Halloween in Tokyo, Japan

26Oct07

My favorite holiday, Halloween, is fast approaching and I’m working on my costume this year. It will be modeled on a Japanese idea for evading criminals which I read about in the New York Times– I’ll be a Japanese vending machine! But I digress…

People often ask do Japanese celebrate Halloween? No. But it is increasingly becoming popular for 20-somethings to dress up on the day and party just like we Westerners do. Unfortunately this means none of the good ‘ol time, innocent kid fun of dressing up and trick-or-treating house-to-house that we can recall from our youths, but instead all of the drunken Bacchanalian debauchery of the 20s.

The big celebration in Tokyo is the Yamanote-sen costume ride-around, which isn’t as innocent as it sounds. You can read positive spins on it on the web, for instance at Japundit.com. Think lots of girls in sexy maid costumes plus drunken Aussies or Brits (remember that drinking in public isn’t illegal in Japan, so you can imagine what this can entail).

I saw on Japanprobe.com, instructions for would-be Halloween party-goers in Japan. They will be meeting again this year to ride around and around on the JR loop line in Tokyo, some in costumes and a lot of others in normal clothes. Most will get drunk, run around loudly, and basically annoy the staid, and stupefied Japanese people.

Is it cool? Not really. A form of protest as Japundit’s Dave Weber claims? Since when was getting drunk in public anything other than disorderly conduct? There is no political statement about “crowded trains” as our English-teaching slave Mr. Weber would have us believe. It’s exactly as one Japanese commentator said: for the most part, a bunch of irresponsible, drunk foreigners acting crazy post-college before they go back home to their countries and are forced to get real jobs doing something other than teaching English. Basically, it’s the “Asia-as-playground” mentality, and it’s the one of the saddest and most regrettable phenomena I witnessed during my time there.

If you’ve never heard of this gaijin tradition in Japan, then you can see what it entails by watching videos at 2channel. I don’t know the history of the event, but as someone pointed out in the comments, why not do it in a park or someplace less bothersome to tired Japanese salarymen and women who don’t understand this tradition and just want to get home without having to negotiate the cramped train with giant, drunken, and scary foreigners? Most of the Japanese respondents were rightfully upset at the sight of drunk foreigners behaving obnoxiously and rudely in public, and I think Westerners would feel the same way.

I was trying to think of something similar happening in my country: like Hispanics or another immigrant group coming to New York City and flouting all accepted norms of public decency, ignoring local culture, and instead shoving their culture in my face on the train… I think Americans would be pretty pissed (to put it mildly). Sadly, a few of these ignorant people, who seem completely uninterested in the Japanese culture they actually find themselves in, are simply furthering stereotypes of gaijin as loud, dangerous, and rude.

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