Halloween night is a celebration of the dead with Celtic origins that has gained popularity and managed to spread around the world.
Every region of the world has beliefs about death, spirits, demons and their own creatures. In Japan, Halloween is part of the culture and traditionalism that characterizes the country.
The October 31 holiday in Japan is both different and similar to Halloween in the United States or Europe. Death worship and tributes to ancestors are important within Japanese culture. Historically death is associated with the goddess Izanami and the Shinagami (Japanese specter). So, find out in this blog post about the influence of this macabre 31st holiday in the land of the rising sun. How this nocturnal event has been integrated into the rest of the Japanese traditions. Here are all the differences with the Western holiday... But first of all...
What is Halloween?
Japanese girls dressed in Kawaii Halloween costume with white makeup and fake blood
Halloween is a holiday in which children take to the streets dressed as mythical and evil creatures. Children go trick-or-treating by knocking on doors from house to house, under the motto "trick or treat."
Halloween is celebrated on the night of October 31, and the main creatures are witches, vampires, zombies, mummies, Frankenstein, pumpkins, ghosts, monsters etc... However, Halloween night in Japan is not similar at all. For one thing, they have their own terrifying creatures, costumes, disguises and traditions around this event.
How does Halloween work in Japan?
Young people wearing Halloween costumes in Harajuku: joker costume, clown, maid etc.
Halloween is a Western tradition that became Japanese in the late 20th century. Indeed, the first Halloween costume parade in Japan was established in 1983 by the Kiddy Land store. Since then, thousands of children from Japan and around the world participate in the Halloween Pumpkin parade in the Harajuku district. The children wear cute Kawaii costumes. It's a way for the whole family to have a fun and friendly time. There is also a scary parade that is held in Shibuya street in Tokyo.
The date of October 31 within Japanese culture is seen more as a commercial opportunity than a true Japanese tradition. Supermarkets, stores and malls take advantage of Halloween to decorate their storefronts with pumpkins, skeletons, witches, broomsticks, vampire teeth, werewolf ears and spider webs.
Bars host events and theme nights during this terrifying month of October. Restaurants and bakeries are offering pumpkin-flavored desserts to their customers. Macdonald's even offers black burgers. Starbucks is selling bloody frapuccino's for a devilish appearance to attract more customers.
They're not just selling bloody frapuccino's.
Amusement parks like Disneyland Tokyo and Universal Studios Osaka are packed during the Halloween season. The parks offer late-night parties so that guests are further immersed in a haunted house, horror movie atmosphere. Young adults dress up as cosplayers and manga characters.
Disney Japan theme park during Halloween: Mickey Halloween decoration and orange Halloween pumpkin
However, this only goes so far. Kids don't go trick-or-treating and ring doorbells saying trick or treat. They don't wear vampire costumes of witches, little monsters or a white ghost sheet. Indeed, in the Nipponese culture, it is impolite the Japanese are too much to disturb his neighbors. Yakuza mobsters used to hand out candy and sweets to children like in the United States and England... Without much success...
In their own way, according to their own myths and beliefs, the inhabitants of the rising sun celebrate their own Halloween to shiver in their own way. With their own creature costumes, their own beliefs about death and their own festivals. Not just on October 31, but throughout the year.
Let's discover together the essence of Japanese beliefs and the connections to Halloween...
As we have already mentioned Halloween in Japan is mostly a commercial event. The Japanese disguises are inspired by Shinto, Buddhist legends and myths. And also the legendary myths of Yokai, and oni demons.
Yokai: Japanese demon
A yokai is a creature, a Japanese spiritsupernatural or paranormal phenomenon in Japanese folklore. In Japan, there is no particular day to dress up as all these fantastic creatures. Instead, most of them have their own festivals, and characteristic costumes are worn depending on the situation and time of year.
Among the most famous are:
- The long-nosed Tengu demon who is a samurai master
- The Kitsune fox demon and its polymorphic power
- The Japanese demon Kappa who is a wrestler
- The monstrous demon Oni with his sharp teeth and horns
- The ghostly Yurei
- The vengeful demon Hannya who torments the minds of men
Since the year 2000, the city of Yamashiro or Yamashironishi has celebrated a carnival around these creatures.
This festival is the closest thing to Halloween in Japan. Not only is the date very close (first or second weekend in November), and the Japanese wear costumes themed around the world of the dead. Legend has it that on this date Yokai creatures mingle with humans.
Japanese Halloween costume
A Japanese man during Halloween in Tokyo dressed in undead makeup
Although most things are different in Japan, Japanese people dress up as demons, spirits, creatures and legends. They do this in most places that celebrate this or a similar holiday.
The most common Halloween costume in Japan is the cosplay. This adult and youth costume resembles a character from manga, anime or movies.
The most popular costumes in Japan are the cosplay.
The most popular are:
- Manga disguise: One Piece (luffy, Zoro), Ninja (Naruto, Sasuke, Pain) etc.
- Pokemon disguise: cute characters like Pikachu, Carapuce
- Walt Disney disguise: The Snow Queen, Cinderella, Snow White etc.
- Studio Ghibli disguise: the Princess Mononoke, Kiko the little witch, Character of My Neighbor Totoro etc...
- Video game disguise: cosplay of Noctis from Final Fantasy, Cosplay Mario or disguise of Link from the game Zelda
- Movie disguise: Marvel superhero disguise Deadpool, Iron Man, Thor etc...
Shibuya Halloween in Japan: man with a Deadpool cosplay costume
They also have their traditional costumes used by the Japanese to worship or imitate their demons and creatures from the Kami world. These costumes are much more complex and elaborate, practically handcrafted. In fact, they are worn by adults rather than children.
The main accessory for Halloween is the traditional Japanese mask. This type of demonic mask is worn at various festivals and events. Demons such as the Oni, Tengu, or Kitsune demon also have their own mask design.
There are also masks of some other creatures and characters that are quite scary such as the Hannya mask or the Kappa mask.
The Obon festival, the reunion after death
Floating lanterns with a candle on a lake during the Japanese Obon Festival
The Obon Festival, or ancestor festival, takes place in mid-August. It is a Buddhist festival where the souls of the ancestors are honored. In Japanese mythology, the souls of the deceased return to earth.
So families in the archipelago gather for an ancestral ritual. They visit the grave of their ancestor and pray in the temples. Offerings (rice, fruit, vegetables, cakes) are placed on the altars to appease the tormented spirits. The custom is to throw lanterns into the sea and rivers on the first and last day of the festival.
Each Japanese region holds a Bon Odori. These are traditional Japanese dances to honor the elders. Japanese people are dressed in Yukata for this summer festival.
The terror festival of Halloween and Day of the Dead, are similar because they worship death. It is the day when spirits and souls once again tread the world of the living.
Mythology, beliefs and traditions of death in Japan
Girl wearing a Japanese vampire disguise and a blonde wig for a Kawaii Halloween style
Halloween is a holiday that revolves around death and magical creatures. For Shinto Japanese, the gods of death are called Shinigami. They carry the souls of humans when they die like the great reaper.
The number one religion in the Land of the Rising Sun in terms of number of followers is Buddhism. Thus, Buddhists believe that if the person has been good in his life, he will reach Nirvana, that state of supreme happiness, at his death.
As you have already read, Halloween in Japan is a concept built around a series of myths, beliefs and traditions. That doesn't mean they don't celebrate Halloween. But. they do it in their own way, on different days, with different beliefs and ways of seeing. We hope to have cleared all your doubts about this creepy Japanese holiday.
Japanese woman with gothic Halloween makeup
Girl with bloody ghostly disguise during a Japanese Halloween
Japanese girl with Halloween Mummy disguise
Cute and colorful Kawaii style Halloween disguise woman
Three kawaii girls with japanese witch disguise, torn t-shirt, axe and broom
Credit images blog and banner image Tokyofashion