“I really can’t understand this obsession of theirs with Halloween” exclaimed my friend and fellow Tokyo wanderer Yannis one day when we were passing in front of a store literally swamped with decorations for this very particular and very American holiday. “Do they really want that much to imitate the Americans?” And it is indeed a legitimate question; actually it is two: the matter of the relationship between the Japanese and the Americans and their culture is complicated enough to fill several books. As to the matter of Halloween though, the answer is, I believe, simpler and in can be summarized in two words: consumption and celebration.
Despite its ancient origin in Christian countries and its association with both the old, pagan religions and the new one, Halloween came and got established in Japan in the same way as Valentine’s Day: as an excuse to buy some special things; this means that the market exerts a very strong pressure to consumers to make them, well, consume. Particularly in the last decade, Halloween decorations fill up all stores (from the most obvious to the most unlikely) from as early as August and since, owing to their nature, they are more attractive to children, every year more and more families add them to their repertory, even though they limit themselves to the decoration and ignore the trick or treat game that can be found the holiday’s core in the USA.
The most important part, though, is the celebration, the festivity. As I have often written in the past, the Japanese are relentless fans of all kinds of festivals, probably because for them the holidays are an essential counterweight to their (often suffocatingly) organized lives; the utterly meaningless pretexts for some of their national holidays are, for me, the best proof of that. Even though they haven’t (yet) implemented all the features of “proper” Halloween, the prospect of one more special day and one more excuse for masquerading, for different food and drink and for parties that sometime border on the orgiastic, in other words the possibility of a change to the usual flow of things, is appealing enough to justify the Japanisation of this custom, foreign to their culture as it might be. And as has been the case with all imported customs, this will also mutate enough with time to become something purely Japanese; what my friend Yannis observed was only a phase of this mutation.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.