Halloween in Japan How Japan Made Halloween Their Own… Then Ruined It For Everybody

    Halloween is over, but Japan is still cleaning up the mess. It seems like every year the outrage against Halloween in Japan increases. A decade ago Japanese people were complaining about foreigners dressing up and riding trains. Now they're complaining about a lot more. In what feels like only a couple of years, Halloween has become one of the biggest (adult) holidays in Japan.

    In Tokyo, you begin to see costumes as early as the first weekend in October. Halloween parties run rampant on the weekends. Clubs, bars, and retail stores cash in and push, push, push Halloween down the throats of every open-mouthed citizen. I imagine this is how other Western holidays, like Valentine's Day and Christmas came about in Japan. It was merely an opportunity for corporations and companies to make money, so they set their marketing wheels in motion. The Japanese versions of these holidays aren't the same as their original counterparts (for example, on Christmas couples will go on extremely expensive dates with extremely expensive hotel stays… well played, hotel industry!) but they all have a couple things in common:

    1. There are companies making boatloads of money.
    2. These companies push people to spend more money and do certain actions because "it's what you do during the holidays!"
    3. Eventually, it becomes a cultural norm, and the CEOs of these companies can sit back and relax in their swimming pools full of gold coins.

    Halloween has just reached this point, I think. As far as I can tell, Halloween is being marketed as "an adult holiday where you can behave badly, and it's totally okay!" Bars, nightclubs, and other industries that involve debauchery say this is the biggest business opportunity of the year. This year was the wildest of them all, and it looks like it's only getting wilder. There has finally been some outcry against it, but unfortunately, there's too much money being pumped into this Halloween war machine for it to be stopped.

    Halloween: One Giant Cosplay Event?

    Last year, we wrote Halloween: Japan's Most Recent Holiday. This article explored Halloween's rise in popularity, and talked about how Trick-or-Treating never really caught on in Japan. Instead, Japan has zeroed in on the costumes, which I think fits well with Japanese culture. It has turned into a massive cosplay event for adults. We're famous for our cosplaying, after all!

    2014 saw the biggest Halloween turnout yet (Halloween landing on a Friday didn't hurt either). Shibuya seemed to be the place to be if you were dressing up. Thousands of people in costumes unexpectedly gathered that night, and 200 police officers were dispatched to keep guard. To put things in perspective, one man interviewed by fashionsnap.com said that he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable walking around in his "normal clothes."

    They did a good job dressing up, too. When it comes to Halloween, Japan kinda of does it better than everyone else. Sorry Western countries, Japan won Halloween.

    Anyway, go waste some time looking at Kotaku and TokyoFashion for more fantastic Japanese Halloween costumes.

    "NO MORE HALLOWEEN IN JAPAN!"

    tokyo bathroom and streets filled with trash after halloween
    Source: @A_Lvl7

    Sure, costumes are great fun, but unfortunately that's not the only part of Halloween culture that crept its way into Japan's version of the holiday. Debauchery and a general attitude of being irresponsible has become a Japanese Halloween staple. Perhaps Japan's Halloween motto should be "Trick & Costume" instead of "Trick or Treat."

    People in Japan have been calling out for "NO MORE HALLOWEEN IN JAPAN!" and for good reason. In some ways, it has gotten out of hand, and I imagine that people are envisioning a future where each proceeding year just keeps getting worse and worse. I hope this won't happen, but I understand why people are concerned. Halloween center Tokyo coated in trash. Empty snack bags, drink cans, and used costumes were discarded all over the streets and fake blood was smeared on many walls, windows, and countertops.

    japanese streets covered in trash after halloween
    Source: @A_Lvl7

    Here's one story: Twitter user @mitaka_cos found blood in the sink of a public bathroom in Shibuya. He felt disgusted and voluntarily started cleaning it up. Some other people came into the bathroom to find him cleaning up the sink. Unbelievably, they handed him their used blood-soaked costumes and asked him, "can you take care of this too?" He responded with angry words which were followed up with the excuse, "but today is Halloween!" Upon hearing this, he stormed out of the bathroom.

    This sort of attitude has been popping up more and more around Halloween in the last few years. It's a holiday that gives you permission to be bad and some particularly bad apples take advantage of it, even though they're probably considered good people the rest of the year.

    Volunteer Cleaning

    group of japanese people that volunteered to clean up halloween trash
    Source: Shibuya_akkun

    But it wouldn't be Japan without people trying to clean up. After all, Japanese people were known for cleaning up stadium seats after a soccer game at the World Cup. Several volunteers posted pictures of themselves cleaning the streets on Twitter, because they wanted to make the mess-makers realize that they had done something wrong. Shame and guilt go a long ways in Japanese culture.

    japanese tweet about halloween cleanup in tokyo
    Source: Shibuya_akkun

    It's okay to enjoy Halloween, but there are simple guidelines to follow, right? Don't leave Shibuya in a mess. Put your garbage in a garbage can. Even kindergarten kids know that. Is it okay to do whatever you want for the sake of fun? Young people in Shibuya are now cleaning the leftovers from everyone's fun night. @shibuya_akkun

    tokyo halloween volunteer cleanup tweet
    Source: su___77

    We cleaned up the trash in Shibuya ( ´ ▽ ` )ノI never expected people to be so careless in enjoy themselves. It surprises me that they didn't care about messing up the place. There were still a few people in costumes (walking the streets in the morning). I hope they will feel some sense of shame by watching us clean the streets. We will continue cleaning the streets.

    I thought the decision those volunteers made was great, however a few people called them hypocrites. For example @hawk_kaito tweeted:

    • ゴミ あろいしてることをわざわざ 自分じぶんでTwitterにあげる人って、「 わたしゴミ あろいしてるよ!ほら、 えらいでしょ! めて めて!」って かんじなんだろうな
    • I assume those people who cleaned the street and tweeted about it think, "I'm cleaning the street! I'm awesome, right? Praise me!

    and @takumi_cast said

    • 自分じぶんでボランティアしましたとか ゴミ あろいしましたとか ましてや、 ダメな ひと くらべて 自分じぶん ひとですよアピールする ひと 絶対ぜったい 偽善者ぎぜんしゃ 偽善者ぎぜんしゃ 悪魔あくまぢゃけぇ、うざい。
    • The people who say that they volunteered or cleaned up the garbage are definitely hypocrites. It's needless to say that those are the appeals of people that think they are better than others. Hypocrites = devils, so I'm annoyed.

    There were actually a lot more nasty comments center on Twitter, but many of them deleted their tweets soon after. In some extreme cases accounts were deleted because of the backlash. I guess it's nice that people support cleaning up so strongly.

    Halloween Invades The Yakuza

    There's nothing more Japanese than the Yakuza, so if Halloween is penetrating its way into Japan, it's going to be embraced by the Yakuza as well. While most adults would be too afraid to play the trick or treat game with the Yakuza (does trick = cut off your pinky?), it appears that many children are immune to that fear. The Yamaguchi-gumi (Japan's biggest crime family) general offices were handing out pink treat bags to any elementary student who wanted one. Yakuza members stood in the compound entrance with open-armed offers of candy (though it seems like they didn't wear costumes, what party poopers).

    kids trick or treating with the yakuza in japan
    Source: Tomohiko Suzuki

    Trick or Treating isn't all that popular in Japan yet, so children were overjoyed to find a place giving away free candy, not to mention so much of it! Look at all those future Yakuza members! How cute!

    Of course, the people of the internet reacted:

    • ヤクザといえど 時代しだい ながれはしっかり つかんでるな
    • Even the yakuza are attuned to the trends of the time -2ch
    • その 菓子かし くばるためにどんだけ わかいもんの ながれたかわかっとんのかい!
    • Do you know how many young yakuza members bled in order to hand out those candies? -2ch
    • 子供こども 間違まちがっていくなら かるけどベビーカーを した 母親ははおや 自分じぶんから くってどうなの?w
    • It's understandable if children go by themselves, but I can't understand the how the mother can push the baby stroller towards them. haha -2ch

    This sort of Yakuza generosity isn't a new thing. Doing generous, public things has always been part of the Yakuza's strategy. During New Years, they participated in otoshidama お年玉おとしだま, a tradition that involves adults giving envelopes of money to children. The Yakuza, being everyone's adults, went around to their neighbors handing out envelopes with 10,000-30,000 yen inside ($100-300 USD). I remember in Kyoto when they were doing this too (before the police put pressure on them to stop). Even friends of my husband (non-Japanese) went there to receive money, but I told my husband not to accept it because I thought it was a shameless thing to do.

    The Yamaguchi-gumi is also known for assisting with the Great Hanshin Earthquake when it hit Kobe in 1995. They distributed meals and relief supplies and really were the first on the scene to help out. Even with the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, which isn't even their home region, they sent 25 trucks filled with foods and supplies right away, and even provided places for victims to stay. Some praised the Yamaguchi-gumi while others said it was a publicity stunt. I think this one 2ch comment said it best, though:

    • 震災しんさいのときにヤクザの しにノコノコ ならんだ 神戸市民こうべしみん しも てるわ
    • Those who pass judgment on the people receiving Halloween candy from the Yamaguchi-gumi are also passing judgment on the Kobe citizens who lined up for meals provided by them during the disaster.

    Halloween, Here To Stay

    I think Halloween will get crazier and crazier over the next few years, but I also think that opponents to Halloween will become more vocal as well. I hope that soon the two groups can reach some kind of compromise, though. I love the costuming that Japan does. I also love that people are having a good time, and are able to have fun and relax. However, it shouldn't come at the expense of others. There's a difference between being an inconvenience and being rude, and Japan will have to figure out where that line needs to be drawn.

    As for the Yakuza giving out treats… well, as long as the children are happy, I guess. I hope at least one of them was dressed as a Yakuza gang member for Halloween. I'm sure that would have made for a fun scene. Perhaps the attention caused by all this will make the trick or treat side of Halloween more prevalent and popular in Japan too. If more kids get involved with Halloween, then hopefully some of the drunken debauchery will calm down at the same time.

    I'm sure we'll see Halloween in Japan continue to evolve. It's a relatively new holiday, one that is still malleable to the effects of the masses and the corporations. I'm interested to see which one wins out the most before we hit the holiday plateau. I guess we can only sit back, relax, and watch to see what happens (hopefully from a vantage point free of smeared blood).