Happy Halloween! This weekend both America and Japan are in full Halloween mode, so it’s the perfect time to write about the differences between the Halloween celebrations in both countries.
In the US, Halloween has a long history that was created by a blend of European traditions, that I won’t go into detail with here. These traditions eventually accumulated into a celebration marked by handing out candy to small children who dress up like the most popular pop culture characters of the year. For young adults, that tradition involves parties and any costume that starts with “Sexy” (Cat, Policewoman, or Chinese Takeout for example).
In Japan, the holiday is a little newer. It’s also not focused on children, but mostly young adults and quite a few foreigners. There is no trick-or-treating, and most of Halloween happens in large public gatherings. In recent years several problems due to the large amount of people in small public areas has caused a few problems, so Japanese officials are stepping things up to make things better for those who celebrate Halloween, and those who don’t.
Shibuya 渋谷, in Tokyo, is a huge center for fashion and pop culture in Japan, which sometimes involves a lot of intricate costumes and make-up, so naturally Shibuya is the center for young people who are cosplaying (costume play or cosplay means dressing up in character). Thus, in recent years, people have gathered in Shibuya for Shibuya Fes on Halloween night to cosplay, meet friends, and meet other people celebrating Halloween.
Many other places in Tokyo, including Tokyo Disney, have started their own Halloween parades and parties. Not to leave out the Kansai area, Dotonbori 道頓堀 in Osaka has another huge Halloween night gathering.
Deciding what costume to wear is one of the best parts of Halloween, for both kids and adults, in both the US and Japan. In the US, kids get to wear their costumes to school and have a party in class. My husband never had this experience in Japan. October 31st was just a regular day at school. In recent years, Japanese school children wear costumes to school and have Halloween parties like we do in the US. They also get to experience trick-or-treating, going to other classrooms to get candy, as the American traditions have become more well-known in Japan.
In a place like Japan, where cosplay is huge no matter what time of the year, it’s no wonder that Japanese young adults have started to adopt their own Halloween traditions. Like in the US, they usually cosplay the most popular characters of the year, and a zombie anything is always a great option. Theme costumes are popular, and groups of friends dress up in the same theme – like superheroes or Pokemon. Sexy costumes for girls are just as popular as in America, and some of the cosplayers go all out in really intricate costumes.
Something that I’ve noticed in Japan (that is not very common in the US) is that groups of friends often dress up as the exact same thing. It’s not uncommon to see groups of zombie nurses, sexy Pikachus, or any set of 5-10 people who are all wearing the exact same costume. My Japanese friends in the US also do this kind of group costume, although when I joined them in group cosplay I thought it was strange because I’m used to choosing my costume on my own in America. Group cosplay is a lot of fun!
Learning How to Halloween
Halloween in Japan is a night of revelry and partying, just like in the US, but when it’s concentrated into a few small metro areas that means a lot of people and trash. The problems that arise include trying to keep the huge amounts of people safe, and the huge amounts of trash that they produce. Since Halloween is a new festival in Japan, the first few years were pretty crazy because both the cosplayers and the police were trying to figure things out. Now that it’s been happening for the past few years, things are getting a little easier.
If you’ve seen the Shibuya scramble, you know how many people can cross the road at once. But when the number of people increases during Halloween, it’s harder for people and cars to coexist safely. The police have stepped up their Halloween weekend presence and they conduct the traffic over loudspeakers, and to further ensure the safety of the crowd they shut down two city streets during the Halloween celebrations. Not everyone in these areas is a Halloween fan, so the police are trying to keep order so that local businesses, employees, and residents won’t get overwhelmed by the party-goers. The Halloween cosplayers are also paying more attention to the fact that not everyone is partying, and people who don’t want to join in avoid Shibuya if they can avoid it, so it seems like crowd problems might get a little better.
Japan doesn’t have public trash cans, unless you count the trash cans outside of convenience stores (but technically those are for convenience store trash…), so the huge crowds that bring lots of trash with them leave a lot of that trash behind. It’s caused major complaints in the past years, so this year the police will also be involved in picking up trash in festive jack-o-lantern trash bags. And now that everyone knows that it’s a big problem, many cosplayers are pitching in to collect trash in those bags during the festival.
What kind of Halloween celebrations does your city have? What is your costume this year?