Halloween in Japan


That is all.


These blog posts are supposed to be at least 1000 words long. Proverbial wisdom not withstanding, your silly picture snapped over the weekend is not worth that many. 990 to go, at least. *whipcrack* –Ed.

AWWWW ouch. Look at the tree. The tree is a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is decorated with pumpkins and ghosts. It is standing outside a Baskin Robbins in the Korakuen amusement park in Tokyo. When the witching hour strikes on October 31, the employees of the Baskin Robbins will remove the pumpkins and ghosts and replace them with lobotomized-looking Santas and reindeer. This has been a quick lesson in cost cutting in the retail sector.

No, but really. In Japan, Halloween is pumpkins and ghosts, just as Christmas is Santas and reindeer. I recently had the privilege of previewing, at my Day Job™, the e-Christmas card that one of our subsidiaries in a country a bit further to the west and south proposes to send out to our customers this year. It was like this:

Santareindeersleighpresentsstars BZZZZZZM (that is the noise of a high-powered blender) + GIF animation reminiscent of dodgy pop-up ads for screensavers + company logo = Happy Christmas!!

…? “Be this high kitsch?” you inquire optimistically. ‘Tis not; ’tis blood squeezed from the innocent heart of [COUNTRY REDACTED]. Well they do say “God rest ye MERRY gentlemen,” and there will be some very merry customers when the thing is sent out, my moans and *headdesk*s having been ignored as usual.

But, whoops! We’re still in pumpkin-and-ghost season, not Santa-and-reindeer season. It’s all blurring together, you see. My head…my head.


Perhaps I took one too many spins with Baby on the Pixie Cups. That’s us in the orange (thematically compliant) cup in the middle. You can’t see much of Baby except the tufty top of her head, but I promise she’s cute. She is abnormally cute. She is so cute that strangers come up and give her presents.*

So last Halloween, I dressed her as a teddy bear. Oh my gosh, she was adorable in that costume. I don’t have a picture of it, but just imagine a Fuzzy with a little sweet baby face sticking out.

Every other kid at her nursery was dressed as a pumpkin, a witch, a ghost, or some vaguely unseelie combination of the three. Pumpkinwitchghost BZZZZZZM = Halloween! Poor little Baby, so huggable in her teddy-bear costume, looked left out and lost, as if she’d turned up to the wrong party.

The Japanese Halloween is O-Bon, in the middle of summer. That’s when the dead souls come home and you float candles on the river to show them the way. Or have a tipple at the neighborhood O-Bon Dance and then go home and watch television. O-Bon isn’t any scarier than Halloween, anymore. But you still hear things from time to time. Like: don’t go swimming in the sea during O-Bon. The ghosts will suck you down and you’ll drown…

kawaii ghost

No Japanese person would voluntarily dress up as a ghost, ever.** Grinning white spermatozoa get a hall pass because they aren’t scary. They are kawaii. When I said there were kids dressed as ghosts at Baby’s nursery, there was actually only one and he was wearing a transparent rain cape with these printed on it.

This is how the Japanese language works to incorporate foreign concepts and protect its native concepts at the same time: the object at right is a ゴースト (ghost). But the object below is an お化け (obake). Obake translates as ghost, but you can see that they are not at all the same sort of thing.

kowai ghost

FYI, this particular obake apparently appeared in a haunted house attraction at Tokyo City Dome, right next door to the Korakuen amusement park. Obake and ghosts bumping elbows—that’s Tokyo for you.

Confession: to me, nothing is as scary as a Japanese obake. Nothing. These creatures give me the crawling, sweating horrors. Just thinking about stories I have been told (not gonna share; too damn scary) has me checking the corners of the room. Seeing flickers in the corners of my eyes.

But there are some genuinely scary ghosts in Anglosphere literature, too, of course. I wish they were better known in Japan. It’s a matter of pride, dammit. There’s more to my culture than pumpkinwitchghost BZZZZZZM KA-CHING!!

I’ll leave you with a link to a book that contains several of the most frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read. You might celebrate Halloween with a family reading of “Ringing the Changes” or “Elias and the Draug.” As for me, I’m going to go see whether I can carve a jack-o’-lantern out of a kabocha squash.


*This really has happened. More than once.

**Unless they were getting paid for it, of course.

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