Fear is commonly held to be a cold sensation, which is how we ended up with English phrases like “bone-chilling” and “a chill ran down his spine.” Those idioms may not translate directly into Japanese, but Japan has also traditionally thought of feeling cold as part of being scared.
Figuring that when life hands you horror lemons, you make horror lemonade, long ago Japanese society decided to use this to its advantage, which is why in Japan summer isn’t just the season of lightweight kimonos and all-you-can-drink beer gardens, but the time for ghost stories, too.
But in this modern age, maybe you’re too busy to sit around candlelit rooms in old manor houses swapping creepy tales with your friends. So if you’ve got an active lifestyle and need to keep moving while you get your terror on, a ride on Kyoto’s ghost train might be in order.
Even by the standards of Japan’s elegant former capital, Arashiyama is a tranquil place. Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, the district is famous for its scenic Togetsukyo Bridge and bamboo groves.
One of the easiest ways to get to Arashiyama is by using the Keifuku railway line. Just hop on at Shijo Omiya Station conveniently located in central Kyoto, and ride all the way to Arashiyama Station at the end of the line. The trip takes a little over 20 minutes, and since you’re consistently moving farther away from the population center and closer to beautiful natural surroundings, it makes for a relaxing ride.
Unless, of course, you’re on the Yokai Train.
▼ They’re not nearly as friendly-looking as their counterparts from video game series Yokai Watch.
Every summer, Keifuku infests a few of its trains with yokai, the supernatural creatures that feature prominently in Japanese folklore. Different linguists have made compelling arguments for translating yokai as ghosts, goblins, or monsters, but we’re also satisfied with Keifuku’s official English name for their spooky carriages.
▼ Haunted Train
The company has yet to release a time table for the 2014 Yokai Trains, but Japanese website Kyoto no Sakura reports that the service will be starting on August 1. Fittingly, the yokai trains only run after dark, with their window shades shut and the only illumination coming from interior black lights.
Adding to the atmosphere is the eerie background music played inside the yokai train. Oh, and one more thing to keep in mind: The Yokai Train runs both ways from Shijo Omiya and Arashiyama, but it doesn’t stop at any of the usual stations along the way. Once the doors close, you’re trapped with the yokai until the end of the line.
Having the intestinal fortitude to travel with ghostly entities isn’t without its advantages though. A ride on the Yokai Train costs 200 yen (US $1.98) for adults, a 20-yen savings compared to the price for Keifuku’s human-only trains.
▼ A Yokai Train ticket from 2013
Kids’ tickets are cheaper still at just 100 yen, but even they’re not the most economical way to make the trip.
That’s because yokai can ride for just 50 yen. Since Keifuku is, first and foremost, a rail company, it doesn’t employ a team of mystics, mediums, and exorcists to officially verify passengers’ yokai status. Instead, that judgment call gets left to station attendants, who have the power to bestow the discount on anyone who “looks like a yokai at first glance,” so if you’re looking to get some summertime use out of your Halloween costume, this could be your chance.
Just don’t be surprised if no one wants to sit next to you when you transfer to another line on your way home.