Growing up in the United States, back to the inevitable return to school in the begging of September, nothing quite defined autumn like Halloween. It permeated every aspect of life come October first, from the pumpkins that began to show up on the doorsteps of suburban homes, to the inescapable ads and Halloween themed merchandise, the holiday owned the season. However, coming to Japan, I had no idea what to expect, or even whether or not Halloween was even celebrated over here, as I knew that it was not nearly as big of a deal in other western countries as it is in the United States.
I learned that Halloween really took off here, somewhat out of nowhere, around five or six years ago. Since then, it’s become unstoppable, massive. The stores began to sell pumpkin and ghost themed goods about a month in advance, just like in the States.
As Halloween is relatively new here, most of the people who seem to celebrate it are young adults, people in their late teens, twenties and thirties. What was really interesting to me was that most of the people who celebrate Halloween did not grow up trick or treating, which was the pinnacle event of the season when I was younger. Even more, although Halloween seems to be gaining traction as a holiday, trick or treating still seems to be a pretty American custom; biking home from my internship on Halloween night I ran into a few groups of young children, but only about one or two. Instead, Halloween in Japan seems to be a Holiday where young adults have an excuse to dress up and go out for the night.
My roommate and I had heard from some of our Japanese friends that the place to be on the Saturday night before Halloween was Shibuya, something that was actually echoed by some of the teachers at my internship. So come Saturday night, without costumes or any idea what to expect, we jumped on the JR and headed out. When we got to Shibuya it was so crowded you couldn’t see the ground, which, given the crowds that normally flock to the area on a Saturday night, might not be saying much, but on this night the crowds were double what they usually are, and everybody was in costume, and the costumes we saw put the kind of lazy, pun-based get-up most America adults seem to wear to Halloween parties to shame. These were some of the most incredibly detailed and elaborate costumes I’ve ever seen, my personal favorite being two men operating a cardboard giraffe that towered five or six feet above the heads of everyone in the crowd.
Being broke study abroad students as we are, we didn’t actually go in anywhere; instead, we opted to spend the night walking around and people watching and just being generally awestruck by the scene unfolding in front of us.