Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Samurai Dave, JR, 2channel, and Japanprobe get Halloween RickRolled!

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.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, entertainment, halloween, japan, life, never gonna give you up, rick astley, rick roll, tokyo, travel, video, yamanote halloween train, Yamanote Train, youtube | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cops, Nerds, and Halloween Trains

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.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, entertainment, festival, halloween, japan, life, party, tokyo, travel, WTF, yamanote halloween train, Yamanote Train | , , , , | 21 Comments

Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train 2008

Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train rides again and we get rockstar treatment.

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.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | culture, halloween, japan, life, party, pop culture, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, WTF, yamanote halloween train, Yamanote Train, youtube | , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Yamanote Halloween Train Rides Into a Sea of Adversity

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 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.

Singing Germans

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 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!

Happy Halloween!

Peace! Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, cosplay, costumes, halloween, japan, life, party, tokyo, travel, yamanote halloween train, Yamanote Train, youtube | , , , , | 32 Comments