Monday, October 29, 2012

This is Halloween!

Japan has imported a few holidays. Mother's Day and Father's Day more or less survive with how they are celebrated elsewhere (Though as I have written, Father's Day seems to have become a sneaky way for moms to get an extra day off). Valentine's Day and Christmas have been changed quite a bit as various aspects of Japanese businesses have latched on to them for use to promote their products, chocolate for Valentine's Day and the hotel and fried chicken industry for Christmas (More on that in December), which leads to a bit of a struggle on my part because I want my sons to know the holidays for what they actually are and not think of KFC when Christmas rolls around.

But then there's Halloween, my favorite holiday.

And one that hasn't, quite, figured out what to do with itself.

It's not from lack of trying mind you, if anything the elements are already there. Japan loves a good scare. Japan abounds with monsters and ghosts a plenty, it has no issue with the idea of dressing up in costume, and it does have a sweet tooth, if not as sweet as Americans. It even has a holiday season akin to Halloween, O-Bon when the spirits of the dead return and bring with them ghosts and goblins. That could be Japan's problem actually, everything that Halloween is can be found in native Japanese holidays and customs at other times of year. But the idea of Halloween has been growing, pushed on not so much by a Japanese company looking to sell something, but due to hordes of Americans who have been teaching in Japan on the JET Programme and other related endeavors.

As part of the notion of internationalization and culture sharing, just about every AET, American or not, has had to conduct some kind of Halloween lesson or party over here. With varying degrees of enthusiasm no doubt, but they have been done and slowly, it's been growing. 8 years ago and you couldn't find anything Halloween related, now even the local grocery store stocks some themed candy. 8 years ago and I had to send to the US for my costume, this year I was flabbergasted at the display over at local store that included actual make-up kits and costumes that were not Christmas related (One of my fondest memories was helping at a Halloween event my first year in Japan just to see kids dressed up as Santa Claus). It's not the Halloween stores at home, or even Wal*Mart, but it's getting bigger.

That said, we still do not have the concept of trick-or-treating over here yet, at least not a general one ala the US. So what is a Halloween loving parent to do to help his sons get this most wonderful of holidays?

It's a start!
Simple, if the Mohammed won't wander over to the mountain, the mountain is going to continue as if it was still in the US, with some slight changes. Which means that I spent most of October getting the house ready for Halloween, building a mini (by that I mean 4 tombstones) graveyards and trying to find various Halloween decorations, much to the pleasure of the boys. It means hanging a Happy Halloween banner in the living room along with a paper jack-o-lantern (Causing Hikaru to spend most of October going around saying "Happy Halloween! Jack-o-lantern!" over and over again).

Scooping pumpkins
It means 45 minute trips to find orange pumpkins for carving instead of the small green ones for eating that Japan sells. It means getting costumes from America for the boys, renting some movies, and carving 5 different jack-o-lanterns (3 for the home, two for the various schools). And of course it means finding a way for my sons to experience the ultimate (For a kid) in Halloween, trick-or-treating.

Happy Halloween in Shiojiri
Unfortunately, that meant going to Happy Halloween in Shiojiri, probably the largest Halloween event in Japan, and one that grew out of a Halloween party put on by an AET some time ago. It's also somewhat of a madhouse. You have thousands of people crammed into a little area with various events, some of which are even related to Halloween, going on and in the middle of it, trick-or-treating. But, I have two sons, one dressed as a pirate, one dressed as a cute little skeleton, and myself... the overly large gaijin dressed in a very scary skull mask... surely... we could get through this.

I admit, they were very cute!
What became apparent very quickly was that we were causing a rather quixotic reaction in people, depending on who they saw first. If it was the boys, "KAWAIIIIIII" (Cute!) was the reaction. If it was me, "KOWAI!" (Scary!) so we went along trying to find our candy stations with shouts of "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" echoing around us. It actually got to be a bit of a problem as a number of people tried to make off with Hikaru (Being the overly cute one) and I had a bunch of people who assumed that I was so scary, I must be part of the staff and were following me around to see when I would be handing out candy, or doing something entertaining, myself.

Actually, the bad part was that I could do nothing. I have no qualms, even when not on the clock, of adding in a good scare, but Hikaru was jittery enough and I didn't want him freaking out at a scary Daddy so... All I could do was stand there and just look spooky.

Given that I caused a few kids to cry, that was apparently enough.

But we did have a good time and much candy was gotten. Even better from the boys' point-of-view, we went out for ramen afterwards, while still in costume and all without Mommy (Which means they got to rub it in when they got home that Mommy missed out on delicious ramen).
The loot
It might not quite be the same as home, and this Wednesday all we will do is light our jack-o-lanterns as I have class and trick-or-treating is done, but... I think it's a start. After all, Makoto is already planning for what he wants to be for next year and having demonstrated carving pumpkins to some friends, they want to start carving next year too. Slowly, ever so slowly, we're bringing in Halloween, properly.

Everybody scream!
Happy Halloween!

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