Is Halloween celebrated in Asia?

Halloween has increased in popularity in Asia in the last two decades – just as it has here in New Zealand. Though largely due to American media dominating pop culture, some parts of Asia have found ways to make this ghostly celebration their own. 

Originally a Celtic festival to honour the souls of the dead and departed (they lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts, too) Halloween is now thought of as a purely American holiday. In fact, many of us might remember attempting to go trick or treating in New Zealand as children, and being met with confused neighbours who might reply, “we don’t do Halloween”. 

Today, however, Halloween (especially Halloween parties for young people) are increasingly common in New Zealand and big box stores like The Warehouse have entire sections dedicated to selling wares for them. How is the experience in Asia similar? 


Societal acceptance of Halloween has surged in Japan in the last 10 years. Previously something celebrated just by Western expats, it’s now very common to see young Japanese dressing up for costume parties and club events – particularly in areas such as Shibuya in Tokyo and (not surprisingly) Amerikamura, aka American Village, in Osaka. Cosplay was born in Japan and fake blood and horror scenes are popular year-round in Japanese entertainment, so it’s not much of a stretch for many Japanese to pull out their zombie and witch costumes on 31 October. Japan also has the Obon Festival, which is very similar to Halloween and honours ancestors and departed spirits. It is held in July/August. 


Halloween in mainland China is something that has mostly been brought in by Western English teachers and other expats. In areas where there are lots of expats like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, you’ll find restaurants, bars, and clubs with Halloween themes, but generally Chinese people won’t do anything for Halloween unless they have Western friends to get them in the mood. China has more traditional days of the dead spread across the year, most notably the the Hungry Ghost Festival, but also the Qing Ming Festival, the Double 9th Festival, and the Spring Festival. In Hong Kong, there’s more Western influence for Halloween. Hong Kong Disneyland (open with limited capacity in 2020) goes all out with Halloween shows. Lots of people have dress-up Halloween parties, but trick or treating isn’t common in Hong Kong because most people live in high-rise apartments. In a normal year, the hedonistic nightlife area of Lan Kwai Fong hosts a large Halloween street festival (it has done it for more than 20 years), but it was cancelled for 2020 because of Covid-19. 


Between 31 October and 2 November, Filipinos remember dead family members and friends in a similar way as Koreans do for Chuseok. However, because this falls on the same day as Halloween (unlike Chuseok), similar themes will run through the whole weekend. Pangangaluluwâ, which is a form of souling (performed on All Souls’ Day and the action of asking for donations of food in exchange for singing a song for those in purgatory) was once common in the Philippines due to its Catholic religious makeup. However, this has died out in favour of a more Western style of trick or treating. 


Singapore is continuing to tell the world that it is open for business, and the nation’s tourist attractions for Halloween are no exception for Halloween 2020. This Southeast Asian city-state is the most enthusiastic about Halloween of all Asian countries, both due to its huge expat community and its centre of tourism. Universal Studios Singapore is up and running with a trick or treat-themed park tour (complete with free candy), cinemas and aquariums are hosting Halloween nights, and plenty of restaurants are doing themed dining this year. Time Out has even complied a Singapore Top 10 Halloween events list – not something you see in many other places in the world in 2020. 

- Asia Media Centre