As we’ve entered October, Japan has entered a battle between advertising Halloween and advertising Christmas.
Some stores have Christmas decorations up. Some have Halloween. Some have both.
I’ll save discussion of Christmas for a later date, but Halloween is a very strange thing in Japan. One of Japan’s favorite past times is very elaborate, dark and scary haunted houses. What’s odd about them is that a lot of them run all year round and are especially popular in the summer. I’ve even heard it argued on TV and from former students at a pharmaceutical company that going to a haunted house actually cools you down on a hot day. I don’t understand how this works but I think sweat and urine soaked trousers are involved.
Halloween itself is recognized but not really celebrated. I traditionally have to dress up in something scary and hand out candy to some of the neighborhood kids and our youngest’s friends. One year I dressed up with fangs, funny glasses and a white raincoat. I carried a flashlight. In other words, I was a dentist.
For this month there will be Halloween themed candy and decorations and they will all disappear on November 1 and the Christmas (spending) season will start.
There will also be Halloween parties.
Right after I moved to Tokyo I participated in what would turn out to be the last of the “great” Yamanote Line Halloween Parties. (Note to those who’ve never been to Japan: the Yamanote Line is a busy train line that circles Tokyo.) The tradition was to dress up in costume, take control of a train car, and ride a complete circle of the line whilst 1) drinking and 2) trying to find free oxygen in the crowded train car.
I went in 1999. Apparently the year before there had been some damage to one of the trains and/or too much fun was had because I was greeted on the platform by a number of people in government issued costumes (police) who were handing out fliers in English explaining that impromptu parties by costumed individuals counted as illegal riots/invasions of Japan and were therefore discouraged. Police even asked us where we were going because riding the train all the way around the line was apparently illegal for invading forces.
Once we seized the train car for the glory of greater Drunkovia and its God Bacchus, police followed us on and took positions at opposite ends of the car. They began slowly moving forward and squeezing us into a tight clump. The funny part is, we were better at letting people get off the train than most Japanese are during rush hour. We would have been even better at it if the police hadn’t been forcing us into a clump.
Now our apartment has Halloween decorations up. But our hearts aren’t really in it. (We’re just waiting for the cheap candy…)