Saturday, October 8, 2011

Halloween Planning

Last year my neighbor and fellow American, call him Landolakes, approached me about starting a small trick-or-treat event in our area. Having a Halloween baby I said, "I'm in. Can I bring a cake?" There were at least twenty children traipsing off to the participating houses, calling, "trick or treat!" After trick or treating, we sang "Happy Birthday," cut the full sheet cake the size of which amazed our neighbors, and then whacked at a few piñatas that Landolakes had made. Even with the confines of space in Japan and a bit of misty rain, it turned into a fun block party. Pulling off an American style event in Japan however is no small feat.

Not expecting to be in Japan another year and it being the first time, I was accommodating to the Japanese request that we all give out the same amount of candy. In the Japanese fashion, no one wants to do it wrong- give too much, give too little. I rolled my eyes, bit my tongue, and just went with it. I paid my 1000 ¥en and passed out my allotted candy. However, with two munsters's goodie bags being sorted on my table in the days afterward, I couldn't help but notice some supplementing had been done. There were a few decorations, even bags, a few toys including something from Disney Land, some Japanese style snack crackers, and way too much candy. My children even did some swapping and trading as their loot piles varied.

This year in the pre-meeting I suggested to Landolakes that we encourage our Japanese friends to make their own goodie bags to create some variety for the kids and to stoke creativity in coming up with something beyond too much candy. I don't think anyone could have eaten the amount of candy collected last year. He cautioned me that this might not go over well with our Japanese friends- he has lived here far longer than I, actually speaks Japanese, and has deeper ties than I do. Basically, I am oblivious to the cultural demands this kind of suggestion pushes against, whereas he is more intimate. He asked for examples of treats I had in mind. I threw out that I had seen evidence of it being done last year, but some ideas might include: craft packs, pencils, crackers, small toys, homemade treats, a piece of candy- really anything! I mean think about Charlie Brown, "I got a rock." That is part of Halloween! We should all pass out a few rocks! When I was a kid, part of the fun was trying to go back to the houses that had the "good candy!"

I also suggested we have everyone bring one small dish or drink to share at the cake cutting and piñata bash. Last year I felt a bit weak thanks to an early dinner, a piece or two of candy foisted on me, and the birthday cake consumed with a cup of mulled wine. I was hoping for savory snacks to cheer us along- it took a while to get through those piñatas!

The verdict came in tonight- they went for the make your own treat bags, but not the bring one dish snack idea. It was explained to me as, "It's not possible. If someone asks, 'What are you bringing?' and they find out someone is bringing, say sushi, then they will think they need to bring something fancier and then we will end up with too much." I was surprised, I really thought it would go the other way- that they would go for the food but not the treat. Even the treat idea was a tough sell; I was called in the middle of the discussion. I think he was trying to garner some support- the let me consult another American tactic. I said, "Emphasize that it is good for the children to have a chance to be creative," in thinking of their own idea for treats to handout- it isn't the treat, it's the thought.

Last year we encouraged each house where the trick or treaters were to stop to use a light and put out some kind of Halloween decoration so that the children could identify it was a place to ring the bell. We started at a prearranged meeting point. I drilled them a few times, saying, "Ping Pong," to indicate pressing the doorbell. The children replied, "Ping Pong!" I didn't know enough Japanese to explain that was supposed to be them, the children, ringing the doorbell. I moved on to the main event, saying, "Trick or treat!" The children repeated, "Trick or treat!" Then I said, "Arigato!" The children complied and said, "Arigato!" They were then sent off in groups in different directions. I had to run home to pass out candy while my husband dressed as a Sheikh (thanks 007), tooled about in his flowing robes and sunglasses with the munsters. My husband noted that some of the houses had even made an effort to be a bit creepy; he loved that! I hope this morphs into some fun efforts in this direction.

It is amusing how much discussion has to go into bringing this bit of Americana into the neighborhood. It was so worth it though. It was exhilarating to see the kids streaming through the neighborhood in their costumes as well as having a gaggle of kids on the front porch calling out "trick or treat!" I joked that we taught the Japanese kids that Halloween was celebrated with a birthday cake and piñatas, but it was great to see everyone chatting and enjoying the evening together as most of the parents trailed along and joined up at the end. Personally, I can't wait for this year! Secret Weapon is making my costume, and I am making the piñatas, though someone else will decorate them.

I wonder what the Japanese neighbors would think of the total free for all of trick or treaters in the States- where you have to turn off your lights and hide behind the shades to discourage the kids from ringing your bell when you have run out of candy! My husband, on the night that our daughter arrived (unexpected and early) basically put the entire bowl of candy out to the kids who came to the door, happily noting that in their greed they took more than their fair share which meant he could turn the light off sooner!