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Published:November 2nd, 2009 09:26 EST
Halloween in Japan

Halloween in Japan

By Geoff Dean

 It was only a matter of time. Actually, I`m surprised that it took so long. But undeniably, Halloween is catching on in Japan.

 After all, Christmas has become one of the biggest holidays of the year here and Valentine`s Day is not far behind. And yet, in its way, Halloween, as surely as the other two holidays mentioned above, show how Japan loves things "western" and yet doesn`t always feel the need to understand them.

 Christmas, in Japan, is everything the Grinch told us about. People eat cake (white icing and strawberries), sing Christmas songs, decorate their houses and trees, and in the case of the young, spend the most romantic night of the year, Christmas` Eve, together, often in a "love hotel" (don`t ask!) Of course, since less than one percent of Japanese people are christian, it has no religious meaning whatsoever. But unlike all the hand-wringing about losing the meaning of Christmas or the commercialization of Christmas which we hear in the West, in Japan, commercialization is all there is and all people want. Ask a child in Japan what Christmas is and eight times out of ten (OK, I asked five people but I`m extrapolating) you will get the answer that Christmas is Santa`s birthday. Many couples even attend services at a church on Christmas Eve, not for any religious reason, but as a kind of fashion statement, before they head to the "love hotel" (I told you not to ask, OK!)

 Similarly, Valentine`s Day is a big deal in Japan but without any religious connection. In Japan, on Valentine`s Day, women give chocolate to men (never the other way around) of all sorts. Men they work with, men they go to school with, men they like, men they don`t, just about any men they have some contact with. The chocolate can be divided into two groups, in fact, HONNE chocolate (chocolate for people we really like) and GIRI chocolate (chocolate we give out of a sense of obligation). Many women give out tens or even hundreds of chocolates. One month later, on "White Day", men who recieved HONNE chocolate are expected to return a gift of something white, presumably white chocolate, although some men have been known to give white panties. According to Tokyo urban legend, Christmas and Valentine`s Day were introduced to Japan by cake and chocolate companies, respectively. Whether this is true or not, I know not, but for the confectionary industry, it is a huge businesss.

 With brings us to Halloween, ostensibly the topic of this offering. Compared to the big two, Halloween is still a minor league event in Japan. But when I came to Japan twenty years ago and held a small Halloween party at my English school, it was totally unknown. Now, stores are decorated with glowing pumpkins and the occasional ghost or witch decoration (Japanese ghosts do not resemble western ones so kids sometimes cannot recognize what the imported decorations mean). Some shops have Halloween sales and some shopping streets have costume parades. And mainly, bakeries sell a lot of pumpkin cakes, (yes, cakes again). I have even heard mother tell their disobedient children to be good or the "Pumpkin Ghost" will get them. The jack-o-lantern, in American tradition, the guardian of the house, has been transformed into the leader of the monsters.

 My point (you are in pretty bad shape if you have to tell what your point is) is that Japan tends to adopt American and Western holidays but make them distinctively Japanese, while keeping the external trappings of the holiday. And sell a lot of cake. Why do I have this feeling that St. Patrick`s Day can`t be far behind?