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.