I was in the Kansai/Nagoya area recently to take in a geisha performance in Kyoto and to tour a castle or two in the Nagoya area.
While I was there I met Maggie and her owner Gimmeabreakman from Youtube. Gimmeabreakman interviewed me on the controversial Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train which caused quite a bit of furor on the internet. Internet denizens were either up in arms against it or that they missed it.
Here I discuss how overly-demonized the event is and how many people are just experiencing internet faux rage over something that they probably never heard before they saw it on youtube or some other forum
Well, I was out and about looking for yet another Halloween Train set for Halloween itself. I had some misgivings about this one though because:
1) I had already ridden on one on the 25th and made a video on it. I didn’t really feel like making another one though naturally I would have been compelled to do so.
2) It was set on a Friday. Normally in most countries at 9 such a halloween party would not run into much problem but in Tokyo it means commuters going home after late hours. I find that worse than any halloween train party!
Turns out it was a hoax or it’s a hoax of hoax designed to save face because no one showed up. I got a video response by someone claiming they organized the hoax who then put up a video claiming to have footage of the 31st Halloween Train along with complilations of other people’s halloween train videos including mine.
The intro lures the viewer into thinking you’re going to see the “carnage” as the video states then suddenly it switches to – you guessed it! That Rick Astley video – what is up with that BTW? I still don’t understand rickrolling but this one was funny because bits of video from different people’s halloween train videos are put within the video dancing along with the music.
Cops, Nerds, and Halloween Trains
The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train serves up another saucy bit of fun
The Joker is a scream at the Yamanote Halloween Train party
The infamous Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train rode yet once more this year despite fears of police crackdowns and potential violence from frustrated internet nerds. The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train is an unofficial semi-traditional event going back over 20 years where foreigners and Japanese in costume party on the Yamanote Train Line which loops through Tokyo.
Now, I’ve ridden this notorious public transportation menace a fair few times (four times as of now), and I must say this time was as nerve-wracking as it was exhilarating. Each time I’ve ridden the Halloween Train, it’s been fun but this time things were a bit more tense than before.
The few, the proud, the loud
Looming over the party atmosphere was the specter of the Akihabara murder-spree this past summer where a deranged man killed seven people with his vehicle and knife. Prior to doing so, he had posted on the internet that he would do so. Akihabara is a mecca for the anime otaku or Japanese animation nerd.
Otaku (nerds/geeks/dorks) are the pariah of Japan. They have been scapegoated for social ills sometimes unfairly and sometimes not. Many are just harmless individuals who just like anime and manga while indulging in a bit of cosplay now and then. These types lack the anger and alienation of other otaku whose behavior rather than their particular obsession sets them apart. The killer Kato Tomohiro is seen as one of these types who finally gave into his dark twisted inner nature.
Tengu – Japanese long-nosed Goblin
Our gathering was small for several reasons. One, there was little advance warning; two, it was rather early for Halloween being the 25th; three, there was worry the police would shut it down and arrest participants; and four, there was fear of violence from 2channel people.
Japan Man takes a Swig
2channel or Nichannel/Nichan is a Japanese internet community that is known for its outspoken members. Because of its complete anonymous nature, it attracts a certain number of individuals who slander and defame businesses, political figures, and celebrities. These individuals are often described as extremely conservative, angry, xenophobic, vindictive, and incapable of functioning in the real world.
In 2007 when certain 2channel members learned about the Halloween Train event, they saw red and plastered websites which mentioned the event with obscenities and violent threats. Japanprobe was hit especially hard as someone had posted an invite there to the Halloween Train and 2chan people assumed Japanprobe was sponsoring the event. Two commentators stood out at the time – one who threaten to blow away the trains and one who said he would go there with a knife.
After the Akihabara tragedy, such threats are no longer passed off as empty threats made by internet nerds who never leave their computer. There is a dark side to the otaku culture of frustrated young men angry at society, with their lives, and with their lack of human contact. Generally lashing out through their online personas is enough for many of them but for some it hasn’t and what Japan may experience is more internet-fueled rages in the real world.
We can’t reach our Beer!
The Halloween Train was packed with police most of them undercover while at the major stations a dozen uniformed police stood waiting. Some of us began to worry our night of merry mayhem would end in a Japanese jail cell and possible deportation. As it turns out, the police were less there because of us but more there because of the potential threat the 2channel users posed.
A Japanese maid chants station names
Due to their hatred for the Halloween Train event some 2channel members actually made the ultimate sacrifice of prying themselves away from their cyber fantasy worlds and entering the cold harsh realm called the real world. They came to our event but they certainly weren’t there to partake in the festivities. One of them tried to make off my bottle of Campari when I offered to him in a gesture of good will. I had to wrestle it out of his hand to get it back.
A police sign telling us not to … do something
The 2channel members were easy to spot as while other passengers just ignored the event going on around them, the 2channel people defiantly ignored the event going on around them. Some of them though harassed Japanese participants of the Halloween Train questioning their love of their home country and other nationalistic jingoism.
The Joker during a serious moment
Heath Ledger’s Joker is a frightening psychotic character and we had a Joker on our train complete with knife (fake). However, one regular-looking 2channel member proved to be far more frightening than our lovable clown-face psycho. When asked by a Halloween Train participant if he liked peace, he replied that he liked war and that he wanted to kill the participant. Immediately, in this packed train, that 2channel fellow found ample space around him as people recoiled in horror. Flashes of AKihabara went through many minds and through it all the placid expression on his face did not change – all the more frightening.
An undercover policeman inquired about the incident and let it be known that they were more here to protect the party participants from the 2channel members. This may strike one as strange that the police would willingly protect an event what some have condemned as hooliganism and even terrorism but one has to understand that this event has been going on for well over 20 years. It happens once a year (usually) and in recent times lasts only an hour or so. The worse that happens is some lights are turned off and some people get on the luggage rack.
Hey, Mom! I’m on the Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train!
On the other side of the equation we have this subculture of embittered socially-awkward young men with chips on their shoulders who after the Akihabara incident are capable of doing far worse than turn off a few lights. Reportedly in 2007 after the Halloween Train event which started in Shinjuku and had police and otaku alike some party participants were beaten afterwards.
As for the Halloween Train, it was a bit more low key than previous ones but we did our usual station chanting. Hamamatsucho Station, however, defeated our best efforts. It’s hard getting a group of inebriates to chant multi-syllabic words. We ran into a slight snag at Osaki station. Although the Yamanote Line loops around Tokyo, not all its trains do. Some stop in Osaki and are switched out. We happened to be on one such train though we didn’t know it. We thought at first they were shutting down the train like they did with the Shinjuku Halloween Train last year.
Fortunately, it was a routine shutdown. We simply crossed over to the other side and grabbed another train going the same direction. Half of the group went over to the other platform and took a train in the direction we had just came no doubt surprising the police at the stations we had already left. Once again two Halloween Trains were on the loose and chaos reigned.
Another amusing note to the evening was the presence of a vocal foreign critic to our soiree. Buried beneath the press of passengers, photographers, and nerds, was our moral compass. Periodically we would hear over the din, the shrill nasally cry of “you shouldn’t be drinking on the train!” and “you shouldn’t be shouting!” even though he himself was shouting. I’m not sure what he got out of it but if it made him happy, good for him.
Our train party decided to exit at Ueno despite originally stating we would do so at Ikebukuro. This was to throw off any unwanted welcoming parties that might been waiting for us in the shadows outside the station. We received a celebrity sendoff by a mob of photographers. They formed a semi-circle and snapped away like we were rock stars. With the police protection, stalkers, and photographers and our larger-than-life behavior we kind of were rock stars.
Yamanote Halloween Train Paparazzi – “No Autographs!”
We finally got out of the station after having hundreds of photos taken of us by reporters and passerbys and celebrated out success (and survival) over a few cold ones. Scarily enough, we still had a few 2channel members tailing us. Two undercover cops were there though to make sure they didn’t try anything.
So another successful and highly interesting Yamanote Halloween Train went down in the annals of Tokyo lore. I cannot say truthfully if this was the proverbial “the” Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train as another may still run in the near future but I can say this was definitely “A” Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train and I was glad not to have missed it.
Police protection, avidly-snapping photographers, and love-hate psycho stalkers.
We were the the few, the proud, the loud.
Some naysayers say there wasn’t a party but watch this video and judge for yourself. We all had fun.
Another year has come and gone and in soppy melodramatic fashion, it’s time to look back on all we’ve done and didn’t do. Instead of focusing on love or lack there of or personal growth, I’ve look back through the magic of film and video on all the places and things I saw in 2007.
I rang in the New Year between the traditional area of Asakusa and the sleazy area of Roppongi. Needlessly to say the 1st of January did not see me until much later in the day, in fact it was evening. My first activity of the New Year then was the following day after sleeping off an all-nighter in Roppongi. I went to the Imperial Palace on January 2nd to hear the Emperor’s New Year address. Didn’t understand a word he said (my New Year’s Resolution is to fix that problem by next year).
A week later I went to Meiji Shrine for Seijin-no-hi (Coming of Age Day) to see kimono-clad girls strut their stuff.
That weekend I went to Kanda Shrine to watch Shinto adherents prove their mettle by drenching themselves in freezing cold water. However given the unusual warmth that month, the normally chill-inducing spectactle looked rather refreshing.
The next week I went out to a temple in east part of Tokyo – Kameido. There they had a type of Noh performance. This was the first time for me to see Noh but by the end of the year while I would be no expert in Noh, I would at least know Noh much better than before.
The 3rd of February is one of my favorite times of the year. This is Setsubun which is like a mix of New Years, Groundhog Day, and Halloween rolled up togther. Every year I attend the mami-maki (bean-tossing) at different temples. This time I hit three temples – Senso-ji in Asakusa, Zojo-ji in Hammatscho, and Kichibojin in Ikebukuro. I always enjoy watching old ladies knocking people over for thrown washcloths, beans, and other trinkets.
I mainly stayed in Tokyo and when I wasn’t killing zombies and Nazis on my Playstation I was visiting gardens such as Hama-rikyu.
The end of February brings out the plum blossoms, the heralds of Spring. To see them I took daytrips to Kamakura which due to the warm winter had already shed its plum blossoms and I went to Mito in the Ibaraki Prefecture to see Kairaku-en Garden with its hundreds of plum blossoms.
February was a good month for armor. I got the chance to wear samurai armor twice. Once in Odawara in front of the castle for 200 Yen and another time in Ikebukuro at a store’s opening week for free. My inner geek was pleasantly sated.
I took another daytrip out to Chiba to watch another type of Shinto ritual where half-naked men wrestled in a cold muddy pond to ensure good fortune for all – its a Shinto thing.
The next day I embarked on an ardous journey into the heart of the urban jungle of Tokyo. Along with my comrade, Zen Master Jeff, I hiked around the Yamanote Line for five days. We stayed at an ryokan, an internet cafe, a karaoke box, and a capsule hotel. Our outfits were a mix of samurai, old style Yakuza, pilgrim, and backpacker. We met quite a few people and had several interesting adventures because of these costumes.
In March I went to Nagoya where the year before I had attended one of the most amusing festivals – the fertility festival of Tagata Shrine. Once again I saw that huge wooden phallus hove into sight admist the awes and chuckles of the spectators.
The next day I went to reconstructed castle whose original structure once belonged to warlord Oda Nobunaga.
Two days later I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish Pub with some co-workers where we listened to a kickass Irish band who were all Japanese.
The next day I went to Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple to watch the Kinryu-no-Mai – Golden Dragon Dance.
Showing the spirit of union solidarity I attended the annual March in March, a gathering of foriegn and japanese union members. It rained during the march but the sun came out at the end – The Man can now control the weather!
In April, I made my yearly Cherry Blossom pilgrimage to Kyoto where I enjoyed the Sakura both day and night thanks to nighttime illuminations.
On the second day of my trip, I went to Nara, the first official capital of Japan, to feed the semi-tame persistant deer and see the Diabutsu – Great Buddha.
The third day, I went to Yoshino which was an Imperial capital for some decades when there were two rival Imperial Courts for a time.
As it was there was a Geisha performance going on back in Kyoto at the same time in the Gion Quarter – the Miyako Odori. Luckily I was able to get a last minute ticket on my last day.
Though laden with controversy (and with good reason) Yasakuni Shrine hosts an outdoor sumo event in mid-April. While the blossoms fall, sumo wrestlers toss each other around for our free amusement.
A few days later I went to Kamakura to see Cherry Blossoms and watch a display of Yabusame – mounted archery. I injured my knee scrambling up a small tree for a better view. This injury would come back to haunt later in the summer when I was limping about.
Next Saturday, I went to Sumida Park in Asakusa to see another demonstration of Yabusame. It was here were I first saw it performed years ago and I go back to Sumida almost every year.
I went to Harajuku Park one Sunday to see the goth lolita anime folks. While I was there I was interviewed for a French cable TV channel called French Wave or something like that. It was suppose to air sometime in July but I had no way of seeing it.
That particularly Sunday in Harajuku I stumbled the remnants of the group that used to dominate Harajuku – the dancing rockabilly gangs. Don’t know why the cops drove them off 10 years ago.
Usually in May during Japan’s Golden Week, I stay put in Tokyo either working or killing people – on my Playstation, of course. Although I get 3-4 days off and sometimes more depending on my schedule, I don’t like to travel at this time because everyone is traveling. Prices are high and accomodations hard to come by. Still this year, I went up to Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture to see the re-enactment of Kawanakajima, one of the famous samurai battles of the Sengoku (Warring States) Period. The re-enactment was more like a high school play with a fair size budget but that was ok as it added a surreal element of watching smiling schoolgirl samurai swinging swords about.
I also try a bit of Yonezawa’s famous beef – which was a damn good (and expensive!) steak.
From Yonezawa I went north to Sendai and then to Hiraizumi where another festival was taking place. I watched Noh performed on a 300 year old outdoor Noh stage and drummers dressed in bizarre deer costumes. As for accomodations, I stayed for three nights in true backpacking style -at the Chateau de Internet Cafe.
The following week I was off again – back to Kyoto for 6 days. In Kyoto I went to the Silver Pavalion – Ginkakuji – named so even though it actually doesn’t have any silver. A grim jest of financial destitution or a tourist scam, you decide. Still, lovely building, silver or no.
I attended this year’s Kamogawa Odori geisha performance in Pontocho which had a story set during the civil war which burnt much of Kyoto and explained why Ginkakuji was silver-less.
That evening I went to Gion Corner to get a crash course in traditonal Japanese arts from Tea Ceremony, kodo playing (japanese harp), gagaku (court music and dance), geisha dancing, ikebana (flower-arranging), kyogen (the amusing plays inbetween the serious Noh dramas) finally to bunraku (puppet drama), All of this in under an hour.
I took the second part of the program and learned a bit on how to do make tea in the traditional tea ceremony way. My tea was a bit strong I’m afraid.
The following day I went outside of Nara to see the site of the oldest Buddhist temple – Horyuji. The current buildings do not date back to the 6th century, though.
In Nara for two nights I watched Noh by torchlight. There’s no Noh like torchlight Noh.
On Sunday I went to Iga-Ueno which was the hometown of some of Japan’s original Ninja. There I saw a short demonstration of Ninja fighting which basically means fighting dirty.
Monday I went to Ise famed for its shrines which are the number one shrines in the Shinto faith. However, instead of going to these cultural meccas since I had been culturing it up anyhow, I went to a samurai theme park. Ise has one of the Edo Wonderland themepark chains this one based on the later half of the Sengoku Period. I watched a samurai stage drama which I didn’t understand but the plot was simple enough to follow – bad samurai wants precious sword that good samurai guards. Good guy won. Dammit! Gave away the ending – sorry!
On Tuesday, I watched one of Japan’s oldest festivals, the Aoi Matsuri which was my main purpose for my trip.
My knee had troubled me a bit at first but by the end of the trip, I was fine. However my knee injury would re-surface during the rainy season next month. Before that occurred I still had some weeks with a trouble-free knee and so two days back from my Kyoto trip off I went to Nikko to catch the tail end of the festival procession honoring Tokugawa Ieyasu.
I caught a bit of Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri as well. I was really still tired from my Kyoto trip to gave these last two as much time and energy. But I watched people carrying around Mikoshi -portable shrines – and had a good time. I aslo caught another bit of Noh (it was definately becoming a Noh year for me).
I was rested enough towards the end of the month to take in sumo. I was fortunate to be there the day Yokozuna (champion) Asashoryu lost a pivotal match which paved the way for a new Yokozuna. Well, fortunate for me not for him, I guess.
Two days later I was in an area known as Miura, a beach area 2 hours south of Tokyo, where I watched another form of Yabusame – Kasagake. Similar to Yabusame, kasagake has a more military practicality. The targets are placed in front and are lower down at the same height as a dismounted enemy.
June is the rainy season so I planned to take it easy for a change and just stay put but as luck would have it during the Sanja Matsuri I chanced upon a poster for a festival in some town I never of before. The festival was honoring a samurai family from long ago who fled to the village of Yunishigawa. I was intrigued so off I went. To my dismay I missed the procession of warriors in 12th century armor by a day but I caught something even better – women in colorful robes dancing in the street and an incredible performance on a biwa – a type of lute.
I injured my knee by putting too much stress on it running to work one day. I ended up limping into class. Through mid-June to mid-July I spent most of my days off at home but I did go to Harajuku park again one Sunday to see the inhabitants there.
In mid-July, I was back down in Kyoto once again. This time for the Gion Festival. Two-story floats filled with musicians and covered with old tapestries were pulled through the streets. Today the floats are dwarfed by tall modern buildings but back in the day, those floats must have really seemed gigantic.
I also went into the mountains behind Kyoto to Enryaku-ji which was once a huge temple compound with thousands of subtemples until the aforementioned Oda Nobunaga who apparently wasn’t much of a temple-going man burned many of the temples and killed a great number of priests. The priests, however, weren’t terribly temple-going types either has they maintained an army and used it to fight other temples and bully the capital.
There was a sumo tournament in Nagoya so I headed up there and spent the whole day at the sumo tournament where I watched the various ranks of sumo wrestlers from the lowest to the highest compete. I aslo got the chance to visit one of the sumo houses but it was after their dinner so I missed all the “big” sumo wrestlers. Only the “little” guys were there cleaning up.
I basically took it easy this trip though since the weather wasn’t all that great and my knee was bothering me. The last day I went on a type of fishing excursion known as ukai where cormorant birds are used to catch fish. It was dark and rainy and my camera kept fogging up.
Next week I was at it again – this time the Soma Nomaoi, a festival I went to 2 years ago. I saw again the armored samurai in the best historical procession I’ve seen. This time I stayed for the last day’s festivities of the 3-day festival. I watched pensioners round up semi-wild horses at a shrine.
August was a crazy month for me which made all the previous months pale in comparison. Starting Aug 2 I went on an 8-day 6-festival trip throughout Tohoku. I started with the drumming festival of Sansa Odori in Morioka.
Then I went to Akita City where I watched people balance huge bamboo poles with lanterns on their palms, hips, and heads.
South of Morioka, I spent two days at a festival where they had all kinds of dance performances but the best one and the one that brought me here in the first place was the Oni Kembai or devil dance.
I spent two refreshing nights in a business hotel during the Oni Kembai festival – this after two nights in two uncomfortable internet cafes – before going to Hirosaki to see Neputa.
then off to Aomori to see the last night of Nebuta in which they put some of the best floats in harbor while fireworks go off overhead.
The last festival was similar to Aomori’s Nebuta except that the floats were much taller – 3 of them clocked in at 22 meters high! This was Tachi Neputa, the tiny town of Goshogowara’s claim to fame. My knee bothered me so much at times I could barely walk.
A week later I was in Niigata on Sado Island to see once again the Kodo Taiko drum group’s 3-day concert. It was here I met with some sexy japanese belly dancers. I finally got myself a knee brace before going out to the island which helped me hobble about a bit better.
Near the end of the month, I was back in Asakusa to catch the Asakusa Samba Festival. Lots of cameras were clicking away as scantily-clad samba girls pranced about to a Latin beat.
The next evening I went to Kameido Temple to see another Noh performance this one by torchlight too.
September – typhoon season – I really did take easy though I still went to sumo on one of my days off.
In my neighborhood, I caught a festival. Though I missed the mikoshi, I saw a cool drum band.
During that time there was an Oktoberfest celebration going on near Tokyo station at Hibiya Park. I spent two nights there drinking German and Japanese beers eating sausages and watching German and Japanese girls prance about in leiderhosen – or whatever german girls wear – to German oompah music.
I had meant to go to a festival that month up in Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture but this time my laziness finally said no and I stayed home the whole time and killed zombies on Resident Evil/Biohazard 4.
October was another busy month as I took off to Europe to meet up with my parents, my sister and her husband, my cousin, and my uncle in a small family renunion in italy. I headed off first to catch the last two days of Oktoberfest in Munich. The last Saturday of Oktoberfest was so packed I was in mortal danger of going beerless at the world’s largest beer festival. Fortunately, the gods of beer smiled upn me and I was able to partake of the holy elixir.
Then I spent a week beer-guzzling while taking in the castles of Bavaria’s mad king, Ludwig II and listening to some really talented street musicians.
An overnight bus brought me to Zagreb where I spent the morning wandering around the old town admiring the rampant grafitti. At noon, I had my eardrums shattered by their noonday chime which is delivered by a WWII howitizer cannon.
From Zagreb I proceeded to Ljubjana, the capital of Slovenia, a country which tires of being mistaken for Slovakia.
I spent a night there then spent a day at beautiful Lake Bled.
An overnight train brought me into Venice – well not at first since in my exhaustion I got off at the first station before Venice and had to wait half-an-hour till the next one. I spent the day wandering about the city which was all I could afford to do as admission prices are stupidly high and the lines were stupidly long too. That night I arrived in Florence and spent much of the next day there.
I met my family at a villa that was part of a small castle complex outside of Florence. Wasn’t use to this luxury – I had slept in a locker for two nights in the train station in Munich during Oktoberfest. From then on it was smooth sailing – except when we got lost on the winding roads of the Tuscan Hills which was often.
I went to several medieval walled towns that week in Tuscany and Umbria. Ah, the bloodshed and paranioa of past centuries left some wonderful sites to see throughout the area. My favorite was Monteriggiono outside of Siena.
I returned home to Tokyo just in time to catch a ride on the notorious Yamanote Halloween Train. Little did I know till later of all the controversy that had been swarming around the event. As it was, the killjoys helped to kill one Halloween Train but they knew nothing about the Halloween Train I was on – the killjoys left some amusingly angry comments on the Youtube video I made about the event.
After the Halloween Train, I went into Roppongi for a bit fun and sleaze. I also went there on Weds, Halloween proper but it was dead and not int he Halloween sense. However, I did get a bit of grind action from a she-devil and her playboy playmate pal.
November was another quiet month. On Culture Day, Nov 3, I went to a small pocket in Tokyo’s urban sprawl to see a small demonstration of a Japanese lord’s procession from several centuries ago and to see one of my student’s samba group perform.
I went home for Thanksgiving where I got fat on some good southern grub such as fried catfish, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cornbread. Also got to pet my doggies.
December was also a quiet one for traveling. I went to Sengaku-ji Temple in Shinagawa to see the festival honoring the 47 Ronin who 300 years earlier arrived on a snowy morning with the head of the lord’s enemy to lay at their masters’ grave.
Then on the 23rd I went to the Imperial Palace again. This time to hear the Emperor give a birthday address. Since 2002, I’ve always gone to the Palace on the Emperor’s birthday. Last year I missed the address though I was still able to go inside. This year I got to see and hear some welldressed Japanese rightwingers (and possible yakuza) get really into wishing the Emperor a happy birthday.
And the last 5 minutes of 2007 were spent at Zojo-ji Temple where hundreds of balloons flew off.
Whew! Well that’s that for 2007! Look out 2008! Actually, I think might just take the year off.
Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train Power Rangers On Parade
This is from the 2006 Yamanote Halloween Train event where a group of crazy Spanish-speaking Power Rangers who on the second loop of the party would jump out at the stations and do a little martial arts dance.
Just some harmless mischievous bit of good fun.
Here’s a video of the 2007 Yamanote Halloween Train which started in Ikebukuro and escaped the notice of the cops. It was a blast!
The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train Rides Into a Sea of Adversity
Semi-Annual Unofficial Tradition Sparks Heated Debated on the Net
Jumping up and down with excitement waiting for the legendary Yamanote Halloween Train
On the evening of the October 27, 2007, Tokyo was just coming out the grip of an unseasonable typhoon which struck the capital fiercely with rain and high winds. Broken umbrellas littered the streets like the battered corpses of a major battle. While the city was still reeling from this climatic chaos, an unsuspecting train was suddenly overrun by a horde of goblins, witches, devils, ghosts, ninja, power rangers, naughty school girls, and even Santa Claus. Yes, the legendary and notorious Yamanote Halloween Train rode once more.
This time there were actually two Yamanote Halloween Trains. One group started at Shinjuku station and another group started at Ikebukuro station a few minutes earlier. The previous two Halloween Train events had started in Shinjuku. This year, however, the organizers of the last two events sent out a mass email changing the location to Ikebukuro. Meanwhile someone else sent out a public notice setting the event in Shinjuku so there ended up being two separate Halloween Trains.
The Yamanote Halloween Train rides again!
I attended the Ikebukuro event. I was worried the typhoon would have dampened enthusiasm but there was a sizable amount of people gathered at Ikebukuro. There were more gathered at Shinjuku close to 500 whereas we had perhaps 100 to 200. All the police were at Shinjuku. Our party was a complete surprise to them.
We tried to merge with the Shinjuku party but we obviously messed up and boarded an earlier train. It was packed enough as it was. We completely filled two cars and spilled into another. It was much like the morning commute except with alcohol and a happier mood with no morning breath and no chikans (groping perverts on trains).
The author and a Red Guy congratulate Japan Rail for another great party
The usual Halloween activities then took place — drinking (if you had enough space to put bottle or can close to your mouth), chatting, snacking, chanting, climbing up on the scarcely-used overhead luggage rack, and singing. There were a lot of Germans on the train so we sank the Oktoberfest song: “Ein Prosit, Der Gemutlichkeit!” We didn’t chant the station names so much this time because the windows were so fogged up from the typhoon earlier so we couldn’t see which station we were at most of the time.
Nothing terrible of consequence happened with our Halloween Train. The worst I heard was a grumpy salaryman who got angry when one of the party participants accidentally bumped into him. He had boarded the train after the party had started. Had he walked a car or two down, he could have avoided the party all together. He was a bit taken aback though when the offending participant, a foreigner, apologized in very formal Japanese.
It’s the Great Pumpkin on the Yamanote Halloween Train, Charlie Brown!
Several other commuters joined with us drinking and eating what food and drink we had to offer. One salaryman had so much fun, he jumped up and down waving and shouting and giving high fives to everyone. Another satisfied Yamanote Halloween Train customer. We probably made his night.
Our Halloween Train lasted nearly an hour with many getting off at Shibuya before completing a full loop. A number of them got on the Yamanote Train going the other way to Tokyo station which is about 20 minutes away or so. So while the remainder of us continued onward, that group rode in the opposite direction. Meanwhile the Shinjuku Halloween Train was somewhere behind us. So for a short while there were actually three Yamanote Halloween Trains on the loose!
An amused commuter flashes a peace sign
While the Ikebukuro-initiated Halloween Train went off rather smoothly, the Shinjuku one caused quite the controversy. As it was the more publicized one, it drew a lot more attention, not too mention ire particularly on the internet.
Word of the event caused heated debate on sites like Youtube and various Japanese-related sites most notably 2ch.net. One of the chief complaints is that the event is perceived as being just a bunch of rude drunk foreigners making a nuisance of themselves on a public train. They often overlooked the fact that nearly half of the participants are actually Japanese — who are being rude and drunk and making a nuisance of themselves on a public train.
It its earlier conception, the Yamanote Halloween Train was primarily comprised of foreigners. If there were any Japanese participants they were friends or significant others of the foreigner participants. In more recent times, Japanese participants have come entirely on their own or in their own groups. The Halloween Train has become even more of a multi-national/multi-cultural event. In the past it was seen by some earlier participants as a way to lash out at a conformist society. Now it’s seen as just a bit of playful mischief to indulge in and a little steam-venting.
I’ve ridden the Yamanote Halloween Train three years in a row now. All my experiences have been positive. I’ve never seen any participants aggressively harass commuters save to offer them snacks and alcohol. Nor have I ever witnessed any destruction of property. Some lights were switched off but they were switched back on fairly quickly. Members of the Ikebukuro Halloween Train actually went around and made sure there was no garbage left on the train when we exited.
Taking a sip
The critics of the event only know about the event secondhand and from Youtube clips. This hasn’t stopped some of them, however, from making outlandish assertions that the Halloween Train partiers hate Japan or that such events don’t happen in other countries. Some of these critics are Japanese who seem to hate the notion of costumed foreigners drinking on a train. Others are foreigners either living in Japan or elsewhere who lamented the fact (in their minds) that the partiers are giving all foreigners a bad name.
Some critics labeled us terrorists and hijackers. I hope those who used either word particular hijacker were not native English speakers who should have known better. Hijacking involves taking control of a vehicle and taking it away from its original destination. No Halloween Train I have ever been on ever took the Yamanote train anywhere or even stopped it. Saying we hijack the train is just melodramatic hysterics in overdrive.
Nigh naked guys feels the chill
What truly gets incredible is the “fight fire with nukes” syndrome that sprung up on the net particularly with 2ch.net. There were calls for deportation and arrests from both Japanese and foreigners. Some threatened to go there in person and actually physically hurt the partiers. Fortunately such violence is often only contained to the net as anyone who spends any amount of time on the internet knows, most of those who threaten physical violence on the internet rarely have the courage to follow through with it.
What amazed me were the number of foreigners I argued with who willingly defended actions that are blatantly xenophobic and racist. One fellow stated under a Youtube clip of the event: “And they wonder why some Japanese landlords won’t rent apartments to foreigners.” The actions of the few should not be used against the many. To deny living accommodations on the basis of race, ethnicity, and nationality is racist regardless if some within that group have an hour long party on a train once a year.
Drunk Sailor Moon girl flashes peace sign at imaginary people
Then there were the arguments made in ignorance such as parties like the Yamanote Halloween Train do not happen in other countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who lives or has been to a country which is very sports-enthusiastic can attest to this. Just recently a cousin of mine witnessed 400 crazed Italian soccer fans board a train in Tuscany. The conductor ushered my cousin and his girlfriend to the front of the train for their own safety. On the Yamanote Halloween Train, we would have just chatted with them and shared our snacks and drinks with them or we would have just left them alone.
Then there’s the myth that Japanese are always quiet and reserved in public places that some critics continually brought up. Either the proponents of this myth are lying, oblivious to their surroundings, or they don’t get out much. In 2002 when Japan hosted part of the World Cup, many public places were filled with ecstatic soccer fans. In front of Shibuya station one night after Japan played, hundreds gathered to chant “Nippon!”
A pair of passengers partake of pretzels presented by the author
In Osaka around the same time, there were injuries and a fatality on an overcrowded bridge. Then there are the matsuri (Japanese festivals) where everything goes absolutely mad. Anyone who has attended a setsubun mami-maki can vouch that the Yamanote Halloween Train comes off as rather tame in comparison.
Also I’ve shown a number of Japanese students over the year my videos of the Halloween Train event and never have I heard any criticism. My students range in age from their twenties to their sixties. They’ve all enjoyed seeing the various costumes worn by the participants particularly the Power Rangers. The students often find the event amusing and some of them said they would like to attend some day if they had the chance.
Indian chief or the Village People?
In the end the controversy over the Yamanote Halloween Train is simply a mountain made needlessly out of a molehill. The event only happens once a year on a Saturday evening, lasts about one to two hours, and is usually confined to one train. This year was an exception. What I find worse is the critics’ attitudes towards the event which range from puritanical prudishness to xenophobic belligerence. What is truly worrisome is that while the Halloween Train participants will go back to their jobs and their normal routines after the event is over, a number of the critics will continue to harbor pent-up bitter resentment over it.
A waving witch
Who is truly more dangerous? The Halloween Train participant who indulges in a bit of Halloween mischief on the train for one hour or the embittered critic who wishes detainment, deportation, and even violence to befall a bunch of people just having fun? Some of these critics I worry will be the type that will walk into a fast food place one day guns a-blazing. Thank God, guns are not as readily available in Japan as in the US!
These critics could probably benefit from a little steam-venting by joining the Yamanote Halloween Train next year. There they would meet people from all over the world and find that most of them are really quite harmless and more than a little fun. The Halloween Train is an open party for anyone who wishes to join. None are refused. We do not discriminate unlike our critics. And its slowly becoming more and more a Japanese event as so many Japanese attend the event while many foreigners dress in costumes inspired by Japanese culture from samurai, geisha, ninja, power rangers, and anime characters.
So for all you naysayers out there, I urge you next year to lay aside your Bibles, remove the sticks from your posterior, take off your tinfoil hats, park your black vans, take your medication, and join us sometime on the Yamanote Halloween Train! You won’t be disappointed!
Peace! Happy Halloween!
The Roving Ronin Report Presents the Full-Length Feature (7 1/2 mins) of:
The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train 2006
I finally got around to making a more indepth follow-up to my early Yamanote Halloween Train videos.I have more commentary from myself and from participants including one who confirms the existence of the Halloween Train event going back to 1990. It also contains a brief message to a pair of Tokyo-living Wikipedia users who last year did everything they could to get an article on the event deleted because they never heard of it.Also for some of the critics who decry the event as just crazy gaijin taking over the train, you’ll note that nearly half the people in this video are Japanese.And here’s last year’s montage video slightly modified with an opening sequence.
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.
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