Today is Halloween. This is the day most children love for two reasons: they can change their identities for one day and they can get free candies from neighbors as well as total strangers while threatening them with possibilities of pranks or tricks if the neighbors and strangers do not give them treats. “Trick or Treat!” All this is done in the spirit of fun and games.
I first encountered this macabre holiday in the US almost four decades ago when I started studying at a graduate school, and I was much puzzled by it: How can anybody consider this pseudo-extortion play harmless and fun? But, soon I became used to this strange holiday, rationalizing it as a communal way to let off steam from the aggressions which are usually repressed in civilized societies. I even enjoy seeing children dressed in various costumes.
Therefore, I was surprised to know that Halloween had a Christian origin, not necessarily a pagan one, according to Wikipedia: Halloween is “ All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve… a yearly celebration… on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day… the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead… By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing church bells for the souls in purgatory. In addition, ‘it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls. ‘Souling’, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls, has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating.”
Well, if this is the case, Japanese also have a similar traditional festival in summer, Bon Festival, when people pacify their ancestors’ spirits in the mid-summer. During this festival people dedicate feasts of new harvests and a dish to the ancestral alters at home and people participate in folk dance at nearby shrines and temples. Although Japanese Bon festival seems more “innocent” than Halloween, I think they are similar in the sense that it is the day for “memento mori” and effusion of pent-up psychic energy.
According to Takeo Doi, a Japanese psychiatrist, Japanese love festivals and fun. Then, I guess today’s Japanese must also celebrate Halloween. Sure enough, Japanese news agencies reported the gathering of a large number of costumed revelers in Shibuya, Tokyo, on the Halloween night. In fact, the revelers gathering became so large that the riot police force was called in to maintain order. Halloween in Japan started in 1983 by a “Kiddyland” store in Harajuku. Now it’s a holiday involving billion dollar worth of economy, even bigger than Valentine’s Day. It’s celebrated not only by kids and young people, but also by some middle-aged people in Japan now, according to one of the interviews I saw online. Takeo Doi is absolutely right. Japanese love fun.