Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Almost exactly three years ago, I had made from this very pages a prediction: I wrote “[…] as has been the case with all imported customs, this will also mutate enough with time to become something purely Japanese […]” Three years later, I’m writing this article risking being called self-aggrandizing but the hours I spent in Shibuya this Saturday convinced me I was right: Halloween has already been transformed into something most Americans wouldn’t recognize and this is something I heard the same hours from several of them who were wandering around the area’s streets and something I read on the Internet from those who relayed their experience in the social media and the Japan-related websites.
In the US, Halloween is basically a holiday for children; of course there are costume parties for adults but I have never heard about street parties especially in the numbers involved in Shibuya’s Halloween. I haven’t read any official estimates but based on any familiarity with Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri numbers I wouldn’t find it hard to believe that on the night of Halloween the streets of Tokyo’s (still) trendiest area there were about one million people, most of them in costumes –and with an emphasis in detail, especially when it came to makeup, so characteristic of the Japanese. As for the demographics, I would say that the lion’s share went to young women, between 18 and 35 and as for the themes, I couldn’t help been fascinated by the fact that most of them had exhausted the thoroughness they devote in their everyday life to look cute, to look as repulsive as possible.
If Shibuya’s Halloween carries on in the same fashion –and its course so far doesn’t bear evidence to the contrary- I imagine that after some years we will see sociologists analyzing in length its hows and whys. Personally, and in the conceitedness of a successful prediction, I will submit once again what the readers of these letters have read again and again: the bacchanalian element is plentiful in Japan; so plentiful that one has to try very much to not see it in front of them or to willfully turn a blind eye and consider it casual. Everything that allows it to float to the surface can’t fail to be seen in a positive way and to be absorbed and assimilated and it is really fortunate and refreshing that a new generation is creating its own such “thing”, respectfully (even if unknowingly) observing its predecessors’ methodology i.e. importation, modification (also using elements from local tradition) and recreation. Does anyone today remember that ramen came from China? And among those who do remember, how many care?
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes on the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.