I’ve written about my love of fall in Japan several times here on the blog,. But, one thing that really makes fall in Japan special to me is Disney Halloween. I never could get into Halloween when I was younger (more on that later). However, once I started teaching children in 2011, I finally got to experience all the spooky fun for myself. Nearly 10 years later, there’s no denying that Halloween is catching on in Japan, and I’m here for it!
Easter, Christmas, Halloween and Being a Christian in Japan
As a Christian in Japan, I certainly don’t feel persecuted for my beliefs (yay to living in 21st century Japan!). However there are several times of the year, mainly Easter, where I just give the general population a side eye.
This post goes into detail, but basically, Easter is THE time of the year as a Christian to get dressed and eat good. For some reason, however, Japan is just fixated on the Easter Bunny. Still, I give it a few more years and Japanese people will be celebrating a proper Easter Sunday.
(You know I’ve always wondered what happened to all the luxury bags in Japan. Perhaps Easter Sunday might be the holiday that brings all the burando handbags out of hiding. Easter Sunday parade in Ginza in 2025. Mark your calendars!)
Christmas in Japan, I don’t mind, because it’s basically just a big birthday party. If you have friends of different cultures, backgrounds, and religions, you still celebrate their birthday, right? You may have to make some dietary concessions but at the end of the day, every birthday party needs good food and cake. Christmas in Japan just happens to celebrate the birth of Christ with a hearty meal of KFC and shortcake. And, anyway, according to legend, Jesus faked his death and moved to Aomori, so there’s nothing strange about Christmas in Japan after all.
And then there’s Halloween. Sure, some might consider it to be another commercial event imported from the west. But, Halloween in Japan has the potential to be so much more than Disney Halloween and drunken revelry and cosplay in Shibuya.
What I mean is, Halloween in Japan could really be the place where Halloween gets back to its roots.
Hear me out.
Let’s look at the Japanese cultural calendar for the months leading up to Halloween. Two months before Halloween in August is Obon. It’s a week where people clean the family grave and welcome the arrival of their ancestors from the Other Side.
One month later is Ohigan, which happens around the time of the autumnal equinox (秋分の日 | shuubun no hi), where people visit the graves of their ancestors.
(There’s also a spring Ohigan, but I’m trying to justify a place in Japanese culture/society for Halloween here. Let’s just put that aside for now.)
Finally, October comes around, bringing with it Halloween, my favorite holiday. Now, this is surprising because Harry Potter with its dark-sided magic and evolving Pokemon didn’t mesh well with (Southern) Christan culture.
Turning Halloween Into A Japanese Tradition
Wouldn’t it be awesome if Halloween became an extension of Buddhist and Shinto traditions and practices that celebrate the ancestors?
Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, where on October 31, new year’s eve, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. (Ancient Origins of Halloween)
Perhaps Halloween in Japan could become like the Mexican holiday, Día de Muertos, a two-day “explosion of color and life-affirming joy [that] demonstrate[s] love and respect for deceased family members.” (Top 10 things to know about the Day of the Dead). Let’s not forget that Japanese folklore is rich with spooky, haunted beings like yokai (妖怪), monsters, and ghosts and so on!
If people lament the loss of Japanese culture like hanko, then surely they’d appreciate a Japanese spin on Halloween which celebrates the ancestors and literary traditions.
Crossing Cultures and Generations With Halloween
In the case of our family, my husband’s family is Shinto. When I did my Inu no Hi visit or Omiyamairi, I went out of respect for my adopted culture and to be able to have first-hand experience than I can pass on to my daughter.
We make frequent visits to see her Japanese grandparents, and now that she is three, she already knows the routine.
She takes off her shoes at the genkan, washes her hands, and kneels in front of the butsudan (family altar), and rings the bell twice. Then, she pulls out her “treasures,” usually key chains that she won at sushi night at Kura Zushi or a Mcdonald’s Happy Meal toy, and places them on the altar, and starts chatting away.
(For what it’s worth, she speaks in English to them. But, I think once living family members transcend into the spiritual world, they become all-knowing, multilingual beings.)
Turning Halloween into a “visit the family grave” affair that combines Daiso decorations and candy can make traditions more accessible to younger generations. And, of course, during the duration of the Halloween celebration, families should head to Tokyo Disney Resort dressed in costume!
At any rate, Halloween is catching on in Japan and I’m here for it! What do you think?