Romance is dead but zombies are alive: Japanese prefer Halloween over Valentine’s Day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 2:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 11:14am

Enthusiasm among young Japanese for Halloween continues to grow year by year, not only as a day to enjoy “cosplay” but as a time to spend on goodies like nobody’s business.

We wanted to go to Disneyland for Halloween, but since we couldn’t I thought I should dress with my daughter and celebrate at home
Shopper Megumi Kawaguchi

Observed in many countries as a time dedicated to remembering the dead, the celebration in Japan has become firmly rooted as an autumn tradition of lighthearted fun or a bit of the macabre.

According to the Japan Anniversary Association, the market size for Halloween this year has been estimated at 134.5 billion yen (US$1.28 billion), double the amount from 2011 – exceeding that of Valentine’s Day (134 billion yen), a celebration in Japan where women often present gifts of chocolate and other confectioneries to their significant others.

“There has been about a 20 per cent rise in sales each year since two years ago, and we are expecting an overall rise of 20 per cent this year as well,” said Yosuke Shimanuki, head of the sales support department for discount chain store Don Quijote Co.

To attract more customers the store set up a “Trick or Treat” booth, and a corner where the Hello Kitty character makes appearances a few times a day. Don Quijote provided costume fitting rooms for its customers at its Shibuya store.

“We don’t just want to sell our products but make sure there is no disturbance for people who are not celebrating Halloween,” said Shimanuki, adding that patrons can enjoy the activities, such as taking commemorative photos with Kitty-chan, while they shop.

The uptick in sales is not exclusive to Don Quijote. “Halloween sales of confectioneries this year were 150 per cent higher than last year and more than on Valentine’s day,” said Hajime Morimoto, 67, president of Enfant Co., a confectionary store in the shopping mall Ginza Mitsukoshi. Most of the special Halloween items that were set to be sold from October 26-31 sold out, he said.

“We wanted to go to Disneyland for Halloween, but since we couldn’t I thought I should dress with my daughter and celebrate at home,” said Megumi Kawaguchi, 44, who visited the Don Quijote store in Shibuya with her daughter Momoko, 8.

Confection designs, some in the industry say, have become more ghoulish over the years.

“Until now there were cute confections in the shapes of pumpkins or spiders, but since last year sweets with creepy designs have become popular like ones with blood or those in the shapes of [severed] fingers or bats, said Morimoto, referring to an influence of ”creepy costumes“ that according to him Japanese only recently have grown an affinity for.

Halloween’s popularity caught fire in Japan for the first time when Tokyo Disneyland organized an event in 1997, according to Michiaki Tanaka, a researcher at the graduate school of business administration at Rikkyo University. He said Universal Studios Japan kept the wave going with another celebration in 2002.

Foreign visitors and foreign residents in Japan enjoy the festivities as well, many pointing out distinct differences between the celebration here and at home. For example, Halloween theme songs at amusement parks abound and there is more freedom to roam the streets in your Halloween garb.

“They have their theme songs, and they’re being played all around,” said Ayumurti Bulandini, 40, from Indonesia, who was in Japan on holiday. “We rarely see something like this in Indonesia.”

“It is not common to celebrate Halloween in Indonesia. We have our own private parties but not openly like this, and I liked it because everyone is festive wearing their costumes,” said Veronica Situmorang, 33.

Tours to take you on the Hong Kong ways of death this Halloween

Jacqueline Alexander, 38, from the United States, believes the celebration in Japan, at least at night, is more for adults. “They do have a lot of children things during the day, but in the evening it is about having a good time, showing up in your best costume. A lot of people here enjoy doing their own costumes, they get very creative,” she said.

Donald Trump was among some of the favourite costumes as was Japanese singer and comedian Piko Taro, famous for his Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen that was recognized by Guinness World Records as the shortest song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“I wanted to dress up as something iconic and PPAP is [currently] the most iconic thing in Japan,” said Australian Kieran Clarke, 22.

Dogs lead the way in over-the-top costumes for Halloween

For some Japanese it was the first time to celebrate Halloween. They descended upon Shibuya after watching promotions on television or hearing the hype on social media. Many might be unaware of why it is even celebrated.

“In Japan people do not know the purpose of the celebration but it is still interesting,” said, Mitsuhiro Imada, 18, who had come to the district with a bunch of friends in demon masks. “Though the original purpose is to celebrate harvest, in Japan it has become the day of cosplay. I think it is fine like that,” said one 30-year-old woman, who like her friends was dressed as a witch.