Back to the land of the living, just in time for Halloween. It’s been a long month. This last week has brought a nip to the air, and the trees in the park on my way to work have begun shedding their leaves in earnest. Stores across Japan have leveled up their orange and purple Halloween displays from last year’s minimal piles of cookies. Yes, fall has come.
To you, October, I have this to say: you can go jump in a lake and die of pneumonia. Your rein of cute, pumpkiny holiday cheer is at an end, and if I ever have to see another 100 yen witch hat or plastic jack-o-lantern, it will be too soon.
Okay, after teaching nine Halloween lessons and seeing one more chaotic party go by without any major disasters, I’m ready for the actual holiday to be over. But I’d be lying if I said fall isn’t my favorite of the seasons, and Halloween one of my favorite holidays.
Growing up in the U.S.A., one takes for granted that on that one magical night of the year, all the neighbors, having gone out beforehand and purchased stockpiles of individually wrapped Reese’s Cups and Bazooka Bubblegum, will be waiting with smiles on their faces to compliment your costume and give you a treat. It was only when I began trying to explain this phenomenon to Japanese five-year-olds that I came to appreciate how magical trick-or-treating really was. It might seem like it’s all about costumes and candy, but I think there’s something more to it. You and your friends get to transform into whatever you want to be and roam the streets and night. You scope out a route, gathering intelligence along the way on which houses give out the best candy and which have a scary hand that reaches out to grab you when you get too close. For the kids, was an adventure, a night-long festival just for us. A huge, unplanned festival, produced and paid for by random members of our community. When you think about it that way, Halloween is actually pretty cool.
For those of us in the position of imparting “American culture” upon the children of Japan, Halloween is a particularly good theme for events and lessons. My preschool kids love hearing tales of funny costumes and pillowcases full of candy – and I love telling them. It’s a win-win educational tool.
Those of us involved in education are certainly not the only ones in Japan who realize Halloween’s market value. It’s a personal observation, but when I studied abroad in Nagano about seven years ago and tried to talk to people about Halloween, most said they’d never heard of it before. It’s possible that my katakana pronunciation was just that bad, but if the store displays this year are any indication, I’d say awareness of Halloween has exploded in the past few years. As documented by my friend at The Lobster Dance, it’s everywhere, from supermarkets, to school libraries, to cake shops and even jewelry stores. All of the seven preschools I visit put up Halloween decorations this year (compared to only two last year), and registration for the yearly Tsubata Halloween Party filled up only 20 minutes after it opened.
Back when I was a bitter high school kid, I was pretty sure that Halloween was the ultimate example of a once meaningful holiday gone completely commercial. (I still proceeded to dress as Frida Khalo and collect my treats). But I tell my preschool kids trick-or-treat tales, and then I look around at the decorations here, and conclude that I was a hasty judge. Halloween exists here as little more than an cute, “exotic” marketing ploy. I’m curious to see if and how it manages to evolve beyond that and make its way into households.
And as for spending money on Halloween goods, I’m not without guilt: I’ve spent a good 5000 yen on witch stickers, seasonal tea, costume items and pumpkin sweets. And this cat. Japan really knows its cute.
More to come on Halloween. Stay tuned!