Care to be seated next to a mythological monster from Japanese folklore?
Maybe you’ve heard the term yokai through the hit kids anime Yo-Kai Watch or the older Rumiko Takahashi series Inu Yasha. Yokai are a quintessentially Japanese class of ghosts, spirits, and other apparitions from folklore. Some, such as the cucumber-loving water demon kappa, are more mischievous than harmful, whereas others such as the yuki-onna (“snow woman”) are known for luring unsuspecting mortals to their deaths.
Those mortals who can’t help but be fascinated by stories of yokai should take note that every year since 2007 the Randen Arashiyama Line in Japan’s ancient capital city of Kyoto has offered a mysterious yokai densha (“yokai train”) ride on its retro-looking tram cars during which passengers can get up close and personal with the spirits and even snap a few photos.
▼ Exterior of the Yokai Train in Kyoto
8/13 妖怪電車 26+27
117系のとある団体用編成 (@117KEI_T1) August 16, 2019
▼ (Benevolent) yokai waving from the train cars
YASAKA MISAKI (@Yasaka_339) August 14, 2019
This year the event lasted from August 11-15, coinciding nicely with the Obon Festival celebrated around the country when ancestral spirits are said to return to the world of the living for a brief time. Because of this belief, in Japan it’s the summer, and not the fall, that’s the most appropriate season for telling spooky ghost stories.
Scary stories were certainly abound on the opening day of the train, which included a costume parade of the yokai before they lined up to board. One visitor described the atmosphere as peppered with the shrieks of people caught unaware of who–or what–they were standing next to, terrified children crying, and occasional shouts of “Oh my God!” from unsuspecting foreigners who stumbled upon the scene.
▼ Even though we’ve seen some weird characters on the streets of Japan, this sight would still startle us.
妖怪アートフリマモノノケ市 in 二条城
コウノ＠京都の妖怪の人 (@kouno0521) August 17, 2019
The Yokai Train ran for three round trips per day, departing from Arashiyama Station at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. and arriving at Shijo-Omiya Station 24 minutes later. During the non-stop ride, passengers were subjected to eerie music and decorations, not to mention the various yokai moving about the train cars and greeting everyone. Humorously, one ride cost adults 220 yen (US$2.07), children 110 yen, and yokai 100 yen! We guess that means there’s no such thing as a free lunch–even for monsters.
Here are some spooky scenes from the train:
The Youkai Railway
タケミカ レン (@boc_renkyun) August 13, 2019
妖怪電車にも乗ってきたよ！かわいいのからガチ怖までいろんな妖怪いたけど、みんな快く写真撮影に応えてくれますw ちびっこはギャン泣きだったね！はじめての嵐電が妖怪電車なんてステキ #妖怪電車 https://t.co/PdejC3cFiV
うぇつぃー (@cyawanmushi_611) August 14, 2019
Some passengers really got into the spirit by dressing up as yokai themselves to varying degrees:
水底ぴあの (@cosPianoMina) August 11, 2019
黒丸🦊 (@kuromaru_1005) August 16, 2019
とーじょー (@I_can_not_live) August 11, 2019
On a closing note, it’s rumored that many of the full-fledged yokai were actually students from the local Kyoto Saga University of Arts in disguise. Whether someone will ever be brave enough to ask one of them next year remains to be seen…