On Halloween in Japan


So I taught a lesson on Halloween and some of my students wanted none of it.

I’m a fan of Halloween. I think it’s a little strange when Christians try to go off about it, when it was turned into a Christian Holiday quite a while back. The name is actually a Christian name, though some of the practices are certainly pagan.

Despite this, Halloween is celebrated quite nominally, just like Christmas, New Years, and Easter. Many people have taken all of the religious significance out of these events and have commercialized them.

The history of Halloween is quite complicated and no one is 100% sure where it came from. Just check out the Wikipedia page. But most sources say it came from the Celt’s ancient Samhain festival. Samhain means “the end of summer” and they believed on October 31st the world of the dead and the world of the living intersected and ghosts could visit this world.

This added up to a plethora of traditions that explain where we get trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanters, and punctuation inside words (because let’s be fair, every hallowe’en word can have some sort of punctuation in it).

So, if you’re celebrating Halloween this year, you’re probably aware that we no longer try to scare off spirits with our costumes or jack-o-lanterns, instead we’re trying to feed our children’s gluttonous passions like the monsters they are inside.

This is because, the Christians looked at Samhain, said “We should put our “All Saints Day” on November 1st. Because of this, there would have been a vigil the night before, preventing people from participating in the pagan festival. So, it was called Allhallowe’en, or which means the evening before Allhallowsday, the old word for All Saints Day, which is still celebrated in Europe.

So the Christians took it for religious reasons. Worse things have certainly been done in the name of religion, so we can let it slide. But people kept doing the whole Samhain thing, under the Hallowe’en name and Hallowe’en got returned to the same thing, with a different name. Eventually America just took it and commercialized it, because that’s how we make things “American” (if you can’t make money on it, it isn’t American).

So I decided, in my brilliance, to ask my Japanese students if they thought Japan should celebrate Halloween. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them were like “Yes, free candy.” Though I had several who wrote something along the lines of “No, because it isn’t Japanese culture. I don’t think we should celebrate American culture in Japan.”

Which, I mean, is fair. However, they forgot as quickly as a told them that Halloween wasn’t really American culture in the first place. They also didn’t realize that a lot of the “Japanese” things that they think are “Japanese” aren’t “Japanese” at all. Japanese people always get visibly upset if I remind them that Ramen is possibly a Chinese dish, that Buddah was from India, that Chopsticks are Confucian (and Chinese), that Haagen-Dasz is American and that they wear Western Style suits to work.

But they sure want to keep their “Japanese way” pure.

Of all the holidays, I feel like Halloween is the most innocuous. It has been commercialized until every religious bit has been beaten out of it like a potato that needed mashed. So if you want to take it, Japan, feel free. No one will be offended that you appropriated it or anything.



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