Halloween first came to Japan in 2000 when Tokyo Disneyland hosted its first Halloween event, followed quickly by similar celebrations at Sanrio Puroland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Since then, this American holiday exploded in popularity across the country, but there are a few differences in the way Japanese people and cities celebrate the season.
While costumes and parties are still abundant on October 31 and sweet treats are still part of the holiday, haunted attractions are harder to come by and no one goes door to door trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Still, many Japanese stores get into the spirit by selling colorful decorations and desserts, including some made with purple sweet potatoes and even a black burger at McDonald's in Tokyo.
Halloween in Japan is mostly geared toward adults who want to dress in costume, but despite its newfound popularity, not everyone in Japan enjoys the holiday. Some Japanese see Halloween only as an opportunity for foreigners to dress in silly costumes and turn public trains into big parties, thereby disrupting commutes.
Halloween Activities in Japan
If you're in Japan in the fall, Halloween celebrations are often held in September and October. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanagawa are the most popular destinations for costumed fun, but more cities across the country are embracing the holiday each year.
Events usually take place in shopping malls and amusement parks and include street parties, parades, flash mobs, zombie runs, and costume parties at bars. However, the Japanese celebrate their spooky season in August, which is when they usually enjoy telling ghost stories and visiting haunted attractions.
Theme parks around Japan bring in some of the biggest crowds for Halloween thanks to their many diverse events:
- Tokyo Disneyland: Events include a massive parade with more than 100 floats and performers, haunted attractions and performances, and dance parties with ghosts and goblins. At sundown, the parks' many characters transform into ghostly versions of themselves to haunt the streets.
- Universal Studios Japan: Halloween Horror Nights features haunted houses and other scary activities, including a special holiday-themed movie ride. Like at Disneyland, characters at Universal will transform at sundown.
- Shibuya Hikarie Retail Complex: The International Costume Contest invites guests to compete in a variety of categories including scariest costume and best cosplay.
- Sanrio Puroland: The costumed characters at this indoor theme park known for its Hello Kitty-themed area will transform into spooky ghosts and goblins at night. You can also expect to find themed parties and celebrations throughout the month.
Japanese Costuming: Cosplay
While dressing in costumes for Halloween may predate the tradition, "Kosupure"—which is the Japanese word for cosplay (or costume play)—is not only popular among Japanese youth during the holiday but also year-round at special festivals and events dedicated to popular culture. Dating back to the early 1980s but exploding in the 1990s, Kosupure has become a mainstream staple of Japanese culture.
Costume play in Japan usually means masquerade. In Kosupure, people often portray anime, movie, or computer game characters by dressing in uniforms, samurai or ninja costumes, and kimonos, but make-up and masks are also occasionally used. When it comes to Halloween, Japanese people combine the precision of their Kosupure costumes with the frightening traditions of this American holiday.
In recent years, schools and businesses across Japan—especially in major cities—have begun to embrace the fun of the Halloween season by allowing students, faculty, and staff to dress in costume. Additionally, you expect to find enormous street festivals, parades, and parties in Roppongi and Shibuya, where the famous scramble crossing turns the streets into an extravaganza where the best local cosplayers and visiting foreigners flaunt their costumes while enjoying music, dance, and food.
Halloween Traditions in Japan: Tricks and Treats
While you'll still find plenty of sweet treats and costumes in major Japanese cities to celebrate the Halloween season, there are a few differences in how Japan has adopted this American holiday. Traditions like dressing up may have survived the journey overseas but those like trick-or-treating were too different for most Japanese people to embrace.
Surprisingly, carving orange pumpkins into traditional Jack-o-lanterns is one of the traditions that Japanese people have embraced. However, pumpkins that are native to Japan have purple skins, so if you're looking to carve a traditional Jack-o-lantern on your trip, you'll have to pay a little more for an imported orange pumpkin.
Desserts and sugary confections are popular year-round in Japan, and Japanese candy companies spare no expense capitalizing on a new palette to market to consumers. Orange, black, purple, and green desserts are a big hit at restaurants and bakeries around the country, but watch out for the purple stuff—it's likely to be made from purple sweet potatoes.