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Tokyo's Halloween Party Train Rides Again
The legend of the Yamanote Line comes to life again
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-11-08 09:50 (KST)   
A Masked Wrestler Enjoys a Drink on the Yamanote
©2005 D.Weber
"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
©2005 D.Weber
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 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
©2005 D.Weber
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.

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
©2005 D.Weber
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
©2005 D.Weber
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 the frenzied dream from which it had sprung.

Related Articles
An Ancient Tradition Descends With Dusk

- A View of the Party (.MOV) 
- Partiers Welcoming Commuters (.MOV) 
- A Cowboy Leads the Chant (.MOV) 

©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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