The University of Iowa

This is Halloween

November 10th, 2015

By Luke Bader*

Hey Everyone!

Mmmm... Yakitori

Before I came to Japan, friends and family would always ask me fairly common questions. Because I am missing out on a few holidays back home this year, I usually get this one: “Do they celebrate Halloween in Japan?” Although Halloween is more typically a Western celebrated holiday, the answer is yes.

Usually on Halloween when I’m back in Iowa I spend the evening having fun with a few friends. While I still had a great time with new friends over here, since we are in Japan, our activities were a little different from what we usually do at home.

This year, Halloween happened to fall on a Saturday (for a holiday where classes aren’t canceled back home, I know some people who loved this). For me, I had something else going on as well. Halloween day also happened to be the day of my school’s festival (omatsuri). In the school’s courtyard we had rows of tents set up where many of the school’s clubs had booths set up to sell things.

What were they selling, you ask?

Food, of course! Aside from the most common festival foods, such as Yakitori, (which was delicious by the way), there were groups with okonomiyaki (best described as a type of Japanese omelet or crepe), yakisoba (Japanese stir-fry), Welsh cakes, and fish and chips (which were approved by my fellow student/friend who is from England).

After the festival was when some friends and I decided to go out on the town. In Japan, trick or treating is not really a common thing. Instead, many of my friends and other college students in Nagasaki just go out and have fun, although many people do this dressed up in fun costume. Now, anyone who is a fan of the internet knows that many college aged kids in America love to get creative with their Halloween costumes.

I’m here to tell you, America, we’ve got some competition.

I guess this was from the Brothers' Grimm version?

I decided to go to the meeting place a little bit early that night in order to check out the city and see what Japan did on Halloween. For most of the trip, things seemed pretty normal. However, once I got to Hamanmachi Mall, the sights became more interesting. Anyone who has ever been outside on Halloween has seen at least one person dressed as a zombie. But, have you ever seen your favorite fairy tale character in zombie form? Yes, apparently taking characters from beloved movies and fairy tales such as Frozen or Little Red Riding Hood and turning them into zombie form is a complete norm in Japan on Halloween. At one point I even saw a group of zombie Santa Clauses!!! It was interesting to say the absolute least.

After meeting up with my friends amidst the hoard of cosplayers (Japanese term for dressing up in costumes for fun), we looked around and found what we had been looking for, a karaoke bar!!!

Anyone who knows anything about modern Japanese pop culture should know a thing or two about karaoke bars. But, for my friends back home who don’t, I shall explain.

Karaoke bars are places where you can go with friends to sing to your heart’s content to any almost any song you want for a few hours. What’s that? You don’t like singing in public? Well, don’t worry my friends. In Japanese karaoke bars, you and your friends get your own room where you choose from an assortment of music and follow along to the lyrics on the screen. Throughout the evening, you are able to order drinks and snacks from a handy phone you have in the in the room and the staff will kindly deliver them to you.

For about two hours, my friends and I sang until we lost our voices. As you may have guessed by now, based on the title of this entry, the song I loved singing the most was ‘This is Halloween’ from the movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” After we all got comfortable with how terrible we all were at singing, we decided to brush out a few old favorites such as “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley and “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones. A few of us even got a little nerdy and sang “Cha-La Head Cha-La” from Dragon Ball Z.

Best karaoke singers in Japan? Nope... not even we thought so.

Unfortunately, if you remember from my earlier post, buses stop running at around 11 PM in Japan so we had to call it a night at around 10:30. But, due to the fact we had sang ourselves hoarse, we were all ready for bed. All in all, it was a pretty great night!

So, what did all of you do for Halloween? Did you have a fun night at home with friends watching scary flicks and gorging on candy or did you go out and scare people with pranks you’ve been dying to try since you thought of them a year ago? Either way, let me know! I’d love to hear about your fun times!

As always, if you have any questions for me, comment below!

Thanks for reading, everyone! まったね!

Quick Fact/Fun Story

  • Last year in October when I chaperoned a few Japanese friends of mine from the University of Iowa, we went with our club, the JSSC (Japanese students and Scholar’s Club), I was curious as to how surprised some of them were during the first stages of the haunted barn that we took them to. However, now that I’ve been to a haunted house here in Japan, I think I understand. When American’s visit haunted houses in the U.S., they are expecting people to jump out and scare them. However, I have come to realize that in Japan, it is more about setting up a scary walkthrough with creepy music than using jump scares. Therefore, when I first when to a Japanese haunted house about a month ago, I was surprised that no one jumped out at me. Don’t get me wrong, walking through what looked like a mental hospital/experiment laboratory from the 1950’s was still horrifying!

*Luke Bader is a senior majoring in international studies with a minor in Japanese and a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. This semester, the Jesup, IA native is studying abroad on the USAC Nagasaki Program in Japan.