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The Tokyo Halloween Train Rides Again
[Opinion] Semiannual unofficial tradition sparks heated debate on the Net
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2007-10-31 11:27 (KST)   
Jumping up and down with excitement waiting for the legendary Yamanote Halloween Train.
©2007 D. Weber
On the evening of Oct. 27, Tokyo was just coming out of the grip of an unseasonable typhoon that 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 schoolgirls 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 e-mail 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 author and a Red Guy congratulate Japan Rail for another great party.
©2007 D. Weber
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 (perverts groping people on trains).

It's the Great Pumpkin on the Yamanote Halloween Train, Charlie Brown!
©2007 D. Weber
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 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 salary man 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.

An amused commuter flashes a peace sign.
©2007 D. Weber
Several other commuters joined with us, drinking and eating what food and drink we had to offer. One salary man 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!

Singing Germans.
©2007 D. Weber
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 to 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.

The Yamanote Halloween Train rides again!
©2007 D. Weber
In 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 multinational/multicultural 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.

Having a sip.
©2007 D. Weber
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, particularly 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.

Near-naked guy feels the chill.
©2007 D. Weber
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 was 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.
©2007 D. Weber
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 that 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!"

Two passengers partake of pretzels presented by the author.
©2007 D. Weber
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 Ranger costumes. The students often find the event amusing and some of them said they would like to attend some day if they had the chance.

Peace! Happy Halloween!
©2007 D. Weber
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 toward 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.

Indian chief or a member of the Village People?
©2007 D. Weber
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 United States!

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!

A waving witch.
©2007 D. Weber

- The Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train 2007 

©2007 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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