Updated: Nov 8, 2019
YIFA’s annual Halloween party is our biggest event of the year in terms of participation, and, from what I can tell, the biggest event IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD in terms of preparation. History may tell you that the event started at 12:30 on Sunday 20th October 2019, but the prep started long before. In fact, our first meeting about the event was on *checks planner* August 27th...
At that meeting (with the international exchange division of the association) we finalised the theme of the year’s party. It was to be, with a nod to the Tokyo Olympics next year, the “Halloween Olympics in Yasu”. Like previous years we reserved the whole of a local community centre (Kitano) and were to decorate the main hall, as well as four separate rooms where children would come in groups to play games and receive trick-or-treat snacks. Guests were to bring their own favourite home-cooked foods ‘potluck style’, and, on top of that, some of the YIFA members spent the whole morning of the day preparing lovely food to add to the tables.
The procedure of the party was to be the same as previous years, but the details of the decorations etc were largely left down to us, and by ‘us’, I mean our Singaporean friend, Joan. Of course, Maki and I helped here and there, and did a lot of work preparing materials and such ready for the party, but, without exaggeration, 99% of the artistic work came from Joan.
For the separate rooms we decided to create different themes for each: monster, vampire, mummy and skeleton. Joan made huge faces for each theme…all out of recycled materials. I watched her work, and kept thinking to myself “this isn’t going to be very good”... ” this isn’t going to be very good”...then, eventually...”this looks amazing!!” I don’t have the creative imagination in my mind to see what something is going to look like, so I just couldn’t see what it was going to become as she was at work, but Joan absolutely has that skill. It was really a privilege to watch her, and it’s a real joy to watch someone do something that they are so skilled at.
And here's how they ended up...
For our Olympic theme (and to be able to hold a passable Olympic opening ceremony) we (i.e. Joan) were to make the Olympic Rings, masks of famous global leaders, a podium, an Olympic Torch and—with great difficulty—an Olympic cauldron.
It’s hard to know what to say about these items, apart from they were all very difficult to make in their own way. If I have to rank them in order of difficulty, (and I’m very aware that I don’t)… then here is that top 5:
5) podium … stacked up beer crates, with cardboard stuck in front. Cut by me (hurray me!), and made beautiful by Maki and Joan.
4) rings … Two sets…one big for the main hall, and one smaller set for the entrance... Once we were able to sketch out a passable circle (much more difficult than I thought!), this was more time-consuming than difficult. We also had to pop out to buy some paint to make sure we could have them the same colour as the real Olympic Rings. The making of the rings was more donkey-work than art work, so I was really able to come to the fore here…cutting badly, painting badly, I did a fair amount of work preparing them (along with Maki and super-volunteers Ota-san and Monika), and, after we’d all finished, all Joan had to do was make them look good.
3) Olympic Torch … It’s somewhat presumptuous for me to decide the difficulty of making this item. From my perspective this took no effort at all, by which I mean I did nothing at all towards it. Joan did all of this. She wanted to make a Halloween themed torch covered in jack-o-lanterns. Watching her at work—gluing plastic pumpkins to an old baseball bat—was another situation where I was thinking, “is this going to be good?”…”is this going to be good?”…”is this going to be good?”…then, eventually, ”yes, this is brilliant”. As soon as she had painted it, it looked absolutely terrific. Very heavy though!
2) The masks … Maki found out how to make these masks. Every day she diligently added a layer of glued paper to an inflated balloon in order to make a papier mâché base, to which we were able to attach pictures of the requested world leaders. It took days and days until we could even start attaching the pictures. Then getting them to fit around the mould was a very tricky process. In the end, out of necessity the faces became huge. Rather than detracting from the naturalness, it made them look absolutely hilarious. We couldn’t wait to use them at the party.
1) The Olympic Cauldron … This was not just a work of art, but a feat of engineering! Work started early, and continued right up to the day before the party. The design and painting were done by Joan, but assistance was offered by office staff and volunteers to try and get the thing working. The plan was for ribbons to fly up ‘flame-like’ when touched by the torch. The original plan was to use a little air circulator that we’d borrowed, but it just wasn’t powerful enough, so we ended up with two electric fans, as well as a light which somewhat perturbingly became hot when in use (we desperately wanted to avoid making a real fire…though agreed that would have made a heck of an impression on the audience!). It all came down to how we laid everything out, in terms of angles etc… I’m rubbish at physics, and the others weren’t much better either, so it ended up very much trial-and-error, with us just trying lots of different things. Luckily, what we ended up with was really great, and it got a great round of applause during the ‘opening ceremony’ at the party.
As for me personally, though I oversaw everything, my main personal contribution was a little quiz-type presentation about Halloween at the beginning of the party, to introduce the facts and background of the festival to the audience, then a video to introduce the theme of the party. The introduction didn’t take much preparation at all, I just put together a quick PowerPoint. The video on the other hand took hours. I have never made such a video before, so I really had to research everything as I was doing it. Fortunately, I-Movie is quite a fool-proof application, though still proved fairly tricky for a technophobe like me! I wasn’t able to bring to fruition my ideas completely, but what I prepared was well received enough. My main concept was to show the video of the time the president of the IOC unveiled Tokyo as the host city in 2020, but to have Yasu written instead of Tokyo. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to do such a thing at first, but, apparently, it’s extremely difficult! In the end I went for a really amateur version of the same idea, which was just as funny in its own way I think. I’ll put the full video here for anyone who is interested!
The whole weekend of the Halloween Party is filled with preparation, including the Friday evening before where myself and some other volunteers had a fun time carving pumpkins. It was the first time for all of us apparently, so I was very impressed with how well everybody was able to do it… I took the longest to do mine, but even I was able to do a fairly decent jack-o-lantern! Those pumpkins were front and centre stage (actually just in front of the stage!) at the party.
The day before we met up in the afternoon to bring all the decorations and necessary things over to the community centre, then worked until the late evening laying things out, sorting out the separate trick-or-treat rooms, sticking up national flags (one for each of the 205 nations which participate in the Olympics), rehearsing the opening, and, with most difficulty, trying to link up the Olympic rings (think: replicating an Escher). This was all especially difficult for me as I was glued to my phone keeping up with England’s rugby world cup quarter final for the best part of two hours! After all the hard work, we left the centre at around 8 p.m, ready to reconvene the next morning to make our final preparations.
The next morning, I arrived back at the community centre fully expecting all the stuff we had stuck to the walls to have fallen to the floor. Incredibly, everything had stayed where it was though, and we got straight into the final rehearsals. I went through my presentation a couple of times to make sure I was comfortable enough delivering it in my bad Japanese, then played out the video which, being viewed for the first time by a few of the people, happily received a few laughs.
Once everybody had arrived into the main hall, we got started with the party proper. There were about a hundred people in attendance, including local dignitaries such as the mayor, the chairman of the city council and the superintendent of education. I didn’t feel too nervous giving my presentation though, as all the kids were bunched together at the front so I just felt like I was speaking to them; something I’ve done a thousand times before in my teaching career! The kids engaged well with the quiz questions (as did some adults!), and found out some information about Halloween, such as its origins in the Scottish Pagan festival of Samhain, and its first event in Japan being as recent as the year 2000 (at, you guessed it, Tokyo Disney!). At the end of the presentation, I introduced our theme for the day (I’ll be surprised if no-one had guessed it though, seeing as I was standing underneath a massive replica of the Olympic rings!), and played the video that I’d made. It got a very good reception I was glad to see, having spent so long working on it.
At the end of the video, one YIFA member came on to the stage to give a version of Christel Takegawa’s famous ‘omotenashi’ speech (while the original played in the background). Instead of the staccato ‘o-mo-te-na-shi’ (English: hospitality) of Christel though, our volunteer spoke ‘o-i-de-ya-su’ (English: welcome to Yasu). That had taken a lot of practice for her to get the timings right with some very specific hand movements, but she managed to do it really well in the end.
Next, was the opening ceremony, where Donald Trump (not the actual guy) came into the room from the back door with our Olympic torch. For some reason our volunteer brought his own Trump mask, rather than using the brilliant on that we’d made. It was a shame as his mask was a little small so people couldn’t really see that it was supposed to be Trump…but anyway there was a big laugh as he passed it on to a massive-headed Shinzo Abe, who then slowly made his way up to the stage to light the cauldron. There was supposed to be participation from the leaders of both South and North Korea in between, but it was decided that they wouldn’t be joining the opening ceremony for some reason or another (not sure why; political issues probably!). Abe, having lit the cauldron to great applause, then walked over to the stage to shake hands with Mr Yamanaka, our mayor in Yasu, whose greetings opened our party officially.
It was a very successful 15 minutes to start the party, and a 15 minutes which had taken hours and hours of preparation and practice. I do wonder whether it was all worth it looking back now, fun though it was, and especially, I feel bad for Joan who made such an effort making the masks, to only see one of them get used. I’m definitely going to keep them, and try and find a time to use them...maybe on a school visit sometime!
The rest of the party ran very smoothly. We spent the next 45 minutes enjoying everyone’s yummy food and chatting together, then watched a wonderful performance by a local dance group. Then it was time for the children to go upstairs to the individual rooms to receive their treats and to play games organised by our association chairman, Mr Yamamoto. In each room we had Japanese and foreign volunteers helping with the games, and handing out treats. Their help was much appreciated, and actually, that hourlong trick-or-treat time was probably the most fun for the kids. They all came back downstairs with bags filled with snacks and score-cards with their points from the various games. On passing these score-cards to our City Council Chairman, Mr Hashi, the kids were to receive their Olympic medals, and lo-and-behold, they ALL got the gold…great job kids!
The party finished with the costume contest, where prizes (donated by local companies) were handed out to the most inventive ones. There were some great ones, and the kids, especially, were so cute! Finally, with some words from Mr Yamamoto, our YIFA chairman, the party was closed for another year.
Some random pictures from the event ↓
Once we’d said our goodbyes to the guests, we quickly got to work packing everything up and bringing it back to the city hall complex. It dawned on me the effort that we had made, and how quickly it was to be forgotten. The rings that we had painstakingly linked together the previous evening were simply torn apart and thrown onto the pile of rubbish. Joan must especially have felt some sadness thinking that all her wonderful art work was no longer needed. The big faces that she made we will keep and use as the themes of the individual rooms again in future years; hopefully we can keep adding to and improving the themes and make them more and more impressive. That’s certainly a better idea than changing the themes each year; improving an existing idea will take much less time and effort than conceiving and designing a new one.
The theme in the main hall will have to be changed each year though—any good ideas for next year, please let us know!—so it was farewell to the Olympic themed decorations. I’m not sure if Joan will be back to help us next year, but all I can say is God help us if she doesn’t! I can honestly say that Joan made the whole event happen, and without her, I’m not sure we would have been able to follow through with the Olympic theme at all.
Either way next year, hopefully we won’t have to make quite so much effort towards the event. Alongside our usual work, it made the month preceding the party uncomfortably busy. Reflecting back on the event, it was a big success and all the guests and volunteers enjoyed themselves a lot. That’s the most important thing of course, though I’m quite sure that they would have enjoyed themselves a lot even with a bit less stress and effort from our side! It’s important to reflect on input and output in your work, and I feel, in the case of this party, the efforts we all put in outweighed the results by quite a distance. I hope we can reflect on that a bit before next year. The Halloween Party has traditionally been the biggest event of our calendar year, but reflecting on my first one, I have to say that I think it would be a good idea to put a bit less time into it, and a bit more of the time we have been devoting to it on putting together some other new events. Only time will tell if that is at all feasible!
Thanks for reading my brain-splurge about the Halloween Party. Having said all that about it taking a bit too much work, it was a really positive experience for me personally; I taught myself how to edit together a video, and learned a bit about what it takes to hold a large-scale event. Most of all though, when I look back on all the days we spent preparing, I really enjoyed having all the volunteers around the office, and the nice atmosphere as we worked together making all the props and decorations. It’s a really good memory for me.
There are lots more memories waiting to be made in the next couple of months too! There aren’t any YIFA events in November, though I’ll continue to be very busy visiting schools and nurseries, teaching about different cultures around the world with our guest teachers. I’ll probably write a boring little report outlining what we’ve covered on this blog sometime soon. The next big event we will hold is a World Watching event on December 1st. and it promises to be quite a bit more interesting than the last one (see blog entry no. 1) ... I went with my eldest son to a Bolivian music event in June, where the presenter, Miguel, led an event which was thoroughly enjoyed my everybody. He performed music, danced, drew pictures, and gave us all Bolivian food for lunch; the event was creative, inclusive, engaging and, most importantly, a lot of fun. I quickly persuaded Takeda-san to let me invite him to present our World Watching event, and I’m sure it’s going to a huge success! I’ll write a little something about that event in December. Bye for now!