Japan is a land of contrasts in many ways. For example, modern buildings, bright neon lights flashing, and huge colorful-gaudy ads almost side by side with quiet and serenity in temple courtyards, simple raked sand in Zen gardens, and delicate ikebana flower arrangements.
Japanese people are very aware of the seasons and have special foods, events, and decorations to mark the changing seasons. They also love bright and cute ads and decorations, with idealized cartoon characters or animals, so the Halloween concept fits right into this, with its bright orange and typical icons that arrive at the end of autumn, as do the beautiful changing colored leaves.
When we were in Japan in September and October 2010, and again in 2011, we were surprised to see quite a lot of Halloween-type ads and store decorations pop up in late October—all the typical and traditional ones we see in the USA, such as witches, brooms, plastic pumpkins, skeletons, and ghosts. We saw them mostly in big department stores, like Daimaru and Esta, and as a theme and color scheme for boxes of gorgeous chocolates or cookies, or elaborately-decorated cakes. But at that time our friends and the students told us that the holiday as a whole was not popular or common and that in fact most don’t really know the meaning of Halloween.
However, this year (2017) in October we saw way more evidence of Halloween—in the big stores, in coffee shops, in flower shops, in bakeries, in hotel lobbies, at the airports even. Most are bright and cheerful, some cute, and a few a little incongruous—for example, a model witch with a big blue breast next to a pumpkin with a religious quote written on it!
There are much bigger displays of Halloween items with banners, often linked to the autumn colors and the autumn theme. We also saw many real—not plastic—pumpkins, some beautifully carved.
Our Japanese friends tell us that kids don’t do much with Halloween yet, that it’s more for students and young adults who like to dress up and party. For example, in Nagano on October 3ist (actual Halloween day) we saw a young woman in a long party dress posing for photos by lying on the road in between traffic light changes! It was quite cold and she was bare-shouldered.
So, it seems that Halloween beckons in Japan, and I wonder how long it will be before Japanese kids dress up as princesses and goblins and run around asking for “trick or treat”? Some of the shops at Nagoya Centrair Airport were offering a kind of trick-or-treat, so maybe the seed is sown?!