PHOTOS BY SQUID HRUSHKA
2015 Halloween Goodies...
In Japan Right Now.
Oh yeah. You nerds read right. Around the world outside America, most relationships with Halloween are shaky at best. Many countries haven't even heard of it, while others know it only as a corny, even distasteful slice of Eaglevania threatening to taint their pristine, Trump-free cultural oasis. An exception to this rule, or so I'd always been told, was the USA's favorite cartoon dealer, but many of the finer details had long eluded me. Where the subject was touched upon at all, the focus was usually on flashier, more tourist-friendly facets of the Japanese Halloween, such as Tokyo's annual costume parades or seasonally themed music events. Real Halloween, as we well know, runs far deeper than that. It weaves itself inside and out of American commercialism like an unstoppable, beautiful fungal infection, staining everything from our fast food promotions to our canned meats in green and orange slime.
So I knew Japan "liked" Halloween, even "celebrated" Halloween, but I never knew for sure if it truly lived and breathed Halloween to the extent that we do over here...until now.
Indeed, for the first time ever, I've got a contact halfway across the world to show me what the season looks like through an entirely different lens, and I'm pretty excited to share that with the rest of you. Let's see what kind of spooky nonsense I'd be blowing all my money on if I lived close enough to stalk Junji Ito himself!
The first thing we're going to look at is by far the most ordinary, but that's what makes it special! There's something so interesting about Halloween stickers this ordinary with Japanese on them. Even our neighbors in Canada barely sell Halloween merchandise, but apparently I could go all the way to the birthplace of Ultraman and still buy a pack of good old fashioned ghost stickers. But speaking of which...
Here's an assortment of ultramen themselves, on an orange checkered background advertising Halloween merchandise. You know what would be on a sign like this here in the states? Probably some sexy maids or some kids dressed like Disney's latest CG brain farts. BORING. Ultraman at least fights monsters. That's already twice as Halloweeny as the costumes advertised at Wal-Mart right now, and it doesn't end there!
Here's some of those monsters now, in fact! From the left to right we've got Garamon, the beloved Baltan, and Dada, with Ultramonster Jack O' Lanterns(!!!) carved like Z-ton, Guts, and Eleking!
Things get even Japanier on the costume packaging itself, with an adorable chibi style Baltan and Garamon dressed like a vampire and a witch! Do you know who Baltan is? Do you know he's an insectoid space ninja? Now he's an insectoid space ninja dracula. Why hasn't that already happened in an Ultra series? Feels like only a matter of time, really.
The notorious pocky gets in on the fun as well, with a Yokai Watch seasonal cross promotion! Jibanyan, the ghost of a cat hit by a car, is currently Japan's #1 sweetheart, so of course he's front and center, but at least they didn't leave out Whisper, who qualifies a little more directly as the series mascot. I like how his costume is just a black sheet, like he's just a flying executioner's head.
Yokai Watch pocky is arguably one of the most Japanese things that could ever exist, but I feel like they might vie for that title with these vampire themed black noodles. Black because they're covered in squid's ink. That vampire shadow is SO cool looking, isn't it? It actually says "recommended by Count Dracula." I guess he really isn't restricted just to human blood, or maybe humans taste a lot better after they've had UFO Squid Ink noodles.
Kit Kats are famously several times more popular in Japan than in their home country, and come in a wide range of flavors other than chocolate. These seem to be melon flavored, but it's spooky melon flavor, with some of the most adorable ghosts I've ever seen. I don't know whether the moaning one in the party hat or the smiling one with the missing eye is more precious.
We've also got some puffed snacks flavored like caramel corn, which look and sound delicious, but it's the spooky packaging we're here for, and I really like this vague sort of orange Frankenstoid they've got going on here. In our Halloween, any monster with both stitches and bolts is usually going to be green, but Tohato caramel corn puffs play by their own rules.
I'm not entirely sure what kind of confection Chanmery is, but it's nice to see a Pokemon Halloween promotion. Word on the street is that Pokemon has been almost completely shoved aside in favor of Yokai Watch, but, you know, maybe that's just because they won't stop pushing Pikachu as the face of the franchise like this. Pikachu may be cute, but there are so many cute and cuter pokemon. I'm glad this has Litwick and Lampent on it, but why not Binacle waving to us from atop a witch's broom?
Next, we've got another vampire-themed treat, and another one with absolutely wicked artwork on it. I love this vampire's huge teeth and wild eyes, and just how his head and hands are hovering in a void of pure blackness and blood. I guess the gimmick is that this beverage looks like blood, but what it tastes like, I can't even guess, and the text apparently doesn't clear it up all that well.
Squid was able to find only one Halloween object with Anpanman on it, but one is wonderful enough. I devoted an entire Halloween article to Baikinman alone, and the little shit always looks good in a tux. I guess he's dressed like a vampire, which is a hell of a lot more impressive than Anpanman just putting a witch hat on his edible head and calling it a day, but that's Anpanman for you. Baikinman gives every situation his all, while the bread guy seldom puts forth more than the bare minimum of participation, and then only when he's forced to do so. I can relate to that in some cases, but not Halloween.
It's funny...as many cool Halloween snacks and drinks come out here in the states, I usually overlook them in favor of longer-lasting toys and decor. If I could buy something called Pepsi Ghost, however, with that GORGEOUS haunted font and kickass pumpkin spirit, I'd proudly display it ony a shelf like a rare and precious collectible, which I guess it most certainly is. It's not just a packaging swap, either; Pepsi Ghost is mystery flavored soda. You apparently never know what the hell it's going to taste like. That's certainly a whole lot spookier than pepsi usually is, since it could be something delicious, like maybe melon flavor, or it could be something positively repulsive and inedible to all sensible people, like artificial cherry flavor. The very essense of "trick or treat."
Yeah, keep anything cherry flavored far away from my mouth, please. How can you even touch that stuff.
Here's some more packaging art I just adore, in an even more distinctly Japanese cartoon style than I've ever seen on real, mass produced Halloween merchandise. What a darling, darling ghost, and oh my gosh that grumpy little bat. Oh gosh.
According to my wife both the English and Japanese say "BLACK THUNDER," which are "mini bars," but I'm not sure there's any indication what a "black thunder" mini bar entails. The ghost is basically saying "everybody! Yay! Yay!" which is just about the most wonderful sort of thing a ghost could possibly be saying to promote whatever a "black thunder" candy bar is.
These little boxes of chocolates apparently did not taste very good, especially not the "white and cookie" flavor, but the designs are cute enough, and it's cool of them to include the oft-ignored werewolves at all!
On a scale of ten to ten, how upset are you that even stateside in October, you'll be hard pressed to find ice cream treats modeled into spooky creatures? The chocolate cat looks like it'd probably taste better, but I don't think I could resist the vanilla ghost. Not with that face. I don't know whether I'd ram it into my gullet with the greed of a hundred Swalot or I'd spend the rest of my life trying to keep it perfect and intact in one freezer after another, like some people do with a slice of wedding cake.
Tearing ourselves away from the snack food aisles, it's time to get into costumes, and even some of the cheapest and simplest are a million ways better than what we get over here. Need something quick to toss on for a Tokyo Halloween? How about a hat to turn your head into a squid or octopus? It's funny how octopuses are really famous and marketed pretty widely even in America, but in Japan they're a cartoon animal thrown around almost as casually as a dog or a cat, and even their squid sisters get in on the fun as well. Mainstream American marketing almost never even acknowledges squids, and when it does, it often mixes them up with octopuses anyway!
Of course, while your head is busy being a cephalopod, you might want something for your body as well, so about this awesome bloody mummy jacket? You can be a bloody mummy whose head is an octopus! I guess that's basically a bloody mummy Mind Flayer. Thank you, Japan, for granting me that mental image. For once, I just said those nine words with sincere gratitude and not sarcastic horror.
It's worth pointing out here, as I have in the past, that Japan's concept of a "mummy" as a monster gets even more confusing and charming than America, since some "mummy" characters in Japanese cartoons, manga and video games are medical themed. They make little apparent distinction between a monster wrapped in "ancient Egyptian" bandages and a monster wrapped in bandages because it's injured and bleeding.
Squid also managed to stop by the real-world pokemon center, and it, too, was in on the fun, selling a number of ghost-type pokemon products like these plush Chandelures and Gengars!
Even more fun are these mini plush two-packs; you get both a pumpkaboo and a pikachu-themed pumpkin!
There were also pikachus dressed up as Duskull, which is a fine choice. Even as much as I like Dusclops, Duskull is possibly one of the coolest and most lovable designs in the franchise, and was definitely the spookiest until generation six rolled around.
Naturally, there's a lot more cosplay-pikachu in this sticker sheet, but I'm delighted they included a Shedinja at all, not to mention Sableye in a party hat and Joltik nibbling a pumpkin. Oh my god. How cute is that.
Now, here's the point at which I start to get really envious. Here in the states, a mass-produced pre-packaged Halloween costume is usually going to be something like a Disney princess, a sexy pirate, a racist stereotype, a terrible sex joke, a sexy Disney princess or a sexy racist stereotype, and while the same crap certainly gets dumped on Japan as well, they also get costumes of Youkai. This here is Ittan-momen, a flying, ghostly ribbon of white cloth said to wrap around or even suffocate mortal humans for kicks. To many Americans, that just looks and sounds plain silly, but to Japan, it's a spook as famous and fundamental as any witch, vampire or Frankenstoid. In fact, those latter are often just referred to by series like Gegege no Kitarou as "Western Youkai" anyway.
Perhaps no youkai is more famous - even outside of Japan, these days - as the aquatic Kappa, and in its homeland, it's so famous that this one is only marketed as an "animal" mask, like the dish-headed turtle-duck is as ordinary as a penguin or a rhinoceros.
Another of Japan's most famous monsters, as you probably know, is the Kasa-obake or "Umbrella Ghost," and I would sincerely buy this costume just to own this magnificent interior card. The gorgeous background, the creepy, dripping title, the cartoon man scared out of his mind by the presence of a live-action phantasm that isn't even paying any attention to him...this belongs in an art museum. I would have this framed.
It's not alone here, either.
Here's another well-known youkai, the one-eyed boy, with packaging clearly from the same exact designer. The background isn't quite as artsy - I'm definitely a bigger fan of swirling, purple vortexes than realistic scenery - but it's still fantastic, nonetheless, and with almost the exact same guy gawking in mortal terror, even if once again, the monster isn't even looking in his general direction.
This next costume isn't a known, named youkai, but it's every bit as wonderful. How perfect is the idea of a tombstone as a Halloween costume? JUST a tombstone? The model's even holding her arms out like a plodding zombie. This seems both weird as hell and just plain obvious at the same time. Where's our haunted, walking tombstones!?
Even without lovely, hand-drawn artwork, this is another beautiful package and another image I would lovingly display on my walls, the hilarity of a Japanese woman dressed like a gravestone a mere bonus to how graphically pleasing the scene really is. Love that ghostly green lettering. This is how everything Halloween is supposed to look, but let's take a moment to compare these treasures with your typical, American Halloween costume packaging:
Wowee, America, don't strain yourself.
Our last costume photo is only a rubber mask, but it's a mask that kills me. It's Nezumi Otoko, the filthy, disgusting, self-centered rat-man from Gegege no Kitaro, and the thought of a place where you can just walk down to the store and buy latex masks of Kitarou characters has me already double-checking the price of one-way plane tickets.
I would not only buy a mask of every Kitaro character, but I'd buy the appropriate clothes just to stuff them and stand them up like life-size models. I'd just have them all over the house. Rat-Man rooting through the trash, Kitaro watching TV on the couch, Sunakake-baba doing whatever it is she does at home, I don't know, eating sand? Who needs real friends??
...And if the prospect of giant Kitaro characters wasn't enough to lure me across the Pacific ocean, look at this Chupacabra crane machine game. Look at everything about it. The artwork. The colors. The "I'M GONNA GET YOU!" The fact that the Chupacabra is interpreted here as such a delightful black bat-monster, the drained sheep saying "UGH..." in the background, even the fact that the machine itself contains both plush Chupacabras and frightened sheep. My god.
I know this wouldn't even exist anymore by the time I would ever actually visit Japan, but what matters is the fact that a Chupacabra crane machine ever would exist there. I can't remember the last time I saw something that freaking cool around these parts. I can't remember anything ever that cool anywhere I've been.
The background artwork also offers a couple of URL's, from which we can glean that this is some kind of tie-in with...a band? I think? A vampire themed band? I dunno. There's an entire adorable website and merchandise devoted to the bat mascot alone.
I actually really like this interpretation of the goatsucker as simple a glorified vampire bat. I don't know why. Maybe the spiny alien version, as weird and interesting as it is, has just lost its novelty for me after all these years.
So, what could be better than Japanese Halloween chupacabra plushes? Oh my god.
GHOST. BANANAS. Ghost bananas. Ghost bananas. What the hell. THIS is the "weirdo Japan stuff" the internet always warned us about, and I want every single one of these little shits. I love the variety we're treated to here. The "basic" banana ghost seems to just be a happy, peeled, banana with a wiggly tail, which admittedly doesn't give you that much indication of ghostliness, but I'd still accept it and treat it like any other Halloween trinket if it were really my only option. The un-peeled specimen is certainly a bit spookier, though, with a classic jagged ghost-mouth and little hands held out in haunt-mode.
From there, the bananas get more and more monstrous. There's an old, rotten one with a bite taken out of it, a more zombie-faced banana with dripping chocolate sauce, a howling green banana with blood-like strawberry syrup, and most wonderful of all, a splotchy peel alone wth a sad, miserable little face hidden among its spots.
We'll end this with Squid's single best photo from Tokyo's actual celebration of Halloween, and I couldn't be more envious of what that entails. Here in the states, there isn't a whole lot to actually do for Halloween unless you're either young enough to go trick-or-treating without getting arrested or you can tolerate the average "adult" Halloween party, which is usually a bunch of sweaty drunks dressed like the same five celebrities and ramming into each other for hours. In Tokyo, on the other hand, legions of people simply throw on their costumes and parade around in the streets like one giant, all-ages, public cosplay convention, and I can't think of a more perfect middle ground between the extremes of the kids-only candy hunt and slimy boozefest we're forced to pick from here.
I'm sure there are places in the states where a similar phenomenon occurs, but sure as hell not anywhere I've ever been close enough to visit, and your odds of getting shot to death on any given day in this country are a few thousand times higher anyway. Maybe some day I'll get the chance to experience a superior, Tokyo-style Halloween night myself, or maybe I'll just live to see things get a whole lot better here. The chances of either are one in a million, but at least they're both one in a million.
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