Post Trick or Treat – or “Now What?” with Teens

My son, Bailey, is a young teen, having just turned 13 and in the 8th grade.  He and his friends, however, never ones to miss an opportunity to get free candy, put on costumes and hit the street,  just as they had for years on October 31st.  This time, though, they didn’t have parents or any other supervisors with them.  As I have mentioned before, Tokyo is a relatively safe place.  The biggest danger on Halloween here is getting hit by a car due to the swarms of kids on the streets and the refusal of the police to block off said streets to accommodate said kids.

Since we don’t have daylight savings here in Japan (another topic – don’t get me started) it gets dark by 5 already.  By 5:30 the boys were ready to meet up.  One of Bailey’s friends met him here at the house, and a few more would meet up with them at a nearby spot.  I had attempted to get food into the kids before heading out the door, but the excitement was too high – no one wanted to eat before candy-fest 2012.

I told Bailey that he should be home between 6:45 and 7pm at the latest.  An hour and a half of procuring candy should be enough, I felt.  The phone rang at 6:40 and my heart leaped into my throat.  Of course it was Bailey calling, but not for the reason I expected.  I had a whole speech ready about how he should come home and not be out later and he needed to get some decent food in him…blah, blah blah.

“Mom,” my son said, “We’re done and near the house.  Is it okay if the guys just come over to hang out for a while before they go home?”

This was my mother-dream come true.  Some people might not want a group of smelly, gangly boys in their house, but I can’t think of anything better.  To me, if the boys are in my house where I can see and hear them, then they are automatically not on the street and not getting into trouble.

“Sure,” I said. “I have lots of frozen pizza.  I’ll start heating it up now.”

There was a heartfelt “thanks, Mom” from my son before he severed the connection.

The boys came in, sat in the living room sorting candy, and then occupied the dining room to eat, once I had everything ready.  I put the food on the table and promptly removed myself.  I took a seat by my husband in the living room, and we had our backs to the boys, though with the open layout of the house, they could see us.  The kids ignored us, as we hoped they would, and kept talking.

They had some really funny conversations about girls, some pretty serious ones about soccer and then some talk of school.  When they finished eating, my son directed everyone to bring their plates and cups to the kitchen sink before they all repaired to the computer area to watch some funny videos.  My husband and I snuck back into the kitchen to eat our own dinner.  We were quiet as we listened to the videos the boys watched and then couldn’t help laughing at their hysterical laughter.

The boys were all out of the house before 8:15pm, having only been there about 90 minutes.  They all thanked me politely as they left.

Bailey shut the door on his friends, turned to me and said, “thanks, Mom.  That was great.”

“Bailey,” I told him, “you bring your friends here any time you want.  We’ll always have pizza in the freezer.”

My son is still just a young teen and has a lot of growing up and experimenting to do yet, but I feel that if we can start out this way, with him feeling comfortable bringing his friends around all the time, then we are headed in the right direction.  A lot of pizza and a little luck will hopefully get us through the teen years.

Halloween in Tokyo

The scene at Roppongi Crossing Saturday night.

When we first arrived in Tokyo in 2003, Halloween was practically non-existent.  Our house then, as now, happened to be in an area of Tokyo that has a large concentration of foreigners.  Another American expat we knew created a map of “Halloween-friendly” houses that would understand the trick-or-treat ritual and give candy to dressed-up little kids.  The map had about 15 houses on it, and for my then one and four year olds, that was plenty.  The following year the same thing happened with maybe 20 or 25 houses on the map, all in the same area.  But then that June, we moved back to the U.S. for two years and had two very proper, American Halloweens with bought costumes and lots of camaraderie.

Moving back to Tokyo in autumn of 2007, we were shocked at how Halloween had expanded exponentially in just two years.  By then, many restaurants had pumpkin specials; there were special beers sold in supermarkets; and a lot of home shops had decorations for sale.  A friend had a Halloween party pre-trick-or-treat to make sure the bunch of kids she knew got some “healthy” pizza into them before ingesting all that candy.  After dinner I was shocked when we hit the streets with the kids – without a map.  It turns out that there was no map required – the participating houses (and there were hundreds of them) just kept their lights on – the non-participating houses had no light) There were hordes of children wandering around our area.  There were seriously hundreds of dressed up children ringing doorbells and asking for candy.  Not all were foreigners; there seemed to be a huge Japanese contingent as well.  I was exhausted by the time we got home a few hours later.  My kids had a ton of loot, and even with the kids swarming the streets, none of them were closed to traffic, so watching them so they properly dodged cars took a lot out of me.

The following year was even worse.  More kids, more candy, crazier streets.  It turns out that the Japanese schools bussed children into our area to dress up and get candy.  The kids didn’t have any context for the holiday and they didn’t even say “trick or treat.”

Now, four years after that, Halloween has expanded further to include the bars and restaurants and adult themes.  It’s not so much for the candy, which is the kids’ focus, but for the dress-up factor.  Japanese people have a thing about costumes (cos-play) anyway, and this is mainstream, sanctioned dress-up!  This past Saturday night was quite a scene in the Roppongi section of Tokyo, which is nearby to where we live and a place that is notorious for bars and restaurants frequented by foreigners.  You must understand however, that even though an area has a reputation for catering to foreigners, there are still a majority of Japanese there.  The foreign population just isn’t that large in comparison to the Japanese population.

My dear friend Narissara Udomvongsa is an excellent photographer and shared her foray into the Saturday night of Halloween with me.  All the photos here are credited to her.

So this Wednesday, I will grit my teeth and jump into the fray of screaming kids running around in various states of dress and all sugared up on a variety of chocolates and lollies.  I understand that the Japanese are borrowing the tradition of the U.S. for its entertainment value and I should take it at face value.  The Japanese are famous for taking a tradition and putting their own spin on it – which in this case happens to be even more heightened commercialism and food and drink – and candy – sales. I don’t really like it that much and I’m sorry that it’s all so exaggerated, but it is all in good fun, and it certainly makes for excellent photographic material.