Happy (Hokkaido) Halloween!

During my recent hiking trip to Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost major island), my friend Ido Gabay (owner and founder of Hokkaido Nature Tours – who also acted as my guide during my week-long trip) and I spent two days in Niseko–a town known mostly for skiing and winter sports, but also the unofficial “Halloween pumpkin capital” of Hokkaido.

Western pumpkins are not very common in Japan; although many people use the more generic term kabocha to mean both western pumpkins and the native Japanese kabocha squash (a species of Cucurbita maxima), it’s rare to find anything “pumpkin” in Japan that’s not actually kabocha–making Niseko’s autumnal display even more unique.

The town places small pumpkins along the road, and on the doorsteps of every house on the major streets. If you look, you can see them all over the place in the photo above.

There are larger displays in front of some of the major buildings – most notably, near the train station. I spotted almost a dozen different varieties of pumpkins and squash–but most were western pumpkins, in the spirit of Halloween. Niseko hosts an annual Halloween event for locals and visitors of all ages, with a costume contest, trick-or-treat fun, face painting, and of course delicious food.

While Ido and I weren’t there for the Halloween party, things were already looking spooky near the station.

Most of the pumpkins are left in their natural states–they last longer that way–but a few had painted faces reminiscent of jack-o-lanterns.

The one above was my favorite.

Niseko is also famous for its dairy farms (and has many ice cream and gelato shops that make amazing desserts using local milk) which explains the cow standing beside the pumpkins near the station.

Halloween isn’t “native” to Japan, but Japanese people love holidays–especially those that involve fun, seasonal foods and activities, so Halloween is among the many “adopted observances” that have become popular in Japan in recent years. For the most part, it’s a merchandising holiday–an excuse to buy and eat different foods with special Halloween-themed packaging, and to decorate with seasonal items–but I don’t mind. I love everything about autumn, and seeing Halloween-themed items around Japan makes an already excellent season even better.

Tell me: do you like Halloween? Or pumpkin? What’s your favorite season of the year?