Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I just realized I’ll be in Tokyo for Halloween. Are there any tricks for finding special foodie treats there?
Let’s remember that Japan is responsible for inventing cosplay – and that should mean a spectacular Halloween. These days, Tokyo certainly does not disappoint on that holiday, and you’re in for many treats.
Halloween has not always been popular in Japan. But in the last five years it has exploded into possibly one of the top three holidays celebrated in that country. Tokyo Disneyland seeded the phenomenon by holding costume parades all through the month of October for many years. Social media exploded interest in the holiday, and now it’s a force to be reckoned with.
Hordes of children do not dash from door to door gorging on candies and filling baskets with sweets. It goes against Japanese social customs to bother neighbors by showing up at homes uninvited. The holiday is adult-centric, and revelers pull out all the stops.
There are three reasons why Halloween has taken off here. Japanese people love a holiday. It’s a great opportunity to buy things and give gifts and Japanese people love both. While Japanese people don’t exchange presents on Christmas day, the opportunity for gift giving is never lost on anyone. The mounds of chocolates bought and consumed for Valentine’s Day is staggering. Halloween brings an onslaught of orangey gifts to give and consume.
As mentioned, Japan is Ground Zero for costumes and cosplay. Not a week goes by that there isn’t an event involving dressing up and donning all manner of disguise. Halloween has become the perfect excuse to put on a costume and take to the streets. Halloween costumes tend toward cool (kakkoii), cute (kawaii) or sexy (sexshii).
What Western people remember most from their childhood Halloween experiences are the sweets. Contrary to what most Western people think, Japanese people really love sweets and Halloween is still all about the treats.
There is hardly a shop in Tokyo that has not geared up for Halloween. The best place to find the widest variety of Halloween offerings is at the food halls of most department stores and even at convenience stores.
Godiva has pressed into service no less than Hello Kitty-chan to shill for them. Dressed in a black cat costume, she proudly presents black cat-shaped boxes filled with a selection of Godiva’s fabulous chocolates including some sporting orange decorations and orange wrappings.
Shiseido Parlour is offering small coffins filled with sweets and pre-stuffed trick or treat bags of small candies in cheerful wrappings.
Dean & Deluca boasts cute little ghost and pumpkin cookies, strange eyeball lollipops and rows upon rows of packaged Halloween treats.
Traditional Japanese sweets makers are turning out mochi rice pumpkins filled with either azuki (red bean) or kurumi (chestnuts).
French baker extraordinaire Maison Kayser is offering pumpkin-shaped, cream-filled pastries and amazing witch’s broom croissants.
The pièce de résistance – and really, who could resist? – comes from Gelateria Marghera: a pumpkin cream-topped chocolate cake with pumpkins and ghosts dancing on top.
Lastly, the prize has to go to McDonalds for their Halloween creation: a special edition of their heaping choco-fries with a combination of chocolate and creamy pumpkin topping.
This is a small sampling. You won’t have to look hard. Halloween treats started showing up weeks ago and will last through the holiday. Since it falls on a Monday this year, most celebrations will take place over the weekend. Want to partake? Below are some options.
The most popular impromptu street event is Shibuya Fest, which is attended by well over 100,000 people. Held at night, people spill out of local bars and clubs, which host smaller events inside. If you arrive by train, take the Hachiko exit, and you’ll find yourself facing Center Gai and in the middle of everything. There will be a tent for changing into costume. The date hasn’t been announced as of yet, but we’re guessing Saturday night is the best time to see the action.
Another impromptu street event happens in Roppongi (Roppongi Roi building 1F, 5-5-1, Roppongi, Minato-ku), most likely on Saturday because that is the day that the big clubs in the area have their events. If clubs aren’t your thing, duck into one of the many izakaya at the Roppongi Yokocho for Halloween-themed drinks.
For movie fans there is the Roppongi Hills movie-themed parade on Saturday, October 29.
If you like a more organized event try Harajuku on Sunday, October 30, during the day. If you long to get your cosplay on, you’ll need to register (site in Japanese) to join the over 1,000 people on parade.