Hannah’s Shenanigans: Adventures in Japan

Five Ways to Celebrate Halloween in Japan! …Plus bears!

So as this post relates to Halloween, I’ve been meaning to write it for a while. However, November also happens to be NaNoWriMo (if you don’t know what that is… Google it!) so I’ve been using all my free time up until now to work on my novel. But alas, here it is – the Halloween post!

Preface

So despite the fact that I had laryngitis for three weeks – just happening to have picked it up before going to the first of my five Halloween celebrations – I managed to have a great Halloween! I may have actually engaged in more Halloween celebrations this year than I have in any year previously. Ironic, considering that Halloween wasn’t really a thing in Japan until recently. In fact, the last time I was here in October, just four years ago, I don’t remember seeing anything relating to Halloween – and I was in Tokyo!

But this is Japan. Things get popular. They catch on. Like wildfire…

Those were all pictures taken at the Halloween gathering at Shibuya (in Tokyo) this year. I didn’t go, though I did go to the New Year celebration at the same location last time I was in Japan, and from what I’ve seen and read, the newly-popular Halloween celebration is MUCH crazier.

When I inquired about just when Halloween became a thing in Japan to my host mom, she said it only just started being celebrated in a few places four years ago, the last time I was here. And now…

Things catch on here.

I rest my case.

So while I didn’t go to the crazy Halloween celebration in Shibuya, I did still manage to keep myself pretty busy with Halloween celebrations in the inaka (Japanese word for the country, the boondocks, the middle of nowhere, etc.), each one quite different from the next.

The Gaijin Halloween Party

For those who don’t know, the word “gaijin” means “foreigner” in Japanese. If you are a foreigner living in Japan, you will be using it. A lot. Also, it can be used as a verb! (Not really…but if you’re also a foreigner living in Japan… you know what I mean. *wink*)

The first of my Halloween celebrations took place at the house of another ALT, about an hour away from where I live. Yes, I said house. And yes, it was a big house – to those who may be future JET participants,  that’s just one of the possible perks of being in the inaka. This person is not the only inaka JET I know with a house.

I wore a cosplay outfit for this one. I wanted to buy a costume, but as I found out, despite being able to find Halloween paraphernalia EVERYWHERE since mid-September, Halloween costumes are nigh impossible to find (at least in the inaka…) in stores. Really, Japan? Really? Costumes are the most important ingredient! Apparently most people just buy their costumes online, but I was a little short on time, so… cosplay time!

This party was of the gaijin, by the gaijin, for the gaijin – that means, because we gaijin are quite experienced with this whole “Halloween” thing, that… It. Was. Awesome. There was Thriller. And a costume contest. And English! But most importantly, Thriller. And that’s really all that needs to be said.

The Juku Kids Halloween Party

A teacher at one of my ALT’s friends schools tutors kids in English on the side. Basically, after school or on weekends, kids in Japan often go to cram school, or, as they refer to it, juku. English is a popular subject for juku as Japan’s English curriculum is, let’s face it, not the greatest.

So anyways, this teacher decided to host a Halloween party for all her students and she invited my friend. Later, I was invited too because it turns out most of her students are also my students, and they wanted me to come. So off I went, to Halloween party #2, the day after the Gaijin Halloween Bash. Now I think it’s important to note that at this point, I sounded very much like, well, a chain-smoker. I’m pretty sure I could’ve scared small children (and adults) without even wearing a costume!

In order to make myself a little more approachable (and to embrace the fact that I’m in Japan, the capital of cute) I decided to wear the cutest possible costume I could think of. I decided to be a Pokemon. Fennekin. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s a plushie of it in the picture below. Since Japan also doesn’t really seem to have any craft stores (again, in the inaka, at least), I ended up buying supplies at Daiso, a 100 yen shop. And I managed to throw together the following costume in about two hours.

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Success – go me! The funny thing is, despite having worn the costume quite a few times since making it, I don’t actually have any pictures of me wearing it. ^-^;; But you can only imagine, right? The orange pile toward the bottom of the picture is a pair orange tights – gotta love that 100 yen shop.

So back to the party… my friend and I show up and I see one of my students before we even walk inside, one of the JHS boys! And from that point on, I realized I would not live down wearing that costume! XD When I was told that my students wanted me to come, I had thought my elementary students were being referred too. I knew the ES students would love the costume, as they’re all about Pokemon and cute things in general. But yeah, turns out this teacher tutors both JHS (four other JHS kids ended up being there too) and ES students! I can only imagine being a JHS student and seeing my teacher in this costume! XD Still…I have no regrets!

All in all, I was very impressed with the party! We (OK, my friend, because I was almost mute…) gave a brief introduction of Halloween. Then we went trick-or-treating, which was a surprise! This teacher went so far in planning this party that she actually got the OK from most of the neighbors to hold a mini trick-or-treat – nice! Despite my friend and I insisting we were too old to be trick-or-treating, the teacher wanted us to take part too. So I can say with confidence, that I, at the ripe age of 25, went trick-or-treating. And not escorting small children while they trick-or-treated. No. I went ACTUAL trick-or-treating. In Japan. And I still have candy left! The funny roads life takes us on sometimes…

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A very deep and artistic picture I took of a persimmon I received whilst trick-or-treating. Really, Japan? A persimmon, for trick-or-treat? You’ve still got a lot to learn about this whole “Halloween” thing, but you’ll get there. At least it has a face and looks like a pumpkin, am I right?

Also, this:

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At first I thought, hoped, that was some beautiful Engrish on that Haribo wrapper. Turns out, they were just making a pun? …Maybe. >.> Still not totally convinced. To the left is a pin in the shape of candy that one of the high school kids gave me before leaving! Who doesn’t want a pin shaped like candy?

After trick-or-treating, the teacher wanted us native speakers to make small talk with the kids. I did, though I’m not sure how much they could actually understand, given the state of my voice. Made for some damn good practice though! I mean, if they could understand me with my sexy chain-smoker voice, then I’d like to believe they could understand English in any of the strange forms it might take!

The kids left and then the teacher had us stay for dinner – tacos, to be specific! I think it’s the first time I have ever eaten tacos in Japan. The only thing we were missing was sour cream, which is almost non-existent here. When you do find it, it tastes a little… strange. So no sour cream, but awesome tacos, nonetheless!

Cantina Halloween-a

Speaking of tacos, there’s this fantastic Mexican restaurant in Kyotango, actually ran by a Mexican guy, I hear. I’ve yet to eat there for real, though I did go to the Halloween party they hosted!

This party was nearly a week after the juku one and my voice had progressed from chain-smoker to completely mute, back to chain-smoker again. So I decided to have a little fun with it – I decided to be chain-smoker Fennekin this time! How is chain-smoker Fennekin different from normal Fennekin, you ask?

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This little beaut, my sick mask + cute animal-esque face. In Japan, people usually wear masks when they’re sick or getting sick…so needless to say, I had fun with it.

The party itself was pretty much just a lot of eating, eating, and more eating. Makes sense, considering it took place at a restaurant. But alas, there were no tacos. Sadness.

There was Sin City though! Why? I have no idea. It’s a Halloween-ish movie… I guess? (but not really though…)

The Enkai (Not-Halloween) Party

So my co-workers decided to finally have a welcome enaki for me. Basically, an enkai is a Japanese party, usually taking place at an izakaya (a Japanese bar… again, Google is your friend). It’s the only time you really see Japanese people let loose and, well, go bat-shit crazy due to high levels of intoxication. Sometimes. If you’re lucky.

Now, the welcome enkai is supposed to happen when you arrive in Japan. Or at least close-ish to when you arrive. I arrived later than most, however, so I assume they were too busy to just have one at the random time I decided to show up. So… Halloween enaki! It was actually on Halloween. …Except there was nothing Halloween about it! It’s okay, Japan. You’re still transitioning into a Halloween-friendly country. I forgive you.

I expected costumes… but no – dress clothes! I had suspected as much, cause, you know, Japan. So I left my costume in the car and had only worn my chain-smoker Fennekin mask into the enkai, which I think was the right choice! My cutefied mask was very much met with a chorus of kawaii‘s! but I have a feeling if I showed up in the full costume, I would have NEVER lived that down. XD

The enkai was tame, but still fun – I blew my co-workers’ minds with many a fact about life in America. Their reactions were priceless. Even more so as the enkai went on and people got progressively more intoxicated!

The Halloween Class (Party)

The week after Halloween, I had Halloween lessons with all the classes at my JHS. I decided to do a Halloween game that was proposed in the JET Handbook, titled “Halloween Party.” And man, am I glad I did! The students, teachers, and I (but especially the teachers and I) all got more than a few good laughs from that one.

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At the JHS I manage an “English Board,” and the above picture showcases how I decorated it for Halloween!

So basically, in the “Halloween Party” game, you have 20 “Trick” cards with dares on them that award students with a lot of points if they do them, and 10 “Treat” cards that just give them a few points. Well, I had a fun time with the “Trick” cards, to say the least. I wrote some crazy dares on them – revenge for all the times I was humiliated as a student myself, I suppose. XD Some of the ones that elicited some great responses were “Do an evil laugh,” “Sit on a whoopee cushion,” “Say ‘I love you’ to everyone in class” and “Sing a song.” I had a picture of Elsa from Frozen on that last one, so one of the groups ended up singing the entire refrain of “Let it Go,” in Japanese at one point. Priceless.

By far my favorite though, was the following:

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The card’s hard to read, but it says they need to “Wear this wig,” and that if they’re a boy, they’ll get double points. Well, considering the overwhelming majority of my JHS students are boys, 8 times out of 9 a boy ended up wearing this wig. For the entire class. And the one time a girl got it, she ended up giving it to one of the male students in her group. So if you’re an English teacher in Japan (or any teacher anywhere, for that matter) try this game. You won’t regret it. And you’ll be known as “that teacher that promotes cross-dressing in the classroom…” Just saying.

In Conclusion (BEARS!)

You’re wondering where the bears come in, right? We’ll get there. …We’ll get there.

So before coming to Japan, when I found out I’d be in the inaka and in the mountains, I joked with people that I would totally be fighting with bears on my way to school. Ridiculous, right? Well, as it turns out, that may not be too far from the truth…

I went on a hike up a mountain near my apartment. Before ascending, I just happened to notice this:

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I don’t think you need to be able to read Japanese to understand the gist of this sign. For those who still don’t get it – BEARS! It’s a sign warning people to watch out for bears!

Well I like to test the limits of my mortality, so I climbed the mountain anyway. ….And I DIDN’T see any bears! (I did see a couple of deer up close though…) Crisis averted – I live to see another day! But wait, there’s more!

So just a few days a later, I’m sitting in the lunch room at school. And the principal gets up in front of everyone to make an announcement. Now, you barely see the principal in Japanese schools – he’s got his nice shiny office to hide in, after all. So you know that if the principal has shown his face in order to make an unplanned announcement, that it’s going to be a big deal.

Anyways, enough build up. I’ll get right to it. He said that around 11am (it was now around 1pm), there was a bear… just taking a stroll around campus. It went away, eventually, he said, but warned everyone that they should “be careful.”

This prompted a conversation with one of the English teachers who sits next to me at lunch. I asked her if this was normal. Her response? It happens. It happens.

On a side note, I had noticed that the elementary school kids always shake some sort of can or something, making a lot of noise, on their way to and from school. (In Japan ES kids walk to school by themselves! Crazy, right? It’s a different world over here, I swear…) Before, I had assumed this was a warning to other humans, so they don’t, you know, run them over with their cars or anything. But nope. It’s for bears. Apparently they hate noise? Apparently

Then, the English teacher that sits across from me told me I need to be careful near my apartment because bears LOVE persimmons (and there are a LOT of persimmon trees around where I live). I thought he was joking, trying to scare me. No. This is Japan – he was serious. I found out that bears really do love persimmons.

So yeah, bears. Therefore, ever since that day, I know that the threat is REAL. If I return to my apartment one day to find a bear chilling in my apartment snacking on some persimmons, I won’t be surprised. I was warned.

BEARurFACE

2 Comments

  1. Mom

    Great blog post, Hannah! I think your Halloween adventures over there far outweighed most people’s Halloween here! That’s so funny how many parties you went to! Also, the BEARS! What??? I never ever thought about that being an issue in Japan…not ever! I guess it makes perfect sense that they exist in the mountainous, rural areas though. I just never gave it a thought! So, now that I AM giving it ALOT of thought…you need to come home…NOW! Just kidding…but really you need to make yourself a noisemaker can to keep with you if you’re out walking or biking (or apparently, even going out to your car from school!) Also, get rid of that persimmon someone gave you while “trick-or-treating!” Get it far away from your apartment! Lol

    Reply
  2. Gma Azok

    using ALL of your resources? you have more miles to travel! reading what I have, you are a champion already1 ! FEEL AFFECTION FOR YOUR JAPANESE FRIENDS. GPA AND I MISS YOU1

    Reply

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