Celebrating Halloween the JCMU Way

In America, October is the season of spooky stories and scary movies. In Japan, however, it’s the middle of summer, with the rationale that being scared will chill you enough to combat the heat. These days, however, Japan is also beginning to celebrate Halloween with decorations, costumes, and parties. JCMU has been hosting an annual Halloween party for students and local community members since the 1990s. Let’s take a look back at the progress of this holiday in Japan, especially at JCMU!

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A Halloween party at JCMU in 1998

For a long time, parties like the ones JCMU threw were the most common ways people celebrated Halloween in Japan. Foreigners and organizations that catered to them were the only ones making a big deal out of the holiday.  But over the past decade, that’s begun to change.

Much of this is thanks to theme parks like Tokyo Disney and Universal Studios. Since they already import Western culture, it was easy for them to start promoting the holiday as well, and both parks draw huge crowds for their October 31 festivities. Foreigners and young Japanese people in the thousands dress up and attend themed attractions, parties, and shows. It’s also common for bars and clubs to hold costume parties around this time.

This mostly attracts teenagers and young adults, however, so small children turn elsewhere for their spooky fun. And in reality, it’s not too spooky. Halloween is less associated with death and the afterlife in Japan. Kids may have parties in class, especially if they attend an international school, or they may go to community events. JCMU’s Halloween party is mostly catered towards elementary school aged children.

What they aren’t doing is trick-or-treating. Knocking on people’s doors and asking for candy runs the risk of being a nuisance in Japan. It only happens in very controlled environments, like the JCMU dorm, or other places that try to share Western culture.

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Trick-or-treating at JCMU in 2006 (Krista Townsend)

Popular costumes for adults include devils, nurses, characters from movies and anime, and any of those plus zombie makeup. Many young women wear extremely weird and gruesome makeup  in order to look extra cute in comparison when they remove it. For kids, it’s about the same as in the U.S., but with an over-abundance of minions and Wallys (the Japanese name for Where’s Waldo‘s main character).

One more place you’ll see the Halloween spirit on display is at shops and malls. Japan loves nothing if not extreme decoration in stores, and you can’t go ten steps without running into a paper pumpkin, a cut-out of a ghost, or a festive banner. There’s themed ice cream and food, and convenience store snacks galore.

A lot of these items will have ghosts on them, but a specific kind, called obake. They’re more playful and less intense and scary than yurei, which are specifically the spirits of deceased people. Mummies, witches, and other classic spooky creatures are also common.

At JCMU, students first get together to decorate the academic building from top to bottom. Each classroom is turned into an activity center for the kids to enjoy. This has included a haunted library and a skeleton assembling relay game. And of course, everyone is dressed up!

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Preparing for the 2018 Halloween party

When the little ones have all gone home, there’s an after-party for the adults. With music, games, and pizza, it’s one of the most highly anticipated events for students and community members alike.

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Enjoying the 2017 Halloween party

So if you’re worried about missing out on the Halloween fun while in Japan, fear no longer: JCMU is here to share the spooky, scary holiday with all of Shiga, and you can be a part of it!

One thought

  1. Wow! Brings back memories of my time at JCMU in ‘93-94 … my mom sent some Halloween candy which we handed out during the party where elementary students visited the dorm and got their candy…. fun times! Charles W

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