The Antipodes Strike Back

Hi blog.

After several weeks of frequent rain, work, rain, family commitments, rain, typhoons… did I mention the rain? … well, I’ve bitten the bullet and have gotten behind the keyboard again, in spite of having no wildlife-related topic to write about.  Not a good way to celebrate Wild in Japan’s fifth anniversary.

No, it’s October, and that means my annual battle with Halloween.

You see, the Japanese tend to have fixed ideas about other cultures.  Basically, the Japanese see other cultures as represented by America.  That one can be a native speaker of English but have no cultural relationship with Halloween just does not enter the equation.  

As an English teacher in Japan I have often been asked to do something special for Halloween.  Usually it is a Halloween themed game, but sometimes the request is basically “Please talk about how you celebrate Halloween in your country.”

The difficulty in this kind of case it that the person who asked the question is not prepared for the answer: basically, we don’t.

OK, that statement needs a little more qualification.  Essentially, Halloween is not an important date in Australia.  Many calendars printed do not mention Halloween at all, or mark it as a minor date.  For those of my generation or older, it was largely seen as a foreign cultural import.  We all were aware of it, largely due to its inclusion in American films and TV programs, and sometimes it would come up in a social studies class.  Urban nightclubs and cinemas would try to cash in by having Halloween nights, and some people threw fancy-dress parties to coincide with the date, but the making of Jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating was not done at all.

The irony that the meme uses American cartoon characters is not lost on me.

The irony that the meme uses American cartoon characters is not lost on me.

There seem to be two main reasons for the Halloween’s lack of popularity in Australia.   One is the seasonal difference – the notion of a harvest festival seems out of place at time when harvest is several months away, although the seasonal difference has never stopped the exchange of Christmas cards depicting snowy scenes.

The second factor is British influence in Australia’s formative years.  The very same reason Australians like to put up a Christmas tree may be the very same reason they have rejected Halloween – Queen Victoria.  Victorian principles held a dislike for extravagance and there was some attempt to rid Britain of Halloween celebrations, right at the time when settlers from Britain were making up the majority of the population in Australia.  Had the New Holland colonies begun a couple of decades earlier or ended a couple of decades later, Australia may well have been a Halloween-loving nation.

I can't get enough memes taken from a line in a film that was not in the book the movie claims to be based on.  It's just like Halloween!

A meme taken from a line in a film that was not in the book the film claims to be based on. It’s just like Halloween!

Meanwhile, Japan, a world centre for costume parties – they did, after all, invent the word “cosplay” – has  taken Halloween on board over the last decade, at least in terms of decorations and fancy dress.  In other words, the most visible and marketable elements.  However, this has also had its dark side.

A few years ago, a group of revellers from various countries organised a party on a train (admittedly, not the greatest idea in the history of not great ideas) only to be harassed and threatened by local right-wingers and told that “Halloween does not belong in Japan”.  (Somebody tell the Japanese that!)

And just last year there was a huge Halloween event in Shibuya, leading to all kinds of traffic nightmares despite the 800 police called in to oversee it.  But the worst part was the comment by a police big-wig who suggested that people wearing costumes was a security threat because “you can’t tell who the foreigners are”!!

Not to mention my hatred of the popular media’s lack of research.  Leading up to the afore-mentioned party in Shibuya, one morning program managed to present Halloween to the audience as a “Western” tradition (as opposed to being of Gaelic origin) and the accompanying illustrations depicted a 17th century Thanksgiving celebration.

In short, I’m sick of being told to do something for Halloween because the Japanese think it’s part of my culture.  A bit like me demanding that the Japanese should do more activities related to aikido or Yakumaru Jigen Ryu.

End of rant.

This entry was posted in English teaching, Folklore and Mythology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Antipodes Strike Back

  1. GOAT 山羊 says:

    Perhaps the current western craze for scaring the hell out of strangers by wearing a scary-clown mask and lurking menacingly in the shadows will spread to Nippon and give the locals a true taste of western culture!

    A friend who taught in Tokyo years ago has a very entertaining story about lurching down the street in Shibuya or somewhere similar after midnight while very drunk from a Halloween party – and still in full zombie make-up. He woke up asleep on the street with some very agitated cops peering down at him wondering what kind of terrible accident had befallen the foreigner!

    Halloween is catching on even here in Australia. There was actually some low-key trick-or-treating in my neighbourhood last year. A year ago I was in Shikoku and several times was bemused to find Halloween stuff hanging in village shop windows etc – in August and September. I suspect people in Japan respond to all the cute-ness rather than the scary side, and maybe even assume it’s a general seasonal thing rather than a single night of fun.

    • wildinjapan says:

      Well, the masses see only the commercial side – the original Gaelic celebrations, the All Saint’s Day evening celebrations, the story of Jack etc. have all been lost in the transition. Everything except the date (if we’re lucky!) and what can be marketed. Don’t worry, the decorations were up early and would have been taken down just after closing time on October 31st (with Christmas stuff up on November 1st, no doubt)

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