Halloween has come to Japan in recent years but more as a commercial and decorative event than anything else. I suspect that Tokyo Disneyland, which isn’t actually located in Tokyo but right here in Chiba, has had a lot to do with introducing the celebration to this part of the country. Disneyland has a Halloween theme throughout October each year. Some larger stores and malls also advertise Halloween events which promise candy to children in costumes and English language schools have promoted Halloween by decorating and holding children’s costume parties. Masquerade is definitely something that appeals to Japanese people but trick-or-treating hasn’t caught on yet and though pictures of jack-o-lanterns and plastic replicas abound, there aren’t any real ones here.
Some Japanese, having been taught that the origins of Halloween date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain during which ghosts of the dead were believed to return to earth, have equated it with their own Obon celebrations which take place during the summer. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist holiday. Families gather to honour the spirits of their dead ancestors by visiting and cleaning the family graves and the spirits of the ancestors are thought to visit the household altars during this time. Personally, I think we do the Japanese a disservice if we teach them that this is what Halloween is all about.
As a child growing up in Powell River on the coast of British Columbia, I loved Halloween. In our home, costumes were never decided on until after school on Halloween day. At that time, with my mother’s help, we dug through old clothes and came out dressed like hobos, gypsies or pirates. As soon as supper was over, we gathered with the other children from the houses closest to our own and trick-or-treated up and down our street collecting a wonderful bag of goodies. In those days, it was safe to accept homemade treats and my mother was known for her delicious popcorn balls. The only way my siblings and I got to taste them was if we trick-or-treated at our own door. My mother would, of course, pretend not to know who we were! Such silly fun and such good memories. The only year that mom didn’t make popcorn balls was the year that I was six. She was in hospital following the birth of my baby brother. I remember helping my father fill bags of candy for the trick-or-treaters and I also remember the hideous looking rubber mask that he bought for me! Incidentally, that baby brother turned fifty a few days ago!
When we kids returned from trick-or-treating, our families gathered across the street from our house in the parking lot behind Bowes Hardware for a giant bonfire. Mr. Bowes always saved some big packing boxes to feed the fire. Hot chocolate was served and as the fire died down, we had our own fireworks show! What a wonderful and exciting evening!
Unfortunately, as a young teacher living in Sedgewick, I learned to hate Halloween. What had once been a time for harmless pranks in rural Alberta had, in our community at least, become a night of vandalism which was directed mainly at schools, churches, businesses and the homes of teachers and RCMP officers. Large groups of teens prowled the streets creating havoc. Year after year, our home was pelted with eggs and other nasty substances. The paint job was totally destroyed but there was no point in repainting when we knew that the new surface would only last until the next Halloween. Fortunately, the generation that celebrated Halloween in this manner has grown past that sort of thing and in recent years, Halloween has once again become a night for the younger children to enjoy. A couple of years ago, we finally had the house repainted.
After dreading Halloween for so many years, it’s been difficult to recapture the delight that it once held for me. As a teacher, I participated in many classroom Halloween parties but I found it difficult to enjoy them knowing what the later hours of the day would hold. Now, I’m teaching at a Japanese English school and my job description includes an entire week of Halloween parties! Because the classes meet only once a week, the event goes on all week so that every children’s class has a party. Teachers are required to wear costumes. Awhile ago, while shopping in a nearby mall, I came across a costume that I couldn’t resist so for the first time in my life, I have a store bought costume! Each day this week, I appear as a big fuzzy jack-o-lantern! Richard was being a bit of a grinch about having to dress up but I dug through a bin of old costumes that have been left behind by previous teachers and found him a clown costume complete with big red squeaky nose! The kids, of course, think our costumes are great and we think they are adorable. Minnie Mouse and Disney heroines such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are popular amongst the little girls and we’ve seen witches and pirates of every description. We teach them a few Halloween words, play some games, have some fun without cracking the textbooks and send them home with a bag of candy. Halloween really is for children!
Here’s my favourite costume of the week. Isn’t he just adorable?
And here’s one little guy who wasn’t feeling well but didn’t want to miss the party. He slept through most of it!