Among Japan’s numerous fanboy subcultures, train nuts are generally considered to be the most mild mannered of the bunch. They don’t have the lascivious motivations of certain obsessive idol singer fans, nor does their hobby have the graphically violent images often associated with video games and anime produced for the most hardcore fans of those media.
Train fans are mostly content to quietly stand at the end of station platforms or along rural stretches of railway, waiting for a chance to quietly and politely snap a photo of rare engines and carriages. In many ways, their passion is comparable to nature photography, and rail fandom is a pretty allow-key affair, nine times out of ten.
That one time, though, watch out.
In 2010, expansions to Japan’s Shinkansen network brought ultra-high-speed rail service to Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on the country’s main island of Honshu. The ability to travel from Aomori Station to Tokyo in less than four hours ushered in a new era of mobility for the mostly rural prefecture’s citizens, but it was also the beginning of the end for the Akebono sleeper train.
For 44 years the passengers have been shuttled from Aomori to Ueno Station in Tokyo by the Akebono, which was equipped with sleeping facilities to allow travelers to get a little shuteye during the 12-hour trip. The old-fashioned luxury of a sleeper car is no match for newer technology that can do the job three times as quickly, though, so on March 14, the Akebono completed its final run.
Between Aomori and Ueno, the Akebono passed through Omiya Station. Realizing it would be their last chance to photograph the train performing its duties, local rail fans checked the timetables to see when the Akebono would be rolling through, grabbed their cameras, and congregated on the platforms straddling the sleeper train’s line.
Several videos of the historic event were posted to YouTube, whereupon they immediately shattered the image of train enthusiasts as well-mannered, reserved individuals.
It seems that while station attendants and police officers were on hand to keep overenthusiastic enthusiasts from spilling onto the tracks, there were no restraints placed upon the angry rhetoric or foul-mouthed vocabulary of the competing photographers.
For those who don’t speak Japanese, allow us to translate some of what’s being said.
“Back up, dammit!”
“Get the hell off me!”
“Down in front!”
“Get your feet out of my way!”
“How many hours do you think I’ve been standing here for, dumb ass?!”
“Hey you, the jerk with the Cannon!”
Gentlemen every last one of them.
This seems like as good a time as any to point out that Omiya is the largest station in Saitama, Tokyo’s neighbor to the north which gets a bit of a bad rap as being an entertainment wasteland. While we’re not sure the borderline violent nature of its rail fans is a direct result of this, the Akebono’s last pass through town doesn’t seem to be the first time Omiya’s train nuts have gotten rowdy, at least if comments left by those who watched the video are any indication.
“Totally different from the crowd at Aomori Station.”
But perhaps the oddest moment of all in the video comes at the 4:45 mark, when the Akebono blasts its whistle to signal it’s pulling out. All the angry shouting immediately stops, and in its place we hear people loudly thanking the Akebono and wishing it a good rest after its many years of faithful service.
It’s a touching shift in atmosphere, and for a few brief seconds, the crowd almost doesn’t seem like a writhing horde of psychopaths under the control of some infrastructure-bound litch. Almost.
Here’s hoping the positive vibe of everyone in attendance lasted at least as long as the ringing in their ears.