Japan is a land of contrasts in many ways. For example, modern buildings, bright neon lights flashing, and huge colorful-gaudy ads almost side by side with quiet and serenity in temple courtyards, simple raked sand in Zen gardens, and delicate ikebana flower arrangements. Japanese people are very aware of the seasons and have special foods, events, and decorations to mark the changing seasons. They also love bright and cute ads and decorations, with idealized cartoon characters or animals, so the Halloween concept fits right into this, with its bright orange and typical icons that arrive at the end of autumn, as do the beautiful changing colored leaves.
Last year when we were in Japan in September and October we were surprised to see quite a lot of Halloween-type ads and store decorations pop up in late October—all the typical and traditional ones we see in the USA, such as witches, brooms, plastic pumpkins, skeletons, and ghosts. We saw them mostly in big department stores, like Daimaru and Esta, and as a theme and color scheme for boxes of gorgeous chocolates or cookies, or elaborately-decorated cakes. But our friends and the students told us that the holiday as a whole was not popular or common and that in fact most don’t really know the meaning of Halloween.
However, this year (2011) already in early October we saw way more evidence of Halloween—in the big stores, in coffee shops, in flower shops, in bakeries. There are much bigger displays of Halloween items with banners, often linked to the autumn colors and the autumn theme. We also saw many real—not plastic—pumpkins, some beautifully carved. One very interesting technique is by carving away the skin, leaving a raised, pale-colored scary face or shape. Halloween beckons in Japan, and I wonder how long it will be before Japanese kids dress up as princesses and goblins and run around asking for “trick or treat”?