Since when was Halloween so popular in Japan?

Since when was Halloween so popular in Japan?

TOKYO —

Just like in many Western countries right now, in Japan ’tis the season to be spooky. Halls in Tokyo are decked with orange; cute pumpkins, witches and ghosts wink from shop windows; and you might even find a special seasonal pastry in your local bakery or supermarket.

Now firmly established in the annual Japanese calendar, not so long ago hardly anyone even knew that such a thing as Halloween existed. How could this day, which has become more like a month-long festival in Japan, go from zero to hero so quickly? What brought this on, and why is it so big in Japan? Japan’s Madame Riri looks at four different reasons.

1. Theme parks introduce “Happy Halloween”

Up until about the year 2000, Halloween was something people would only hear of by learning English or watching TV programs from other countries. But when Tokyo Disneyland got in on the act (let’s face it – there’s money to be had from a simple spooky makeover), people began to sit up and take notice. On Oct 31, 1997, visitors to Disneyland wore costumes to be part of “Disney Happy Halloween”. Then in 2000, 400 visitors and Disney characters in costume held a ”Happy Halloween Twilight Parade” in the park.

Already enamored of Disneyland, the people of Japan were enchanted by this new idea of Halloween. The event was a hit in 1997, and the scale of the party increased along with public awareness, until Halloween became established as an annual autumn event. Currently the lavish celebration kicks off sometime in early September.

Universal Studios Japan opened its doors in 2001, and got in on the act from 2002 with “Hollywood Halloween”. The two major theme parks of Japan gradually brought Halloween more and more into the public consciousness.

2. Cosplay culture

A big part of Halloween’s popularity could be attributed to “fancy dress”. I mean, how many other events do you get to dress up for? And dress up to look hot. Reindeer sweater or jingle bell earrings? Not so sexy. Vampire or werewolf? Reowww!

Plus, Japan is the homeland of cosplay, where many love to transform themselves into their favourite anime or video game characters. Japanese fashion also tends to be less conservative. Walk down Takeshita street in Harajuku anytime, and you’ll spot out-there outfits. Even before Halloween landed in Japan, the Takenoko-zoku were dancing it up on the street in attention-grabbing wear, and the yankii were bleaching and teasing up a storm to create their distinctive punk looks.

With such a distinguished history of fancy dress, the quick adoption of Halloween costume parties isn’t too much of a surprise. If only Easter or Thanksgiving had such great costumes, they might also be as well known by now.

3. Children learning English

Some people in Japan probably first heard of the foreign concept of decorating pumpkins when they were children during their English classes. But when they came home, primed to attack pumpkins with carving knives, their families would have been confused, not having heard of any such event.

Time has flown by since then. The world is growing increasingly global, and Japan places a high importance on English language proficiency. In 2011, English became a compulsory subject for Year 5 and 6 primary school students. In addition, major companies such as Uniqlo and Rakuten have lately adopted English as their official language for all operations. The movement to proactively learn English gained momentum.

In this climate, children’s English education came to the fore. The number of parents taking their children to English conversation lessons soared, and as the kids picked up more English conversation, the idea of Halloween spread. For young learners, it’s not just about memorizing lists of verbs—the majority of schools aim to make learning fun by incorporating elements of foreign culture. So don’t be too surprised if you hear a knock on the door of your manshon (high-end apartment) and a high-pitched chorus of “Trick or treat!”

4. Japanese national character

Halloween in Japan is a little different to the Halloween of other countries. Halloween was originally a celebration of the autumn harvest and a ritual to appease spirits of the dead–the Japanese equivalent would be the Bon Festival. But not many Japanese people know that Halloween was said to be the day on which the spirits of the dead visit their family homes. To be honest, I didn’t really know that myself, and I’m not planning on leaving food out for them, except candy. Sorry, ancestors.

Basically, Japanese Halloween is a fun celebration, purely for amusement value and without cultural subtext. It’s highly commercialized, just as Christmas is.

Japan has a tendency to adopt festivities from other cultures, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even Beaujolais Nouveau, which may be related to the insatiable passion Japanese consumers have for new and interesting seasonal flavors — just look at all the different varieties of KitKat!

Accustomed to honoring the four seasons, most businesses use seasonal celebrations as part of their marketing strategy. Events which may have begun as a commercial exercise may take on a wider social meaning (like Valentine’s Day). The popularity of Halloween in recent years may be directly tied to this consumer affection for seasonal celebrations.

Either way, I can’t resist a pumpkin choux creme. Hello, Halloween!

Source: Madame Riri

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  • 4

    Bad2Dbone

    since retails saw profits, and people willing to give their hard cash away!

  • 0

    Kuribo1

    bought damned time since it is the most important holiday of the year! go Halloween or if you would like Samhain!

  • 1

    SauloJpn

    Great news! Hope to see more and more of this trend in the future!

  • -1

    Jimizo

    Good luck to the retailers. If it creates business, knock yourself out. 'It's highly commercialized, just as Christmas is'. Yes, and I read and see the religious in the UK complaining about how commercialized Christmas has become every year. As for Halloween, the writer pointed out that most people in all countries don't know its history.

  • 1

    MarkX

    This goes to show the power of Disney in Japan! The last big Western event to crack Japan, and | think it never will is Easter. since the date always changes. But if there was some way the big confectionery companies could get people on board, they would!

  • 4

    harvey pekar

    Don't confuse Tokyo or Osaka or cities of the same size being all of Japan. I don't live in the armpit of Japan, but darn close to it and Halloween means nothing here. Halloween goods are marked down 75% even before Halloween comes, no children actually wear costumes, and everyone has told me directly, Halloween is not popular. I love Halloween and the spooky spirit but just because Disney has a Mickey-shaped pumpkin, doesn't mean the holiday is spreading like wildfire in Japan.

  • 1

    ikkoikki

    Hear hear Harvey. Same story where I live.

  • -2

    655321

    Emulate and bastardize. Japan doing what it does best when it comes to Western holiday events.

  • -1

    ControlFreak

    Halloween is so much cooler and fun than Christmas. I think its too bad Japan focused on Christmas first if they were going to import holidays.

    As an English teacher I promote Halloween as much as I can.

  • 0

    browny1

    In my very regional city, Halloween is like way bigger year by year.

    Every ¥100 shop, conbini, supermarket, DIY, bakery, restaurant (hi & lo) etc seem to do something.I'm amazed at the pace of it all. The shotengai saw a Halloween parade last Sunday with over 1,000 participants.

    While it means little to me, I guess it's Good Luck for the commercial venturists, altho I think saturation point will be reached soon.

  • 1

    sighclops

    Next on the list - chocolate bunnies and eggs! :)

  • 0

    techall

    Halloween in Japan is a little different to the Halloween of other countries. Halloween was originally a celebration of the autumn harvest and a ritual to appease spirits of the dead–the Japanese equivalent would be the Bon Festival.

    Not so..."Halloween" is a bastardization of "All Hallows eve", the eve of the christian feast of "all saints day". Nothing to do with harvest or appeasing spirits.

  • 1

    FizzBit

    And just think, in ten or fifteen years, it will be an adult holiday, with large costume company parties, love horateru night, and 8 pieces of KFC with a halloween cake for $40.00.

  • 1

    Deplore

    This goes to show the power of Disney in Japan! The last big Western event to crack Japan, and | think it never will is Easter. since the date always changes. But if there was some way the big confectionery companies could get people on board, they would!

    Easter is the least commercialized major Western holiday. I doubt it will ever gain traction in Japan.

  • 0

    Micheal Rhian Driscoll

    I once shocked an Indian couple who had just started running a convenience store in a college town when I explained the pre-Christian origins of the holiday. They just never thought of Westerners as not ever being other than Christian,

  • 0

    GalapagosnoGairaishu

    Easter is the least commercialized major Western holiday. I doubt it will ever gain traction in Japan.

    Agreed, to which I would add that since it's based on a lunar calendar date and changes every year, it's more difficult to commercialize. Also, March-April corresponds to school graduation and school matriculation time in Japan, making it already one of the biggest gift-giving periods (for children). They don't need another excuse.

  • 2

    ZombieNemesis

    Halloween is popular with many people for a few simple reasons.

    There are no family related pressures like there are with some other established holidays like Christmas, Easter (and in the US Thanksgiving).

    Halloween is not seen as a religious holiday, making it less likely to be disliked due to someone's beliefs.

    Dressing up and acting up is just plain fun for most people.

    Trust me, it will catch on everywhere.

  • -1

    ozymandiaskingofkings

    A greater English language awareness is a factor in this? No.

    ** So don’t be too surprised if you hear a knock on the door of your manshon (high-end apartment) and a high-pitched chorus of “Trick or treat!**”

    You don't hear that. You get a muttered "To-rikku O To-Ree-To".

    Then you say "hello" and get silent, head-tilting rapid blinks in response. And that's fair enough, they're kids out having a good time with free sweets. But they're not doing that because they're more confident in English. They're doing it because everyone else does it.

    It isn't increased English proficiency. It's herd instinct.

  • 4

    kurumazaka

    I hope everybody has a happy Halloween! Would be even happier if retail stores would wait till all hallows eve passed before they started playing Christmas music. Went to FrancFranc this weekend and was mortified to hear the Jackson 5 Christmas album playing in late October. Whaaaaaattttt!!! Gimme a damn break!

  • 3

    gogogo

    Another story based on opinion with no data.

  • 2

    Okazaki

    Not so..."Halloween" is a bastardization of "All Hallows eve", the eve of the christian feast of "all saints day". Nothing to do with harvest or appeasing spirits.

    No, you are the one who is wrong. The harvest festival of Samhain was co-opted and bastardized by Christians.

  • 1

    techall

    You are correct as the early christian set the holidays to coincide with ancient pagan feasts but Halloween is the day before all saints day. The harvest festival (at least in the U.S. and Canada) is Thanksgiving.

  • 1

    Okazaki

    ...and Samhain begins at sunset on October 31st. Thanksgiving in the US has been celebrated, at various times, from June to December, until Lincoln set it in November to give a general "thanks" to the gods. I'm pretty sure nobody is celebrating any harvest above the 37th parallel in late November.

  • -1

    LB315

    Okay. Then since when has Halloween been popular in Taiwan as well? There must be some marketing conspiracy somewhere. hmmm

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    "Halloween in Japan is a little different to the Halloween of other countries."

    Not even close. I'm glad the author of this article seems to know a bit of the history and the traditions, but almost no one here does, much as I try to disseminate it. I'm happy to see the stores and houses sporting Hallowe'en decorations, and glad to see that Tokyo Hands and other department stores feature more than just children's witch costumes and Hard Gay uniforms, but it would still be nice to see some other things as well. The article talks about adopting holidays while adding a unique flavor to them, so allow the Osaka Loopline Party again instead of having dozens of police and JR staff not allow you near the trains if you wear a costume. Yeah, the parties got a little out of hand at times, but most of the people loved it (not just the participants, but the regular passengers), took pictures, drank and talked with people, etc. That's just one example of how I think the commercial aspects of it are well accepted, but not the fun parts that would ACTUALLY bring about a wider social meaning.

    "Japan has a tendency to adopt festivities from other cultures, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even Beaujolais Nouveau, which may be related to the insatiable passion Japanese consumers have for new and interesting seasonal flavors"

    Please... If Christmas Day is a weekday you have to drop off the presents before you go out the door to work. For Valentines Meiji company decrees women have to give chocolates to all their male co-workers, and a bigger piece to the boss. Beaujolais Nouveau, which is a small step up from vinegar, is only popular in Japan because Japan features in the headlines of news that they get the first batch from France. It is all strictly commercial here.

    Imagine the outrage there would be if a foreign country adopted Obon or something as a strictly commercial opportunity without knowing anything about it.

  • 0

    syzyguy

    unless people are giving out free candy to trick or treaters, it's not real halloween.

    as a child, that was the only reason to ever celebrate halloween... the teeth rotting, hyperactivity inducing, insulin spiking smorgasbord of sugar that continued for the next month or so

  • 1

    afanofjapan

    Halloween = parties for adults where the women wear revealing outfits, and the guys doing their best to look tough/scary in costume. All a lot of fun, especially with all the fine women here!

    *Disclaimer: I come from a country that does not take halloween seriously either. Lots of fun to be had!

  • 0

    spudman

    Not so.the eve of the christian feast of "all saints day". Nothing to do with harvest or appeasing spirits.

    Not so, Christianity co-opted the pagan Autumn harvests and called it all souls day. Spring festivals became Easter and the Winter solstice became Xmas. They even took witch worship and changed it to virgin Mary worship as the Roman Catholics of today still do. "There is nothing new under the sun" and Japanese are no more guilty of stealing festivals and adapting them as any other culture or religion.

  • -2

    Probie

    so allow the Osaka Loopline Party again instead of having dozens of police and JR staff not allow you near the trains if you wear a costume. Yeah, the parties got a little out of hand at times, but most of the people loved it (not just the participants, but the regular passengers),

    I'm sorry, but if that is anything like when those fresh off the boat losers annoy everyone on the Yamanote line, it should be banned. Trains are not a place for idiots to have a party, go do it at your dumb gaijin house or something.

    I spent my childhood in the UK and in Canada. The UK really didn't care about Halloween. Besides, there is Bonfire Night on November 5th. It's more fun to celebrate the burning of a terrorist's body anyway.

  • -1

    taj

    Techall: small correction All Hallow's Day (Nov. 1st) is All Soul's Day. All Saint's Day is Nov. 2nd.

  • -1

    Thunderbird2

    @655321

    Emulate and bastardize. Japan doing what it does best when it comes to Western holiday events.

    From American historian Ruth Edna Kelly about Hallowe'en customs in America...

    "Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries"

    Pot, kettle, black. And now the rest of the world is copying the American model, so diluting the real meaning so much that all it is now is an excuse to put on fancy dress and party, or annoy people in their own homes by throwing eggs at those who don't give 'treats'.

  • 2

    albaleo

    "The UK really didn't care about Halloween"

    Perhaps where you lived. In Glasgow, as young kids in the late 50s and early 60s, we would dress up and visit the homes of neighbours, where we would sing a song or say a poem in return for fruit, nuts, and if we were lucky, some chocolate and even a penny or two. We called this "guising". We made lanterns from turnips, which took a lot of effort. But they looked scarier than the pumpkin variety. Halloween is an old tradition in Scotland and Ireland, and as others have pointed out, was once Samhain (or equivalent in local Celtic dialects).

    There is a long Robert Burns poem that describes the rural Halloween customs of the 18th century (www.djmcadam.com/halloween.htm). It sounds like it was a chance for young folk to do things they wouldn't normally do. But isn't that the purpose of all festivals.

  • 1

    spudman

    Imagine the outrage there would be if a foreign country adopted Obon or something as a strictly commercial opportunity without knowing anything about it.

    Why? Obon is boring and dry. The others are at least fun.

  • -1

    Disillusioned

    I don't really have a problem with the commercialism of it. If people are so bored and easily duped into wasting their money on such crap that is their problem, not mine! However, I do have a problem with the cultural and historical side of it. it's one thing to celebrate this festival, but people should be made aware of why Halloween is celebrated and that it was originally a pagan celebration. It's always a lot of fun to tell people I am from Australia and Halloween is not really a part of our culture cos it is an Autumn festival and October 31 is spring in Australia!

  • -2

    tmarie

    Since when? Since companies learned that people would be willing to spend their cash. Japan just can't miss out on a consumer's dream!

  • 0

    Disillusioned

    If you have ever been to the Halloween parade in Kawasaki you will know it has very little to do with Halloween. It's all about getting dressed up. The should change the name to Japaween!

    http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/10/29/the-kawasaki-halloween-parade-2013-in-pictures-mario-multiple-miyazakis-and-mythical-monsters/

  • -1

    Fox Cloud Lelean

    Huh, so Halloween is big in Japan as well. I hope they don't have the same Trick or Treater vs Ghostbuster battles I witnessed (and occasionally participated in). For those who don't know, Ghostbusting is an activity undertaken by older children (early to mid teens usually) which at one stage, was a means of acquiring sweets from Trick or Treaters without resorting to aggression (usually with the performance of magic tricks or fanciful costume displays). Unfortunately, Ghostbusting took a nasty turn once people got addicted to the power they wielded, and now Ghostbusters use threats and physical violence to steal sweets from kids. A third group has recently emerged to tackle Ghostbusters, but I don't know what they call themselves. Basically they act as police, protecting Trick or Treaters from violent Ghostbusters. I haven't seen a good Ghostbuster since my friends and I hung up our vampire cloaks and bandages. We didn't want to take the risk of getting stabbed for a Mars bar anymore. Still, Halloween can be quite fun. Halloween parties especially. You ever walk in on four zombies playing poker? It's a funny sight, or so I'm told. I was one of four zombies playing Smash Bros that day.

  • 0

    stuarto

    I love it It's a superb season in my business. Shows, events...

  • 0

    DudeDeuce

    Next on the list - chocolate bunnies and eggs! :)

    For real homie, I am surprised Easter hasn't picked up yet.

  • -1

    CoconutE3

    Again....anything that makes money. Has the Japanese started celebrating Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day or Kwanza? Any day now.....

  • 3

    ozymandiaskingofkings

    Well, I spent Sunday afternoon with my daughter making gingerbread biscuits in the shape of pumpkins, bats, etc. for her to share with her friends when they came to my house for a Halloween Party after school this afternoon.

    Then I came home to find her looking brave, but clearly disappointed that, having been invited to my home, her friends' mothers had decreed the biscuits "not traditional Japanese Halloween style" and left them uneaten. Hershey's poxy abomination of what chocolate might taste like if you've never eaten chocolate is acceptable to the Japanese custom of Halloween, apparently. But not homemade gingerbread biscuits which my little girl had been looking forward to sharing with her friends for weeks before we even made them.

    So I say, with as much civility as I can muster, bollocks to the lot of them. I will enjoy the biscuits with my daughter, and her mates' stuck-up, lipless, ill-mannered mothers can sort themselves out for a party next year. They'll not be coming back to Castle Dravot.

  • 0

    JTDanMan

    I left Japan 10 years ago and am happy to see Halloween has taken roots in japan, to the extent that it has.

    Now, if only Japan would embrace a real Thanksgiving turkey...

  • 0

    Lowly

    Since when was Halloween so popular in Japan?

    Well 30 years of really big eikaiwa language schools escalating in size and into children's markets, and a country that loves dressing up and horror stories and seasonal-themed events that also include food,

    seems to me like that would about do it. Better when Halloween was an incomprehensible exotic anecdote you could tell your Japanese friends, tho, IMO.

  • -1

    smithinjapan

    JTDanman: "Now, if only Japan would embrace a real Thanksgiving turkey..."

    Who's Thanksgiving? The dates vary.

    Probie: "I'm sorry, but if that is anything like when those fresh off the boat losers annoy everyone on the Yamanote line, it should be banned. Trains are not a place for idiots to have a party, go do it at your dumb gaijin house or something."

    Not fresh off the boat, amigo, and more than the majority of the party were locals, and the majority of the people on the trains had fun. Imagine if the police did as much against the yakuza or bosozoku! Point is, the nation accepts all the commercial aspects of said holidays, but does not allow any of the celebration. The loop-line party being cancelled is but an example. Check it out on YouTube -- you see more police than you would see at a riot at Yasukuni. If Japan wants to embrace Hallowe'en, let it do so, with the 'bad' and the good.

  • 0

    malfupete

    when I used to teach in Japan, would always spend october on a halloween theme.. the kids loved it. Used to get dressed up on the last lesson of the month and have a halloween party with all the grades, play games, have snacks. good times

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