If you’ve ever wondered why Halloween is popular in Japan, here’s the answer.

The beginnings in the theme parks

It all started in 1997 when Tokyo Disneyland created a Halloween-themed event to attract more visitors in autumn. Immediately after, Universal Studios in Osaka did the same; as events escalated, more and more Japanese began to celebrate Halloween. When the big chains realized that the popularity of Halloween was growing, they began to make a whole series of themed gadgets and accessories. Beginning October, you can find Halloween themed cakes, cupcakes, cookies and ice cream, filled with pumpkin or decorated in the shape of a ghost or bat. And of course, there are Halloween decorations everywhere.

The infamous ‘Halloween trains’

Remember that Halloween in Japan, as indeed in Europe, is not a real holiday, nor does it have the same meaning as American Halloween. In fact, in Japan the equivalent, so to speak, of Halloween is the Obon in August, when people tell ghost stories to try to scare each other. Halloween is therefore a more fun and witty version, an opportunity to party, dress up or cosplay.

Before the celebrations took hold, Halloween was not very popular in Japan. It often meant only foreigners who wore witty costumes in clubs and drank on public transport. So-called ‘Halloween trains’ were infamous, both in Tokyo and Osaka; non-Japanese in costumes would settle on the trains and start partying, obviously making it difficult for everyone else to get around. So much so that in 2009, outside Shinjuku station, a group of Japanese decided to demonstrate against foreigners who celebrated in this way.

parata halloween omotesando giapponePic: Mike @flickr.com – Omotesando Harajuku Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade

Cosplay and Japanese Halloween colors

Many believe that the main reason for the success of Halloween in Japan is the Japanese passion for cosplay. The Japanese love for cosplay is also the basis of the creation of the costumes: you can easily find handmade costumes, and be sure that they’re made with the best fabrics and accessories. Of course, the same goes for makeup.

In addition to the classic Halloween colors, Japanese Halloween often shows in shades of purple and fuchsia. Pack a sweater in one of these colors, or buy it there and it will also serve as a souvenir, and join one of the parades.

The post party

Since Japan is Japan, on November 1st you can see people, often still in costume, cleaning the streets from the night before. In 2015, Shibuya Municipality reported that more than 1,700 volunteers had joined Tokyo Metropolitan Government workers in cleaning activities. The local government now also distributes pumpkin-themed garbage bags; the goal is to inspire revelers to keep the streets clean.