Part Two: Halloween as a Brand, or The Seemingly Inexplicable
Diamond Shiraishi is running a “Halloween Festa,” in which anyone who purchases an engagement ring between 3 Sept. and 31 Oct. gets a “lovely present and Halloween sweets.”
Is Halloween going to go the way of Christmas Eve in Japan and become a holiday for lovers, or is this just a marketing scheme by a retailer trying to get in on Japan’s new love of Halloween? Regarding the romantic angle, I’m a bit baffled–contemporary Halloween is not really a romantic holiday, unless you count the potential for meeting someone at a Halloween party or couples costumes. (Let us not forget the ridiculous cultural train wreck that is mass-produced [usually] women’s sexy costumes for sale.) From a historical angle, though, Halloween superstitions and fortune-telling did include those of a romantic persuasion, which this piece on Edwardian Promenade nicely illustrates:
While Halloween affords boys an opportunity for fun that fits their inspiration to turn things topsy-turvy, it is an occasion to which girls look forward with superstitious awe and hope.
Love and matrimony are never absent, it would seem, from the minds of maids of a certain age, and this night affords them opportunity to test the various sorts of wizardry related to sentiment and Halloween.
Thus, if a girl peels an apple without breaking the peeling, throws it over her shoulder, and it takes as it falls the initial of some young man, she is reasonably assured by this means that he will marry her. Or if she holds a lighted candle while standing before a mirror in an otherwise dark room, and looking over her shoulder sees the image of the youth of her choice, she is made happy in expectation. Or if she and her girl companions place a thimble and a ring in a wad of dough, bake a cake of it, and cut it carefully when done, it is to them as true as gospel that the maiden who gets the ring will be married shortly, while she who gets the thimble will die an old maid. Or if one writes the names of her young men acquaintances on slips of paper, puts them under her pillow, and dreams of one of them, that one she is fated to wed. These are but a few of the love tests of Halloween. What a happy period is youth, after all!
But why Halloween gifts with one’s engagement rings?
Halloween marketing in Japan is very cute. The jack-o-lanterns are cute; the ghosts are cute; and this is the country that brought us Nyanpire, the mind-meltingly adorable vampire kitten. So, of course, Diamond Shiraishi is going to cater to its clientele, who want to participate in the Western custom of diamond engagement rings, by adding in a bonus item with some seasonal Western (read: elegant and exotic) flair. Engagement rings are often marketed to women (“this is what you want from your male partner”), and so throwing in some cute Halloween goodies might be Shiraishi’s way of using the holiday to appeal to women’s perceived love of cute things. In Japan, though, men can, to some extent, also consume cute things, so everyone wins?
On one hand, I certainly wouldn’t have minded getting some cute, well crafted Halloween decorations and candy on the occasion of my engagement. On the other, the Halloween Festa annoys me in that it feels like the retailer is of the “slap a jack-o-lantern on it and call it Halloween” marketing variety I’ve seen elsewhere in town. Minoru Matsutani’s 2009 piece “Halloween treats retailers’ new trick” in The Japan Times confirmed my suspicions that Halloween in Japan has a huge commercial edge to it. This isn’t to say that Halloween in the US is not commercial, but in Japan, it often feels like marketing is creating the holiday rather than the holiday creating the marketing:
“Convenience stores and department stores began Halloween decorations two or three weeks earlier this year. Sales of sweets and snacks in Halloween packaging are really strong,” said Kiyoshi Kase, representative of the Japanese Anniversary Association, an independent group that helps businesses’ sales campaigns by creating and pitching various “commemoration” dates. “Related industries want to get on the bandwagon,” he said.
I can’t say I’m surprised about the candy companies, conbinis, or 100-yen stores, but the last place I expected to see Halloween goods was the jewelry store’s engagement ring campaign.
Stay tuned for more Halloween in Japan!
More “Documenting Halloween in Japan”