Halloween in Japan

October 20, 2022 6 min read

halloween in japan

October in Japan is synonymous to chills and cuteness. Get ready to experience a Halloween out of the ordinary... with a Japanese twist.

If Japanese culture inspires the West, the opposite is also true. Holidays such as Christmas or Valentine's Day have found their place in the archipelago, especially on a commercial level. Halloween in Japan is no exception.

However, no trick-or-treating or children ringing the doorbells, because in the Land of the Rising Sun, the fun is for the grown-ups.

🎃 Halloween, a western tradition that has been Japanized

Although Halloween is not part of Japanese traditions, this Anglo-Saxon holiday is celebrated each year in the archipelago. The US influence on Japan is not new. Actually, since the occupation at the end of the Second World War, American pop culture has been spreading in the country. Little by little, Japanese music, fashion and cinema were inspired by European trends. Some Western festivals even succeeded in crossing the borders. In Japan, the country of cosplay, people do not miss an opportunity to disguise themselves. It is therefore quite natural that Halloween has made its mark in the land of the rising sun.

🧛‍♀ From a simple marketing party... To a real Japanese festival!

Hello Halloween Pumpkin ParadeHello Halloween Pumpkin Parade. Source: www.timeout.com

At the end of the 20th century, shopkeepers began to sense the potential of Halloween. And it is in the famous avant-garde district of Harajuku that the American holiday takes root thanks to a toy store. In 1983, the famous Kiddy Land store established the first costumed parade known as the Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade. The event was a real success and more and more children attended every year. 

The big amusement parks like Tokyo Disneyland or Universal Studios Japan also seized the opportunity to surf on the marketing wave. Little by little, this Anglo-Saxon commercial holiday became more and more popular in Japan. From the 2000s onwards, Halloween is definitely taking root in Japan with events, parades and derivative products. 

🕸 The shopping districts in Halloween atmosphere

From the end of September, the shopping streets are adorned with orange, black and purple. The stores decorate their windows with carved pumpkins, spider webs and bats. Shopping malls offer Jack O'Lantern-inspired entertainment and merchandise. Pumpkin-flavored cakes, desserts and candies are also available at this time of year. The bento boxes take on the diabolical appearance of skeletons, or bloody fingers. In addition, big brands such as Mac Do and Starbucks set up marketing operations to attract customers. Thus, one can eat black burgers or fries with chocolate-pumpkin sauce at the fast food giant. Likewise, bloody Frappuccino's are waiting for you at the famous American coffee chain.

collection japanese masks

🥢 A Western holiday entirely Japanized

While Halloween is originally a Western holiday, the Japanese have fully adapted it to their culture. In the United States and England, October 31 is eagerly awaited by children who expect to bring home as much candy as possible, play pranks and enjoy themselves while wearing their scariest costumes. Houses are decorated for the occasion and some become real sound and light shows.

In Japan, you won't see crowds of children in costumes in front of doors or haunted houses in your neighborhood. You should know that the tradition of trick or treat is totally excluded in the Japanese culture. That's right, Japanese people are too polite to bother their neighbors. Surprising thing: The yakuzas tried to honor the Anglo-Saxon custom by distributing candies to the children but strangely, it did not work out ;-)

As you may have understood, Halloween is not really a children's holiday. Instead, adults are the ones who enjoy the festivities. Street parties, flash mobs, parades... big cities come alive and party people see it as an opportunity to have fun. Even bars and nightclubs get in on the act. Note that Halloween in Japan is not only celebrated on All Hallows' Eve, but every Friday and Saturday night in late October.

🦹 No Halloween party without a costume

halloween disguise japan

Credits: @tokyofashion on flickr

No candy hunting in the archipelago. However, everyone dresses up and parades in the streets. Cosplay culture obliges... Thus, Japanese people love to transform themselves into zombies, vampires, ghosts or other terrifying creatures, but also cute ones like pumpkins, anime or Disney characters... And finally, many young Japanese girls wear sexy nurse or policewoman outfits. In short, if you want to celebrate Halloween in Japan, you should definitely play the game.

Following are some of the most popular costume ideas:

  • Japanese anime and manga characters (Sailor Moon, Sangoku, Gundam...)
  • Video game characters (Pikachu, Mario...)
  • Movie characters (Batman, Darth Vader...)
  • Disney heroes, monsters and princesses (Snow White, Ursula, Snow Queen...)
  • Studio Ghibli characters (Totoro, Princess Mononoke...)
  • Yurei (Japanese ghosts wearing white robes with long black hair)
  • Oni demons, yokai and other characters from Japanese folklore
  • Character of the Japanese culture (sumo, geisha...)

Many cosplay enthusiasts make their outfits themselves, but if you are not that creative, you can easily find your costume at Donkihotte or other specialty stores in Tokyo.

 👉 Looking for a costume idea for Halloween? Oni demon, Hannya, Kitsune... Find the Japanese mask that will make your friends shiver!

 

🎯 The best places to celebrate Halloween in Japan

In the capital, everything reminds of the Anglo-Saxon holiday, whether it's the decorations, the merchandise or the special Halloween menu... without counting the number of events and themed parties during the month of October. Therefore, the capital is the ideal spot for Halloween, especially in the lively districts.

In Shibuya, you can enjoy the night madness and attend a huge parade with an impressive number of festival-goers. In a cuter version, the Harajuku district gathers more than 1000 children in costume every year during the Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade.

You can also treat yourself to a gourmet break in a big Tokyo hotel and admire the colorful buffets of the event. Also, Disneyland Tokyo is a great spot to visit with its stunning scenery and its famous float parade. Lastly, the usually quiet trains may be transformed into real Halloween parties places. 

halloween Disneyland Tokyo

Halloween decors in front of the Haunted Mansion, Disneyland Tokyo. Source: japanjourneys.jp

In Osaka, visit the gigantic Dotonbori festival or the Halloween festival at Universal Studios Japan and enjoy the entertainment. Kawasaki is also a great destination to celebrate Halloween in Japan with its big parade. Every year, the event is getting bigger and bigger, especially since the integration of the Gay Pride. Manga and anime lovers can also gather at the Ikebukuro Cosplay Festival.

👻 In Japan, the festival of the dead is... in summer!

Culturally, the festival of the dead in Japan does not take place around All Saints' Day but in August (or July depending on the region) with the traditional O bon festival. During this Buddhist ritual imported from China, it is said that the ancestors come back on Earth to visit the living. The celebration lasts several days and takes place on different dates depending on the region. The most common period is from August 13 to 15.

During this very popular festival, families get together to pay tribute to the dead and perform certain rituals. It is also the occasion to visit the graves of the dead and to pray in the temples.

Among the traditions of the O bon are the offerings placed on the altars to appease the spirits. These are usually food (vegetables, fruits, rice, cakes) with spiritual meanings. On the first and last day, lanterns are lit to guide the souls.

Japanese people go to O-bon or Bon festivals, wearing a yukata to perform "Bon odori". These are very ancient choreographies in honor of the ancestors which take place around a large stage. Please note that each region has its own Bon Odori. During the summer vacations, all Japan comes to life with the rhythm of traditional music and dances.  With its many festivities, the O-bon is a traditional festival not to be missed.

 

Recently imported, Halloween in Japan has become an institution. The inhabitants of the archipelago have appropriated the pagan festival by adapting it to their folklore and just like in the USA, the event is a true success.

So, are you ready to venture into a crowd of monsters of all sorts?

 

Cover photo source: https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/halloween-in-japan


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