Home > Focus on Japan 2009 > Trains, Nationalists, & Automobiles

Trains, Nationalists, & Automobiles

November 2nd, 2009

A few news stories from Japan:

Last night was Halloween, and Halloween in Tokyo means the Yamanote Line. Or at least it used to. Every year for about two decades, there would be something akin to a flash party, where foreigners and their Japanese friends would all agree to ride the Yamanote line and party in costume as it made the last few rounds of its loop line for the night. Here’s a quick documentary on the phenomenon:

However, over the years, the partying has, according to some, gotten more and more out of hand–lots of drinking and obnoxious behavior, which has caused a good deal of concern among the Japanese citizenry. Some foreign revelers reportedly used it as an excuse to harass Japanese traingoers, and Japanese in general were intimidated and generally put off by the whole affair. More and more it became a moving display of drunken debauchery. However, many foreign participants beg to differ, saying that it’s a good-natured party mostly populated by Japanese, and most Japanese traingoers don’t mind–and even join in.

Still, Japanese police take the situation seriously. More and more, over the years, police populate the train stations and the trains themselves. Reports this year are mixed–some say that foreigners with costumes were politely ushered onto the trains by police, others say they were blocked. Whatever the case, it seems that this year’s party was muted at best–not many revelers came on the trains. In part, this may have been from the bad reputation the party has gotten–and in part, it may have been due to threats.

You see, the Halloween Train Party has become something of a symbol among Japanese nationalists, who apparently vastly outnumbered the foreigners this year. A mob of more than a hundred nationalists, many supporting hostile and racist signs, reportedly gathered at Shinjuku Station. There were scattered reports of harassment by these people against random foreigners, and it seems that the police had to focus more on the nationalists. Some nationalists reportedly rode the trains armed with video cameras, hoping to document how foul these foreigners are, reportedly with little or no success.

In other news, the government is looking to increase speed limits on some non-turnpike roads to as high as 80 KPH. The story is relatively vague except to say that the limit could be raised to 80 for roads “not used by pedestrians, bicycles or motorcycles or those that meet other safety requirements.” I went “mentei” (license probation after receiving too many citations) after living in the suburbs close to the boonies out in Tama, not because I drove unsafely, but because the long straightaways with no intersection or pedestrian traffic were rated for 40 KPH speed limits–ridiculously low, and capitalized on by cops as a revenue stream for ticketing. As I noted here, Japanese traffic ops are notorious for issuing tickets not for safety concerns, but just because they can–likely for monetary reasons. Unsafe intersections are almost never observed by traffic cops. In my last two years in the sticks, I got many traffic citations; in the two years after moving to Ikebukuro, I got none–despite no change in my driving habits. Police simply don’t set up speed traps or other ticket traps very often in mid-town.

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  1. Troy
    November 2nd, 2009 at 15:30 | #1

    More and more it became

    kinda started that way, or at least it was when I was FOB back in ’92. . .

    Transportation is a public good and from the beginning I thought it was incredibly immature and just plain rude to interfere with it by mass partying on the cars. Back in the 90s 10/31 was just another day on the calendar so the American-style partying was a very unwelcome cultural import.

    Back in the early 90s there was no graffiti anywhere in Tokyo, either. I gather that’s changed now.

  2. Ken
    November 4th, 2009 at 02:24 | #2

    Yeah, I agree with Troy.

    Overall Japan is welcoming of foreigners and tolerates a few differences as a fact of modern living. But any kind of partying in a such small, confined space really gets in the face of those who just need to get home to their families. Is it asking too much to take the parties to an outdoor location or private home?

    If you tried the same behaviour in Rio Di Janero or Amsterdam, I imagine one would be received by smiles and giggles from onlookers. But in Japan, famous for its calm, controlled society, you are likely to get blank stares or, even worse, muttered anti-foreigner comments from onlookers.

    In short, one needs to consider the reaction of the host culture before pulling an annual stunt like Halloween.

  3. Stuart
    November 4th, 2009 at 09:54 | #3

    In Fukui, the train company rents out their train specifically for halloween parties. It seems like it would be easy to do in Tokyo with so many private train companies willing to make money.

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