Anyone who has spent Christmas or Valentine’s Day in Japan before will know that when it comes to Christian festivals, Japan is, for a predominantly Buddhist country, surprisingly quick to embrace such events.
Indeed, I can honestly say that, at least in a commercial sense, Valentine’s Day in Japan seems even more of a big deal than it ever was back in Scotland. I’m not usually one to support rampant commercialism, and indeed it does often bring out the worst in humanity. And yet, there is something about the way the Japanese do it that somehow makes it more palatable.
Photo: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr
Yes, it is all far too gimmicky and materialistic, but honestly, over the years I have grown to love a good Japanese Christmas.
So, that’s it for Christian festivities, how about the world’s most famous pagan festival, Halloween?
Again, it’s fair to say the Japanese certainly don’t approach it in any kind of half-hearted measures.
Kawasaki Halloween Parade
Photo: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr
If you go down to Tokyo’s Akihabara or Osaka’s Nipponbashi district on a weekend, you are sure to see those most famous of all Japanese sub-cultures, the cosplayers.
Cosplay, meaning the hobby of dressing up as your favourite fictional characters or group of characters is one of those things we often used to look at and say “only in Japan!”
These days however, thanks to large scale events such as San Diego Comic Con, and its other various regional variants, cosplaying has gone mainstream.
Zipper Face & Sugar Skull, Osaka
Photo: Ki on Flickr
It’s no surprise then that Halloween to these people is like all their Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries rolled into one!
I too have to admit, that since moving to Osaka a couple of years ago, I’ve also caught the Halloween cosplay bug.
Photo: Kanon Serizawa on Flickr
For the past two years, on the evening of October 31st, mild-mannered reporter Liam Carrigan takes a step into the shadows. What emerges in his place? The Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, Batman!
Like most cities in Japan, pretty much every bar in Osaka worth visiting will engineer some way of enticing the Halloween hordes into their establishment. Parties, drinks promos, free entry for those in costume are just some of the features on offer.
However in Osaka, there are two main places to be on Halloween. The first, is the world famous theme park Universal Studios Japan.
From mid-September onwards, the Halloween season kicks off at USJ and it truly is a sight to behold. Zombies running wild around the park, new rides and attractions based on some of cinema and video games’ scariest franchises, and a host of other unexpected scary surprises await new visitors at this time of year.
Those of a nervous disposition have the option of wearing a special “zombie-repellant” wristband that will stop the hordes of the undead from chasing you across the park!
Halloween Style at Universal Studio, Osaka
Photo: sean on FlickrThe highlight of Halloween for the last 2 years at USJ has undoubtedly been the pulse-pounding thrilling experience that was Biohazard: The Real
Based on the popular video game franchise (known in the west as Resident Evil), Biohazard; The Real drops you and your friends right into the middle of the zombie infested Raccoon City. With nothing but your small guns and your wits to help you, you must fight your way through the dozens of denizens, solving puzzles as you go. You have a strict time limit however, and should you fail to get out within the time limit, you too will succumb to the dreaded “T-Virus” and become a zombie just like all the other hapless residents.
The ride proved so popular it has now been kept on as a permanent fixture at USJ, albeit with an update this year to give previous survival horror alumni a fresh challenge.
As I mentioned previously, it’s not only USJ where Halloween takes over in Osaka.
For the more seasoned cosplayers, those who love to see their comic book and movie heroes in the flesh, or those who just love a good old wander into the wonderful world of uniquely Japanese weirdness, the place to be in Osaka on October 31st is Amemura.
Amemura, or American Village, to give it its full title, is a highly popular hang-out spot for the young, hip and trendy, of which I sadly, am probably no longer one, in Osaka.
Its combination of fast food outlets, alternative clothing shops, frequent live music performances and its generally unconventional feel, ensures that Amemura certainly stands out from the crowd as far as the Osaka nightlife goes.
Offbeat, would probably be the best way to describe it.
Anyway on Halloween night, or the nearest Saturday to Halloween on the calendar, the whole place goes crazy as cosplayers of all shapes and sizes descend on “Triangle Park” in the centre of Amemura to eat, drink, take photos and soak up the atmosphere.
Photo: Ari Helminen on Flickr
For a first timer, the sight of Batman and The Joker sharing beers with the Super Mario Brothers, whilst Pikachu photographs a breakdancing Spiderman in the background is an unforgettable if somewhat surreal experience.
It is also a testament to the Japanese people and their sense of manners and courtesy, that despite their clearly being far too many people in the area at that time, never once in the half dozen or so times I have been there around Halloween time over the past 2 years have I ever witnessed any trouble or seen any excessive littering.
Another interesting foible to the Japanese Halloween experience is that if, like me, you are fortunate enough to work in a school or any other kind of job with kids then you can expect to be organizing Halloween parties, games and perhaps even donning your costume to entertain the students.
The old adage goes: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” And I’m sure many of us have seen the internet meme that often accompanies this phrase.
So I have to admit to taking more than a little bit of satisfaction from being able to walk into a Japanese public elementary and junior high school dressed as Batman!