Celebrating Diwali and Halloween in Tokyo

Hiding behind masks, the people seem free to reveal their true self.

 |  5-minute read |   05-11-2016
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Post-festival blues are the worst. You are fat and guilty from all the sweets you devoured, the wine you drank and the yoga you skipped. You are exhausted from the endless late nights that you fooled yourself into believing you can handle.

Which, of course, you can’t because you are no longer 20 and you have an equally exhausted but excited child (lethal combination), who wakes at the crack of dawn and needs to be entertained.

Festival breaks are not like holidays — they are not long enough to rejuvenate, you don’t end up going somewhere fun with room service.

Besides, you have an agenda to get clothes, or in my case costumes (Halloween in Tokyo is huge and I’m not one to be left out), connect with family and make party plans: one for the kids, one for the grown-ups, organise the house, stock the fridge, catch up on shows, movies, exhibitions, shop and everything else you’ve always wanted to do in your own city but were too busy working through deadlines or ordering room service in that relaxing seaside town.

diwbd_110516061402.jpg Diwali in Japan.

This year I had the pleasure of Diwali, Halloween and a long overdue family visit to Tokyo all rolled into one. Doing Diwali in a foreign country can be amusing because you can just make it up as you go along, skipping the obligatory boring bits and adding your own loopy customs.

My home looked like a Diwali haunted house with scary bats, skulls, diyas, flowers and laddoos. After a lazy morning and many bowls of burnt halwa, we ended up at my favourite Buddhist temple, Zojo-ji, to destroy the tranquillity of that peaceful complex with our inherently loud, enthusiastic Indian ways.

Later, my medley of Japanese and international friends, dressed in their finest version of Indian clothes, showed up to feast on my deliciously elaborate buffet of Indo-Japanese delights (sashimi kebabs, tempura paneer and sushi biryani) that I did not spend hours in the kitchen cooking. But, like any Tokyo-ite, what I was looking forward to this Diwali was Halloween.

Last year I was surprised to see just how humongous halloween is here. Japan has almost as many festivals (religious, seasonal, cultural and historical) as India does. But I don’t know any other that is celebrated in this large-scale public way, not just in Tokyo but, I’m told, in small rural towns as well.

halobd2_110516061135.jpg A participant wearing costume symbolising Samsung Galaxy Note 7 walks among pedestrians after a Halloween parade in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Reuters)

If you’ve been witness to it you know how insane it is. From the time you come back from your summer break in August, you get bombarded with witches and pumpkin paraphernalia. Restaurants, shops, streets, malls and schools try to outdo each other with creatively spooky decorations and halloween-themed food, drinks, gaming booths, interiors and plants.

Even coffee shops do disgusting (but had to be tried) pumpkin-flavoured lattes. I can’t remember the last time I ate this much purple, orange and black coloured food that snarled and booed at me. Bloody drinks with gooey, rubbery eyeballs made of some tasteless, barely edible, substance are all the rage.

halobd_110516051953.jpg Revellers wearing banana costumes mingle during Halloween celebrations in the Shibuya district in Tokyo. (Photo: Reuters)

All this began about a decade or so ago in Japan. Before that it was an alien festival looked down upon and celebrated by outsiders in costume causing havoc on October 31. Now the Japanese own it and how!

It’s much more than just a marketing gimmick gone right. As I navigated the throngs of outrageously dressed people on Halloween night in Shibuya (the busiest crossing in the world that gets converted to pedestrian only), Tokyo felt different to me.

This city of fetishes and bizarre practices has always felt sanitised and minus an edge. But this night of spooks finally felt like a day of freedom for a society that is highly regimented, controlled and systemised. Differences are frowned upon here but on halloween night they are celebrated.

The weirder the better.

halobd3_110516061530.jpg Hiding behind masks, the people seem free to reveal their true self.

Hiding behind masks the people seem free to reveal their true self. Their love for cosplay, dress up and fictional/anime characters is no secret. Not a day has gone by when I haven’t walked passed some young Japanese dressed in costume or whacky character makeup. But they are a tiny part of the population, and for the rest of the uniformly clad people in neutral colours, this is officially the day to hide behind costumes to let loose.

Even with tens of thousands of masked people, crowds never feel mobbish here. This is why you got to love Halloween in Tokyo. Early evening, families walk around the neighbourhood trick or treating and once the kids have had their sugar rush, the adults go out to get theirs.

So now you know why I have the mother of all post holiday blues. The more fun you have, the harder it is to return to your normal life.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t get through any of my ridiculously long want-to-do list. The only thought that’s making me feel better is that the air I breathe in Tokyo is clean and fresh and I don’t have to deal with post-Diwali firecracker (how can it still be legal?) pollution of Delhi.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: What Diwali means to a non-religious person


Koel Purie Rinchet Koel Purie Rinchet @koelscouch

Professional Attention Seeker. Currently loves and writes in Tokyo.

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