Halloween is one of the most popular holidays in countries like America and the UK, and it can be easy to forget that not every country will have the same traditions and beliefs as Western culture.
So, wondering whether Japan celebrates Halloween is very normal!
The short answer is that Japan does celebrate Halloween – but not all of it. It only enjoys certain parts of the festivities that tie in with their own beliefs.
Carry on reading to find out when Japan first started celebrating Halloween, and how they like to take part in the scary holiday!
When Did They First Start Celebrating Halloween In Japan?
While Halloween is certainly a huge event in Japan, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the spooky celebration was only said to have been introduced to Japan in 1997 – with the release of Tokyo Disneyland’s first official Halloween festival.
‘Disney Happy Halloween’ in Tokyo was full of everything you would want from a Disney event – festive, scary rides, parades, firework displays, and decorations that were fitting for the October season.
Once it was clear that Japan wanted to take part in Halloween, other theme parks joined in with the theme. The big two parks to do this were Universal Studios Japan, in Osaka, and Sanrio Puroland in West Toyko.
Interestingly, Japan doesn’t often call Halloween by this name during their celebrations. The most popular name for it is obake no hi, which translates to ‘Monster Day’.
While countries like America closely associate Halloween with death and scary ghouls and monsters, Japan doesn’t have this same association. They see it as something fun and exciting, without the fear of evil beings trying to terrify them.
This is because Halloween was only imported to Japan, and interestingly, they have their own month to share their scary ghost stories.
Japan celebrates Obon in August. This is believed to be the time when spirits who have previously passed can come home to earth. Once they have arrived, they can visit family and friends – or they can enact revenge on those who hurt them.
Because there is such a huge world of spirits currently in existence, under Obon ideology, you won’t know whether these spirits have positive or negative emotions tied to them.
One of these spirits is well known, because of how it has been portrayed in horror films. This is Yuurei. A Yuurei is a manifestation of a vengeful soul, and they are drawn back to earth because they haven’t gotten rid of the negative ties to the world.
You will probably recognize the Yuurei from its depiction in The Ring.
On Obon, humans can visit family graves and reminisce with stories from when they were alive and update the spirits on what has been happening since they left earth.
Many Japanese people also like to visit the graves to tell scary stories, truly getting into the Obon spirit. So, while Japan does celebrate Halloween in October, it has nowhere near as much significance as Obon does in August.
Which Areas Of Japan Celebrate Halloween?
The main areas that have large celebrations for Halloween are Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanagawa. Tokyo is particularly popular for its street parties, where millions of people will fill the roads in fun costumes and party the night away.
The districts in Tokyo that have huge street parties are Roppongi Hills, Ikebukuro, and Shibuya.
A huge 1 million people attended the Shibuya Halloween street festivities. They were incredibly lively and were known for having amazing costumes.
However, the big events in this district were actually banned by the local authorities. This is because the streets got too rowdy, and they were disrupting the citizens who were living around the area.
The authorities took the ban to the next level, and banned any public drinking from October 25th to November 1st, to ensure that no one could celebrate with a street party around the spooky season.
This district hosts one of the few kid-friendly Halloween parades in Japan. They follow a new theme each year, and they are always a huge source of excitement and entertainment for children!
This district is home to the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival. Since Japan was already a huge fan of cosplay, and it is certainly one of their most popular traditions, it only seemed right to combine it with Halloween’s fancy costumes!
This festival lasts two days, and it brings in hundreds of thousands of people each year. Not only do 20,000 cosplayers take part, but 100,000 spectators also turn up to watch the performances and get a glimpse of the intricate costumes.
Kyoto is one of the more mystical places to explore during the Halloween season. One of its biggest events is the annual recreation of Hyakki Yagyo, which translates to ‘Night Parade of 100 Demons’ (see also ‘What is an Oni?‘).
This always takes place on the third Saturday in October, and it is based upon a thousand-year-old Japanese folk tale. It states that a group of demons and other supernatural beings will appear on earth and walk the streets in a parade-like fashion.
You can also find Ichijo Yokai Street in Kyoto.
This street holds a lot of mysticism and tradition, and it is believed to be the boundary line between the human and the spirit world. It is also known as ‘monster street’, and you can find markings of some monsters along this street.
How Is Halloween Celebrated In Japan?
As was mentioned earlier, one of the biggest ways Japan celebrates Halloween is through creative costumes! Since the country already does so much that involves cosplay, it is very simple to extend this throughout the Halloween season.
One of their more interesting costume traditions is called Otona ni nare. This roughly translates to ‘Becoming an adult’. This only happens on Halloween, and with it, adults will dress as kindergartners as a way of reliving their youth – with lots of partying in the streets.
As well as this, Japanese schools (see also ‘Do All Japanese Schools Have Uniforms?‘) love to participate in costume competitions around Halloween!
Since kids won’t do trick or treating as it can be deemed rude to interrupt and bother children, these competitions are a way of allowing children to learn about other traditions safely (away from the street parties).
Food And Merchandise
Japan is incredibly fond of using Halloween in its merchandising of popular products and foods. Some of the most famous examples are when it adapted the KitKat flavors and packs to match the ghoulish season.
One of these was a Halloween pack that has a little Haunted Mansion on the front.
Krispy Kreme, Floresta Nature Doughnuts, and Starbucks have also had a huge Halloween presence in Japan.
Starbucks has had a huge appeal in Japan’s scary season, and they even released a ‘Halloween Witch’ and ‘Halloween Princess’ collection that was supposed to represent good and evil.
Perhaps one of their most famous experiments was with the ‘Treat with Trick Frappucino’, which was actually Japan’s classic Roasted Sweet Potato Frappuccino disguised as something new – the ultimate cosplay!
They dressed up one of Japan’s favorite drinks with some purple potato-flavored sauce to trick customers into believing it was a new drink.
Purple is a huge color for Halloween in Japan, as the purple sweet potato is a statement of Fall for the country – just as the pumpkin would be a statement for America.
Also mentioned earlier was Japan’s huge investment in Halloween festivities at theme parks and street parties. These street parties are growing bigger every year, and they are winning over the rest of Japan’s districts with their interest in Halloween.
This is apparent by the number of streaming events and online parties that have started in October to join in with the parties. As well as this, Halloween is huge in the media.
Fuji TV and Nippon TV have collaborated on special Halloween shows, as they realize that Japan has a rapidly growing interest in the event.
To Sum Up
Halloween is celebrated in Japan (see also ‘How is Omisoka Celebrated?‘). It is mainly acknowledged by dressing up in fun costumes and drinking since it is mostly enjoyed by younger adults.
However, some Halloween events are tailored to children – although Japan does not take part in trick or treating.
Since Japan is already incredibly invested in cosplay, particularly Japanese anime and manga, Halloween is seen as an extension of this. Halloween isn’t a scary event in Japan – this is saved for Obon.