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TDL Started Halloween Craze in Japan

October 29th, 2006

Japan tricks and treats itself to Halloween
By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Ghosties and ghoulies, princesses and pumpkins took to the streets of Tokyo this weekend as Japan celebrated one of its newest festivals -- Halloween.

Little known two decades ago, Halloween has spread in cities such as Tokyo, where autumn now sees florists selling pumpkins, shopping arcades festooned with paper Jack o'lanterns -- and even black-and-orange costumes for dogs on offer at pet shops.

Halloween, as Japan now knows it, is unabashedly American, and few Japanese know much about its origins.

"It's a time to dress up and have fun," said Yukiko Kobayashi, 34, whose 4-year-old daughter Kao wore a princess costume while watching a Halloween parade at Tokyo Disneyland.

Shunsuke Fujita, a 7-year-old dressed as a ghost at a Sunday Halloween parade, said: "It's a festival for ghosts, and it's fun because we get candy."

The festival's roots in All Hallow's Eve -- the day before All Saint's day, which commemorates the death of Christian martyrs -- resemble a traditional Japanese Buddhist holiday known as Obon.

But the three days in August when Japanese spirits are believed to return to earth are a mostly solemn time when families visit cemeteries to honor their ancestors.

"Halloween, like Christmas here, has no connection to religion," said Takayo Yamamoto at Hakuhodo Inc. Institute of Life and Living.

"It's all promotion for toyshops, florists and candy stores."

Most people trace the start of Halloween in Japan to Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983. The same year, a Tokyo toy store sponsored the first "Harajuku Pumpkin Parade", now an annual event in a Tokyo shopping area popular with youth.

Merchandisers have seized on Halloween as a welcome oasis in a long dry stretch from the summer holidays to Christmas.

"After all, in October there's nothing else to catch anybody's attention," said Masako Asaji, who has filled her restaurant's window with tiny Jack o'lanterns.

Some shops put up Halloween decorations in early September.

"When we first started with Halloween, we only had a one-day event, since people didn't really get the idea," said Hiroshi Suzuki of Oriental Land Co. Ltd, which runs Disneyland.

This year, though, Tokyo Disneyland began its daily Halloween parade on September 12, three days before Disney World in Florida.

"It's a good way to bring in customers," Suzuki said.

Thousands packed the park one recent weekday to scream and shout as skeletons and Disney characters dressed in Halloween costumes cavorted. Vendors sold treats with a Japanese twist: sweets made from pumpkin and sweet red bean paste. Continued...

The number of Japanese marking Halloween is still tiny and few engage in the American custom of "trick-or-treating" -- going door to door to collect sweets.

But awareness of the holiday is growing. A recent survey showed some three-fourths of Japanese had heard of the holiday.

For Japanese youth, some of whom already engage in the hobby of "cosplay", dressing up as characters from "manga" comics or "anime" cartoons, Halloween is another chance for fantasy fun.

"Halloween is a time when you can do whatever you want," said Rie Kakuda, 20-year-old florist dressed as a princess in an ankle-length dress with ruffles at Disneyland. "You're free."

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Ota)

-- Source: Reuters

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