With a creative twist, the American practice of ringing doorbells on Halloween to ask for candy has become a crime prevention tool in some Japanese communities, where it helps to promote exchanges between kids, the elderly and others in the neighborhood.

In Suginami Ward, Tokyo, children dressed as witches, fairies, elves and other Halloween characters recently visited a daytime welfare facility for the elderly for a round of trick-or-treating.

“This is my first time ever to experience Halloween,” said 93-year-old Yasuko Muramatsu as she handed out sweets to the children. “But I feel so blessed to be able to meet them. They are like my great-grandchildren.”

A temporary child care center in Suginami Ward has been organizing the event since 2009 to enhance local exchanges. About 200 preschoolers took part this year on Oct. 19 and visited eight places in the neighborhood with their parents or guardians, including homes for the elderly and local commissioned welfare volunteers, the organizers said.

“I received lots of candies! I just can’t wait to try them,” said 4-year-old Hinata Sugimoto, who participated with her parents and younger brother.

Parents also gave positive feedback, extolling the benefits of being able to engage in cross-generational exchanges and noting that their children learned how to greet the elderly in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, the local branch of the Junior Chamber International Japan launched an annual trick-or-treat event in 2007 in which children visit homes serving as “Kodomo 110 ban” — emergency refuge spots for children — to familiarize them with where they can seek help in times of danger.

“Locally grown pumpkins were placed as landmarks outside the (Kodomo) 110 ban homes along school commuting routes ahead of the event so that even children who don’t participate will get to know the locations,” said Takeshi Onuma, the JCI branch’s board chairman.

Last year, about 100 elementary school pupils dressed up and took part in the Halloween event. The event was not held this year.

Similarly in Kobe, the Sakuranomiya Children’s Center has been organizing visits to homes of the elderly and Kodomo 110 ban spots around the time of Halloween since 2011.

“For crime prevention, if we only focus on picking out the hazardous locations along school commuting routes, that could cause anxiety or raise distrust among residents,” said Toshiya Yamamoto, a Meiji University professor with expertise in urban planning and representative director of Community Design Partners for Children’s Safety.

“Meanwhile, events with an element of playfulness are good opportunities for parents and their children to develop a relationship of trust with other residents in the community,” Yamamoto said. “As long as the children enjoy them and the adults also feel the events are useful, they will be long-lasting.”

Halloween became known to the Japanese public around 10 years ago, although not so much as a widely celebrated festivity than as part of marketing strategies by retailers and theme parks.

In recent years, a growing number of Japanese have been purchasing decorations or costumes for the occasion.

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