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Halloween is observed at the toll ramp to the Okinawa Expressway in Nishihara. Atsuko Higa, a toll taker, who decorated all four toll booths at the exit, said the decorations are well-received by Americans.

Halloween is observed at the toll ramp to the Okinawa Expressway in Nishihara. Atsuko Higa, a toll taker, who decorated all four toll booths at the exit, said the decorations are well-received by Americans. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

CHATAN, Okinawa — In a reversal of what used to be the norm — Okinawa children flocking to U.S. bases to enjoy trick-or-treating — Americans this year are being invited to celebrate the autumn holiday in the local community.

On Oct. 31, Mihama American Village in Chatan, near Kadena Air Base and Camps Foster and Lester, will host a Halloween costume contest, inviting Americans to take part in what the businessmen are calling a “reverse-cultural” festival.

Participation by Americans will be the key to the event’s success, said senior officials of the shopping district’s business association.

“This event is possible only because we have American neighbors here,” said Shinichiro Ikehara, vice chairman of the business association, the Chatan Mihama American Village Jigyosha Kai. “Halloween is picking up momentum in Japan in recent years, especially Okinawa. But it is still American culture.”

The off-base event is supported by the American Consulate, and Consul General Kevin Maher will be a judge.

It’s just one more sign that Halloween is being accepted as an unofficial holiday on Okinawa — at least near the U.S. military bases. At the exit ramp to the Okinawa Toll Road in Nishihara, near Camp Kinser, for example, toll booths display Halloween decorations.

On Halloween day, all toll takers at the Nishihara exit will be dressed in Halloween costumes, said Akira Shimojo, manager of the toll road’s Okinawa office.

Decorating the booths at the exit was a solo effort of toll taker Atsuko Higa. It took her three days to make the handcrafted decorations and put them up.

“Many Americans say ‘kawaii’ (cute) or ‘iine’ (nice) in Japanese as they go through the booth,” she said.

Registration for the costume contest in Mihama American Village will be between 3 and 6 p.m. on Halloween at the performance square near the huge multistory Ferris wheel. The contest begins at 6 p.m. and will last until 7 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony.

Prizes will be awarded to the best 10 entrants, with a first-place award of $300, second-place of $200 and a third-place prize of $100.

But everyone can enjoy the festivities, said Teruo Okuhara, chairman of the association. Some restaurants and shops will offer discounts while others will distribute candy and small gifts to people wearing Halloween costumes. There will also be jazz at the contest site.

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