I’ve always loved Halloween not only because it’s my birthday but because it’s just plain fun to dress up and be a little spooky once a year. During my year in Japan, I learned that the Japanese do not celebrate Halloween, though there was enough Western influence that the kids in my junior high school were aware of the holiday, and I did see a few decorations here and there. There were also plenty of American residents living in Japan, and they would have parties and celebrate the holiday in their own way.
Part of my job as an Assistant Language Teacher was to facilitate an English Club. We would meet after school once a week and play games or other activities that would help the students learn more English. I was also encouraged to teach them about my culture. When Halloween came up, I thought it would be fun to have a haunted house. My girls in the club (no boys wanted to be in the English Club) loved the idea.
As a fairly shy and reserved person, it wasn’t in my character to undertake such a big project as this, so the whole thing made me nervous from beginning to end. When I mentioned it to my supervisor, she was very supportive, but she made it clear that no other teacher in the school would assist me in any way. I got the feeling that the other teachers may have felt it was a silly endeavor, but I persevered anyway.
I was given permission to use an empty room in the school, but there are no rooms in any Japanese school that do not have large windows or sliding doors that let in a lot of light. This doesn’t exactly fit a haunted house theme. As luck would have it, the school had several floor-to-ceiling black curtains that were probably used at some point on the school’s stage. Lucky again, there were just enough of them to effectively cover the walls of that room and a few more to make some hallways. I have no idea how we pinned them to the ceiling, but somehow the job got done.
I told the kids that in American haunted houses, we would have to have spooky music, hands coming out of the curtains to grab the visitors as they walked by, a monster or two, and a series of stations where the visitors would be invited to feel things such as “eyeballs” (peeled grapes) and “brains” (cooked spaghetti). A couple of the girls decided to stand on a ladder behind the curtains and drip water on the visitors as they walked by. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t a good idea, but we did it anyway.
I was lucky enough to have a few American neighbors who were also in Japan teaching English, and they were kind enough to help me with my haunted house. So I had a few American men in scary costumes coming out of the corners, and this evoked several screams from the young junior-high girls who toured the haunted house when Halloween finally came around.
I was also told by my American neighbor who was fluent in Japanese that some of the older junior high boys thought the haunted house was lame. Oh well, I thought, I can’t please everybody. But some of the teachers and the vice principal came through the haunted house that afternoon and saw the hard work that my English Club put into it, and I know that the girls in my club had the best time celebrating an American Halloween. As for me, it’s probably the most memorable Halloween I’ve ever had and perhaps the most rewarding as well.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.