With Halloween conveniently falling on a Saturday this year, retailers are hoping to further capitalize on an event that by one estimate will generate ¥122 billion in Japan.
Like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the annual celebration is a cultural import from the West that has become a major seasonal event in Japan.
But as the phenomenon gains currency, families are decorating homes with jack-o’-lanterns and preparing costumes for parades nationwide.
Just last weekend, 3,000 people staged a costume parade in Tokyo’s Roppongi district that drew 98,000 spectators, while at a separate event near JR Kawasaki Station 2,500 people in costume attracted 110,000 spectators, according to organizers.
This weekend, online video-sharing service Nico Nico (originally Nico Nico Douga) is organizing a “cosplay” costume event at multiple locations in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district that will be streamed simultaneously online.
Meanwhile, local celebrations are scheduled across the nation, including in Sapporo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Okinawa.
Tokyo Disneyland, seen as a driving force behind Halloween’s surge in Japan, is expecting a spike in guests over the weekend, and visitors have been encouraged to wear Disney-themed costumes all week.
“We are on track to see a record number of guests for October, although we don’t disclose monthly figures,” said a spokesman for the theme park, which began its Halloween festivities last month.
As more people seek Halloween fun, businesses are also increasingly focusing on its turnover potential.
Amazon.co.jp, one of the nation’s biggest online retailers, expects an increase in sales this year through its Halloween store section. It said orders for children’s costumes had peaked earlier in recent years, prompting its decision to open the Halloween section on Aug. 28.
“We think parents are trying to secure costumes early, because if they look around our websites too late, many items will already have been sold out, leaving few choices,” said an Amazon.co.jp spokeswoman, noting the store features some 120,000 costumes. “So we started two weeks earlier than last year.”
The visibility of Halloween has been increasing each year at brick-and-mortar retailers as well, leading operators to intensify marketing efforts.
This year, Seven & I Holdings stepped up its Halloween sales campaign by creating Halloween sections at all of its Ito-Yokado outlets. It is the first time the supermarket chain has adopted such an across-the-board approach.
The retail giant also introduced large packages of chocolates, cookies and potato chips that can be shared at gatherings in its Seven Premium house brand, according to Minori Masuyama, a spokeswoman for the holding company of Seven-Eleven Japan Co. Ltd., which operates the nation’s biggest convenience store chain.
“In winter, you have Christmas, and in spring, you have hanami (cherry blossom viewing). These provide opportunities for families, couples and friends to get together, and there is a growing trend of people enjoying such get-togethers,” Masuyama said.
“But there hasn’t been an obvious event like that in the fall. So Halloween has come to provide a similar opportunity for people to enjoy their time together.”
There doesn’t seem to be a single definitive factor that prompted Japanese to suddenly embrace costume parades or the decorating of houses with orange pumpkins and monster themes. But experts seem to agree it has something to do with an explosion of social networking services, such as Facebook and Line.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake was a key catalyst,” said Kiyoshi Kase, who represents the Japan Anniversary Association, which registers anniversaries for businesses, organizations and individuals.
The association estimates the market created by Halloween this year will be worth ¥122 billion, including sales in the textile, restaurant, DIY and confectionery industries.
“People have become more interested in getting connected with each other under a unified purpose,” just as they sought ways to cooperate in aiding victims of the 2011 quake and tsunami disaster, he said.
Line was launched shortly after the disaster and has rapidly expanded its user base in Japan as a new means of communication, mainly via smartphones.
While the majority perception is that Halloween is here to stay, Yasushi Senoo, chief research analyst at think tank Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., said the market created around the event still had huge room for growth.
“People spending money for Halloween are estimated to be about 20 percent of the nation’s population, and they are mostly in their teens, with over 50 percent of this age bracket spending on the event,” he said.
“So 10 years from now, these people aged from 10 to 19 will be 20 to 29. This means those who are buying Halloween merchandise with their meager spending money this year will have a lot more money to spend,” becoming a key growth driver, he said.
Blake Cunningham, a Canadian consultant in Tokyo who has organized a large Halloween party in Shibuya each year since 2008, welcomed the event’s growth in recent years.
“I kind of like what’s happening in Japan because it’s really interesting, in just a few years it’s exploded,” he said.
In the early years of his events, attendees were mostly expats. “We were kind of one of the only places for clubbing at Halloween,” he said.
He recalled seeing a loud costumed group of mostly foreigners raising hell on a Yamanote Line platform at JR Shibuya Station on Halloween about five years ago. At that time, he saw the group getting complaints from some Japanese for “disrespecting Japan or something like that.”
But he believed “everyone is enjoying it now. I think the police are embracing it.”