When October comes, people all over the world bring out their spooky decorations, go on a hunt for the ultimate costume and RSVP to tons of themed events. It’s not much different in Japan — the month of Halloween unites every industry, from the F&B to the entertainment ones.
The Japanese are pretty festive all year round — it’s in their blood to go all out for anything — and that includes the Western spooky celebration. While it’s not quite the same as how the people in the West celebrate it, Japan commemorates this month in their very own way. Even though houses wouldn’t be decorated, the streets will. Even though trick-or-treating isn’t a practice, you’ll still be able to get your ghostly snacks at any eatery you walk in.
Just like everything else, Japan has its own unique Halloween celebration. It is one of the few Western holidays that the Japanese picked up. Discover how it actually came to the country and the present traditions the Japanese have during this festive season.
Japan’s Halloween History
First and foremost, how was Halloween introduced to Japan so significantly that it actually stuck to this day? The Western holiday is a fairly new holiday to the country; in fact, it’s not even an actual holiday!
Before it became a thing in Japan, it was only celebrated by foreigners; tons of them dressed up in random costumes, filling up the bars and crowding the trains with drinks in hand. They turned these places into their own crazy parties, disrespecting other customers as well as disrupting the commuters.
At first, the Japanese saw no need to celebrate this Western tradition of scaring the ghosts away with masks and eating good-harvested pumpkins symbolically since they have their own traditional spooky season.
It was only when Tokyo Disneyland held its first Halloween event in 2000 — like the other Disneyland in the rest of the world — to attract more visitors during the autumn season that it started to catch on. Universal Studios Japan followed suit quite quickly after, and every year following that, these spooky-themed events became bigger and bigger!
With the rising popularity of Halloween comes the rise of Halloween-themed merchandise. Everything from clothing and other types of retail stores to restaurants and cafes got on the Halloween bandwagon. Japan streets won’t ever be short of pumpkin goodies like plushies and stationery; not to mention the abundance of orange, black and purple-themed sweet treats that pop up on the seasonal menu of eateries. Japan takes a step up by incorporating fall harvests like sweet potatoes, which have purple skin on the outside.
Halloween Traditions in Japan
Not all of the traditions of Halloween made its way to Japan — trick-and-treating is one of them. There’s no such practice here, and that’s because the idea of it goes very much against the Japanese mannerisms and customs. While knocking on a neighbour’s door for some candy in other parts of the world is acceptable — most are even looking forward to the group of kids all dressed up at their front doorstep — in Japan, it’s considered as bothering others unnecessarily. That’s a no-no in Japanese culture.
What did actually survive the trip from the West is the dressing up. In fact, the Japanese were more than welcoming with the activity — I mean, Japan is the world of cosplay, anyway. It is not only the Japanese youths who are participating in cosplay but also every other local, regardless of age, can be into it. What’s more, cosplay isn’t just limited to Halloween — there are various events and festivals dedicated to this pop culture that started in the early 1980s and what is now a staple of the Japanese culture.
Another famous tradition of Japanese Halloween is to go down to Shibuya and drinking all night long. Locals and foreigners alike are seen mingling and having the time of their lives. The gathering event over the years became more and more chaotic — so much that a truck was overturned during one of the Halloween madness and now, public drinking is banned in Shibuya during the Halloween season.
Leave it to the Japanese to find alternatives — there are tons of other parties, parades and festivals all throughout Japan, and Tokyo especially, so that everyone can flaunt their costumes while enjoying the music, food and atmosphere! Even Japanese companies and schools are picking up the trend of setting up Halloween parties for their workers, faculty and kids.
Another West-imported tradition of Halloween is pumpkin-carving. While it’s not commonly practiced, it’s still an activity you can take part in Japan. There’s a slight difference in Japan though — the pumpkins here aren’t orange; they’re purple! If you’re looking to get the whole traditional jack-o-lantern, you might need to fork out a bit more for imported orange pumpkins.
Japanese Halloween Decorations
Japanese are all about celebrating anything — including a West-imported holiday like Halloween. Their enthusiasm is not only reflected in their spirits but also on every corner and street in the country. As soon as October rolls around, expect themed everything!
The most common Japanese Halloween decoration is food — everything from seasonal treats to Halloween-special menus will pop up. The fall season is also the harvest season for some types of ingredients like sweet potato for the Japanese, and leave it to them to twist that into a Halloween thing. Let’s not forget cutely decorated dishes, complete with witch hats and pumpkin carvings.
When I mentioned streets, I actually meant it quite literally — the actual streets of Japan are decorated with festive lights and decorations. This usually happens when it’s closer to the actual Halloween date and you’ll see it closer to the Halloween venues for events and parties. What better way to get into the Halloween spirit than to be surrounded by it?
Where To Celebrate Halloween in Japan?
If it’s your first Halloween in Japan, you probably won’t know exactly where to get your ultimate Japanese Halloween experience. Lucky for you, we’ve got you covered!
While you can easily walk into a local bar in a Halloween costume on Halloween and see others all dressed up too, you would want the full, all-out vibe. There are quite a few spots for that — read on to discover where they are!
Tokyo Disneyland & Disneysea
Of course, the best place to celebrate Halloween in Japan is where it all began: Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. At these famous amusement parks in Japan, you’re guaranteed an extremely fun time; the rides are already thrilling on normal days, but when it’s Halloween, most of them switch it up and have a spooky theme.
The characters walking around are dressed in costumes (on top of their actual costumes), every corner is propped even more with webs and pumpkins and treats are none other than your spooky ones. It’s a given that other visitors are all dressed up in their unique and creative costumes, too — expect tons of Disney characters.
Best of all, you’ll be one of the few visitors that are lucky enough to be at these amusement parks during this time with numerous exclusive entertainment. Who would ever say no to that?
Not into rides and just looking for a chill space to party? Shibuya is your best bet. It’s where the expats go for their Halloween celebration initially, and now the Japanese are joining in the tradition.
You can’t miss the crowd of people all dressed up around the Hachiko statue, right in front of the station and by the famous Shibuya Scramble. On Halloween night, it gets extremely packed — so much that it’s extremely difficult to pass through! You take one step every two seconds and it takes you at least five minutes to get to the other side of the Shibuya Scramble. What does that say about this popular Halloween location?
Shibuya is a perfect area for those looking to pop in and out of bars and clubs to celebrate their Halloween night. A good thing to note is that restaurants can get extremely crowded and you will need a reservation well in advance if you have a group of more than four people.
Universal Studios Japan
If you’re not on the Kanto side of Japan but instead Kansai during the Halloween season, you don’t need to travel all the way to Tokyo for your Halloween party. Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is just as amazing — full of fun, exciting rides that are all specially themed for Halloween!
Similar to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, USJ has the whole amusement park turned upside down for the season and you’ll get exclusive entertainment that only comes around that time of the year. In fact, USJ is even more spooky — based on what I personally have heard about experiences there. While it is family-friendly, USJ also brings in the older crowd, unlike Disneyland that’s more focused on family and young kids.
Japan Has Its Own Spooky Festivals
The reason why the Japanese don’t really celebrate Halloween the way the people in the West do is because Japan has its own spooky season, and that is called Obon. Compared to that, Halloween is considered the “kid’s version” of it.
During the Obon holiday, which happens in August, the Japanese believe that the dead visit the household shrines and the families visit as well as clean the graves of the deceased. Similar to Halloween, ghost stories are being told and people visit haunted attractions all throughout the whole traditional spooky month.
All Things Considered
Regardless of whether or not the Japanese have their own spooky season, the fact of the matter is that Halloween now has a foothold in modern Japanese culture — dressing up in dramatic costumes, drinking all night long in Shibuya and devouring spooky-themed treats. Even though trick-and-treating isn’t a thing in Japan, it didn’t stop the Japanese people from making the best out of the rest of the tradition and go all out to get the best Halloween experience they can ever imagine.