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Essay

Happy Halloween!

By Patrick St. Michel

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Halloween has become a big to-do in Japan in recent years. As Oct. 31 draws near, revelers decked out in costumes take over the streets of major neighborhoods such as Tokyo's Shibuya district to wander around and drink. More and more events featuring pumpkin motifs have popped up, while decorations start lining store shelves as early as the end of August.

What makes this embrace of all things orange and black so interesting is how the spookiest day of the year was barely present in Japan a decade ago. When I first arrived here as an English teacher, a go-to lesson come October was centered entirely on Halloween. I explained the origins of the holiday, introduced junior high schoolers to an assortment of scary monsters and even had them practice trick-or-treating (although the head teacher made me swap out candy for pencils).

Back then, almost nobody knew much about Halloween beyond what was shown in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Now it's a trendy event for younger people, though very different from the American version. Nobody knocks on strangers' doors asking for candy, for example. And I haven't seen any pumpkins with intricate carvings outside people's homes.

A few major elements have become popular, however. Revelers don costumes, ranging from monsters to famous movie characters. Slightly lazier folks put on funny hats or cat ears. Stores selling costumes and other wacky accessories, such as Don Quijote, have reaped the benefits from this boom.

During Halloween week — and especially on the evening of Oct. 31 — thousands of people flock to popular locations to have fun in the streets. Dressed as pirates or school students or Doraemon, they zig-zag around spots such as Shibuya Crossing, kicking back drinks and snapping photos of the costumed mass around them. Over the last two years, it has become a true spectacle, drawing more people than New Year's Eve.

Why, though, has Halloween become so fashionable? It's hard to say why for sure, though advertising has played a big role, with magazines devoting more space to the holiday, and many Halloween-themed commercials. They've made Halloween look like a cool holiday, and young adults have been eager to take part in it now.

Oct. 31 has reached a point where trying to go out can feel overwhelming — it's funny to think back to 10 years ago, when non-Japanese revelers enjoying some drinks on the Yamanote Line was considered the wildest form of Halloween partying. I wandered around Shibuya three years ago dressed as Skrillex, the Grammy Award-winning DJ, and it already felt extremely crowded. It's only gotten more packed. Nowadays, I'm happy to let younger folks enjoy Halloween — I'll stay home eating all the candy nobody wants from trick-or-treating.

ハッピー・ハロウィーン

このところ日本でもすっかり定着した感のある10月のイベントと言えば、ハロウィーン。筆者が来日した当初はあまり知られていなかったが、今では日本独自の進化を遂げたお祭りとなっている。

The Japan Times ST: October 7, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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