an opportunity to once again put their talents to use. Young adults in Tokyo rushed the streets in Shibuya, turning it into a giant street packed with costumes, socializing, and lots of drinking.
Halloween has become so successful that it has been drawing crowds of over 70,000 people into the streets, causing hooliganism with a truck being overturned last year. As a result, public drinking is banned in the next Halloween season. In Kyoto, there is the annual Hyakki Yagyo, or "Night Parade of 100 Demons" that takes place on the 3rd Saturday in October. The street in which the parade is celebrated on, Ichijo Yokai Street, is believed to be the boundary line between the human and the spirit world. Although it is not an official Halloween event, it coincidentally falls around the same time of the year.
If you want to experience a spooky season in Japan, you will want to visit in August, when the country observes obon, a time when the spirits of the deceased come home to earth and visit the living. Rather than ghosts (obake) that take a friendly approach in the Western world, there is an entire world of spirits that exist in Japan.
The one that we are most familiar with are yuurei, manifestations of vengeful souls who are tied to their negative emotions. They exist between the supernatural and physical world and are characterized with white clothing and black hair draping over their face a la The Ring.
When I was younger (pre 1997) and visiting my cousins on my father’s side of the family living in Kyoto, I specifically remember going to the theaters and watching the film Gakkou No Kaidan (School Ghost Stories) and taking a light rail up the mountain to a Japanese style haunted house known as obake yashiki (haunted house) that was located at a small park, jungle gym and all. You can bet that I am never going to revisit the movie after that experience.Although Halloween is a rather new holiday in Japan, the country and its people have adopted elements of it and are making it into something of its own, similar to almost anything Japan adopts. (e.g. the automobile, spaghetti, etc.) In the meantime, I'm going to have fun getting inspiration from these mundane costumes in Japan.
Okaeri 2023: A Beautiful and Transformative Conference
I was honored to be part of such a large gathering of queer and trans Nikkei. My feelings of shame were replaced with pride, as I heard Japanese Americans of different sexualities, genders, and generations share their stories.Read More >>