Considering the Japanese love of festivals and enduring popularity of “cosplay” dressing up, it was perhaps not surprising to once again see hordes of revealing zombies, ghosts, video game characters and other things that go bump in the night thronging the streets of major cities across the country on this past Halloween weekend.
Tokyo’s Shibuya and Roppongi districts, in particular, have become hosts to high-octane street parties in celebration of Halloween, providing a chance for thousands of people to show off some flesh and creativity in costume design, as well a photo opportunity for gawping tourists and wannabe otaku.
What is surprising is the degree to which Japan has embraced Halloween in a short space of time, to the extent that it now represents a larger market than the once exalted Valentine’s Day. In addition, although yet to overtake Christmas in generating revenue (though some feel it is not far behind), Halloween is certainly celebrated with more gusto! Indeed, so large has the business of Halloween become in Japan that it is now second only to that of the U.S. market.
Until 2-3 years ago, Halloween generally passed by without fanfare, apart from the “outlandish” behaviour of Expats, garnering limited interest from locals. Then, something changed. Streets began to fill with party-goers. In just a couple years, costumes went from simple Disney and low cost pumpkin-themed costumes to full blow cosplay outfits and makeup, some of which cost tens of thousands of yen to create.
A combination of factors have led to this cultural shift.
In the late-1990s, Tokyo Disneyland rolled out Halloween events. Although the initial impact was limited, these events did serve to bring children and young parents into contact with Halloween, thus planting the seeds for later growth. Furthermore, as many Japanese have become less interested in coupling, marriage and family formation, previously popular celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas are diminishing in relevance and becoming less compelling to young Japanese due to the focus on romance and family. In this context, space for new forms of emotional outlet is emerging.
Halloween, in contrast, is accessible, fun and social. In addition, as an imported festival, Halloween is free of limiting rules and social norms and open to interpretation. Furthermore, it can be enjoyed without the need for romantic relationships and is socially expansive. The “Instagram-ability” of Halloween events, parties, people and costumes provides a sharable, instantly gratifying social experience and connection with other people.
Article by Dave Perry