Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train

The Legend of the Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train

A Masked Wrestler Enjoys a Drink on the Yamanote

“O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!” – HP Lovecraft  

On a particular Saturday night in late October at a particular station in the heart of Tokyo, I found myself standing on the platform waiting for a particular train with a Halloween costume in my bag and a bottle of Jack Daniels in my back pocket. Around me small clumps of gaijins (foreigners) and Japanese, some in costume, some not, stood conspicuously inconspicuous on the platform of the northbound Yamanote Line. We were all there waiting for the same train. Some of us were seasoned veterans, while others were newbies waiting for proof of a Tokyo urban legend — the Yamanote Halloween Train.

The Yamanote Line is one of the main arteries of Tokyo’s extensive public transportation system. Pumping the city’s lifeblood in the form of salary men, office ladies, school kids, English teachers, and foreign employees, the Yamanote consists of 29 stations in a circular loop around the center edge of Tokyo. It takes about one hour to do a complete loop barring any delays from people congestion, accidents, and suicides. It’s possible to ride around and around Tokyo all day, or most of the day, if one catches the right train. There are no restrooms on the train, however, as many of the partiers found out to their horror three beers into the party.

A group waits ever-so-not-secretly for the Yamanote Halloween Train

The legend of the Yamanote Halloween Train

The legend of the Yamanote Halloween Train goes that sometime in the 90s a group of gaijins and Japanese literally took over a Yamanote Train — at least a car or two — and partied on it as it looped around Tokyo. The tradition continued through the years as it spread by word of mouth to become an urban legend. Some people thought it only a myth or just a one-time occurrence.

For the police, the Yamanote Halloween Train was no myth and some years later they helped to shut it down whenever it got too rowdy — sometimes before it even began. In previous years, some of the partiers reportedly vented their anger at a faceless public transportation system with its inhumanly overcrowded trains and eyesore advertisements by ripping down ads and unscrewing the lights. Tired of being packed in like livestock, the cattle had rebelled against the cattle car. Obviously, this didn’t sit too well with the authorities.

According to some there was a hiatus period of a few years in which the Yamanote Halloween Train didn’t run. After waiting in vain last year for the train, one German gaijin decided to take matters into his own hands and initiated the call via a mass email that got spread around. In the past, so the stories say, the party would be announced surreptitiously through the free weekly English magazine: Metropolis then known as the Tokyo Classified.

Obviously a passenger for the Halloween Train at Shinjuku Station

Meanwhile that night the clumps of gaijins and Japanese slowly started to congeal together as we realized we shared a similar purpose. Many of them were like myself; they had heard of the Halloween train for years, but had never seen it. Some of us were worried the message was a fake or that the police would be in force to prevent any party from forming. But as the appointed time and train arrived, our fears were put to rest and the Yamanote Halloween Train ran once again.

The Horde Descends on the Unsuspecting Commuting Masses

Commuters suddenly found themselves deluged with a motley horde of vampires, power rangers, masked wrestlers, pirates, playboy bunnies, ninjas, one bloody Grim Reaper, and Darth Vader. Many of the commuters must have thought we were a large group heading to a Halloween party. What they soon came to realize was that we were the party.

Death on the Yamanote Express

Out came the booze and snacks. It was a strictly BYOB affair but the spirit of generosity moved the partiers to share their elixirs with one another and also with the bemused commuters. A certain “Death” with a family-sized package of potato chips swinging from his skeletal arm wandered about the carriages offering swigs of Jack Daniels — alright that was me, but don’t tell anyone.

Whenever the train would pull up to a station, revelers would play a type of “Russian Roulette” — Yamanote-style — by dashing from one car to the next before the doors would close. As we got further along the loop, we would start chanting the names of the stations as we arrived. Then we would greet on coming passengers and entreat them to join us. With salary men commuters we would comment on the excellence of their costumes depicting Japanese salary men. I’m not sure they quite understood or appreciated our “compliments,” but they were more than happy to take a few pulls on the old whiskey bottle.

A few commuters joined in on the chanting of station names while others snapped photos. I have to give credit to the ordinary Japanese passengers. They either ignored us completely, watched in silent amusement, or joined in and helped themselves to the liquor and food. I saw little in the way of contempt. Very good sports, I would say.

All in all it was a civil and friendly debauchery that bred more good will and cheer, rather than any animosity or even any “vomitry.” We left the train in better condition than drunken spewing salary men on a Friday night bender do. Nor was very much hostility present towards the Yamanote Line as there seems to have been in the past, by some accounts. Most of us were chanting “Yamanote!” like lovesick rock fans.

A Clown and a Ninja enjoy the Party

After one loop was completed many of us got off, while a small number rode for one more. In the past supposedly the party would continue till either the trains stopped running or the police shut it down. This year many partiers were just happy to be able to get one or two loops out of the Halloween Train before any mishaps could occur. It was enough just to be part of a Tokyo Legend — to have rode one loop of the notorious Yamanote Halloween Train. I got off after the first loop, but around 11ish I tried to catch the train again but alas by that time the Yamanote Halloween Train faded back into that frenzied dream from which it had sprung.

October 29, 2006 - Posted by | Blogroll, cosplay, costumes, halloween, japan, life, party, tokyo, travel, yamanote halloween train


  1. Well, good for you guys up in Tokyo. The Osaka Loop Line Party (the original one, and longest continuously running – something like 16 years ) was finally stopped by the police on Saturday. They were not only surrounding anyone in costumes, but questioning all other commuters who might have been guilty of RWW (Riding While White). Osakans were always, for the most part, quite good natured about it, and a lot of Japanese took part in past years. Ah well, maybe next year.

    Comment by nagaijin | October 31, 2006 | Reply

  2. […] “O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror t … I think it’s goodLink to original article […]

    Pingback by Tokyo Blog Digest - The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train | October 31, 2006 | Reply

  3. Continuity update: I talked to an old-timer last night who said he’d been on the Osaka Loop Line Party of 1982!

    Comment by nagaijin | November 2, 2006 | Reply

  4. No kidding! Thanks for the info!

    I’ve heard various stories about the Tokyo one. Someone emailed me that they rode it in 1992 and from people they talked to it had been running some years before that. I’ve talked to others who rode in sometime in the 80s.

    Another person told me about a costumed April’s Fools Train Party on the Yamanote they rode around 1982 called “Mark” or something.

    Can you believe Wikipedia deleted the article on the Yamanote Halloween Train? I would think the event pop-culture enough with a long established tradition to warrant an entry.

    Comment by samuraidave | November 2, 2006 | Reply

  5. the coast has crops of that too.

    Comment by rachel | January 2, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hey Dave, clean the spam out of your comments (6,7 look suspect). My Shopping Info is bogus — they’re posting everywhere. Free ring tones? Yeah right.

    Comment by nagaijin | August 19, 2007 | Reply

  7. Hey, any word on the 2007 Yamanote line Halloween train? What day? Starting what time? My friends and I are itching to go, but haven’t heard anything yet. Please do let me know if you know. Cheers!

    Comment by Erin | October 19, 2007 | Reply

  8. Info is here:
    This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, October 27, 2007. Festival-goers board the JR Yamanote Line at JR Shinjuku station, platform 13 (Yamanote bound for Ikebukuro). Japanese citizens as well as foreigners meet where car 10 stops, in front of the escalator from South exit. Everyone boards the 21:08 northbound train and loops around clockwise. Frequently everyone brings their own alcoholic beverages.

    Comment by Super Natto | October 20, 2007 | Reply

  9. The Osaka police have already sent notices to all the English schools in the city warning teachers not to attend the Osaka Loop Line Party. The management have more or less said they’ll sack anyone who gets stopped by the police. I think I’ll bring my camera (to photograph cops with)!

    Comment by nagaijin | October 21, 2007 | Reply

  10. What a foolish event.
    “Halloween parties are fine, but having them on public transportation is just plain rude.

    It’s as embarrassing as those ultra-nationalist black vans that drive around: Loud, obnoxious, and selfish.

    If you guys want to have a party, why not be civilized and rent out a warehouse where an event can take place instead of intentionally aggravating innocent commuters and destroying the image of foreign youth in Japan?”

    As you know, Japanese people are very punctilious in their manners, moreover very sensitive for annoying conducts.
    If you can’t follow them, you should not stay in Japan. Seriously, you should be ashamed of yourself.
    Just go back where you come from, Kuso-Gaijin!

    Comment by HA | October 23, 2008 | Reply

  11. Thanks for your racist comments, HA (comment 10). You’ve certainly added to the discussion. For your information, the party started off innocently enough,years ago, and there were certainly plenty of Japanese who used to join in. It’s gotten too big and it’s well past its prime (you can say that about most of the major festivals in Japan), but that’s no reason to call the participants “kuso-gaijin”. What should I call the drunken salarymen who will harass me during bonenkai season? And where should they go back to?

    Comment by nagaijin | October 25, 2008 | Reply

  12. Hola people, Happy April Fool’s Day!

    A guy goes into confession and says to the priest, “Father, I’m 80 years old, married, have four kids and 11 grandchildren, and last night I had an affair with two 18-year-old girls. I made love with both of them twice.”
    The priest said: “Well, my son, when was the last time you were in confession?”
    “Never Father, I’m Jewish.”
    “So then, why are you telling me?”
    “I’m telling everybody.”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

    Comment by Daina | April 1, 2010 | Reply

  13. Why disturbing ordinary commuters on train? One night around 2000 or before, I was on a Yamanote train going back home, but it went very slow. Later that day I learned on TV news that was because of the Halloween party. The scene on TV was like some foreigners tried to be the last person to get on the train after the bell, as if the last person was the bravest one. Extremely childish and very annoying to me.

    What is more, it seems you never feel guilty of your action.

    Comment by KING | November 17, 2011 | Reply

  14. You can have a party in a restaurant.
    Why on train and disturb others?
    What do you think lots of drunk foreigners take a party on train of your country?
    What do you think of such people if they say lots of excuse about it?

    Comment by KING | November 17, 2011 | Reply

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