It is September, and from the very first weeks of this month, you have probably been seeing many shops and street corners being decorated with Jack-O-Lantern and other orange and purple colored miscellaneous decorations. Even though it was imported from the West, Japanese somehow has turned this scary-but-not-so-scary day into their own Japanese style celebration. The truth is Halloween has become very popular in Japan. However, it is not exactly celebrated the same way as the original Western Halloween is. In fact, it is not unusual in Japan to see people on the streets decked out in their Halloween costumes a week before the 31st.
Personally, I believe that Japan totally has what it takes to easily merge its cultural background into this Western celebration.
You know what I am talking about right? Yes, I am talking about Obon’s celebration – Festival of the Spirits held on August 15th every year. The difference remains in the initial concept of this festival. Obon honors the spirits of one’s ancestors while during Halloween, people disguise themselves in order to avoid bad spirits walking among us, humans. Besides, Halloween has been imported very recently, and instead of terrifying Buddhist spirits (yuurei), you get to walk around as harmless, and sometimes even cute ghosts/fictional characters.
In 2002, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) introduced its “Hollywood Halloween”, another bullet point supporting the Western-style Halloween brought success to the corporation. A few years before that, Disney Land in Tokyo did the same by throwing a party of Disney’s characters wearing Halloween orange-purple costumes during the parade. These two theme parks have contributed in making Halloween more popular in Japan.
The most obvious concept that contributed to Japan’s wide acceptance of Halloween’s concept, is the costumes! We are talking about Japan, the world’s greatest cosplay nation, the place where the entire cosplay concept took its roots. So, of course, they are good at dressing up, and any tradition involving costumes will catch on quite easily. Some most popular cosplay trends for women in Japan include cat girls, sexy nurses and high-school girls, and by visiting even one single Halloween parade on the Harajuku street, you will be able to see all the costumes specific to local country, that you most likely won’t see elsewhere.
Another factor is that Japanese street fashion styles are very fit for Halloween spirit: Harajuku girls? Lolitas? All approved! All you need to do is walk out in your craziest street style outfit and BOOM, you are welcome to the party. Moreover, to overcome the collectivism feature so deeply rooted in your culture by dressing like nobody else and still be treated like a regular person? Who can miss out on such a deal? Although one of the most significant Halloween traditions is “Trick or Treat”, it does not get that much attention in Japan, the country with rivals when it comes to the costumes! In the end, it is definitely okay to say that Halloween is now Japan’s biggest Cosplay Festival, especially for adults!
This is exactly what marketers retailers and all the other product makers are looking for. Their money are spent on decorations, Halloween related goods, costumes, discounts, bonus policies, and so on. All of this for a great return on investment during this periods.
Japan, in short, is already an exciting marketplace as with their outstanding, highly commercialized products, a lot of emphasis is put on merchandising and promoting, and that gives Japanese Halloween a totally different feeling. You might see pumpkin flavored Kit-Kats all over supermarkets, or better yet, pocky, various kinds of chips and snacks all in Orange and Purple colors with pictures of pumpkins on the boxes.
Although in bigger cities Halloween seems to be gaining significant popularity, in small towns they tend to invest more into decorations and parties in clubs and pubs, rather than cosplaying. It would indeed very interesting to see how far Halloween celebrations will go in Japan in the future!