A woman with purple hair sits in the waiting room on the platform at Nerima Station, surrounded by salarymen who look exhausted from their workday. Nearby, a private security guard herds four friends wearing matching floral-print pants and light-up shoes toward a line. An assortment of middle-aged workers and high school students weave through the swarm of 20-somethings downing cans of chu-hi to catch their trains.
“I just want to have a new experience,” a young man in a pink shirt tells me. He has chosen the right place.
We’re all gathered on a Friday night at Nerima Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line for the ageHa Train, a special two-day event organized by Seibu Railway and the megaclub ageHa. A few hundred people will board the train, which will take them to ageHa just as it opens. Once there, passengers can move on to a special pre-club gōkon (group date) before partying until the first train of the morning, which will no doubt be a lot more sedate.
The real draw — and the reason at least a dozen media outlets are here — is the vehicle itself. It has been transformed into a moving club, featuring a DJ (long-running producer Daishi Dance on Friday and Alisa Ueno on Saturday) playing EDM tracks, referring to the vaguely defined sounds of electronic dance music. The vehicle, and the implied “sweet ride, bro” is the most anticipated element of the evening.
The train arrives, nondescript, just after 8:20 p.m., prompting a rush to snap photos (“Danger! Danger!” screams security, which would sound perfect sampled in a track later on).
“It’s just a regular train!” says a man in a suit next to me. Before I give him a “geez, old people” eye-roll, I look at the train and see that he’s right — a plain old train save for the windows, which are covered in black vinyl. The inside looks normal, too, except that speakers have been placed on the luggage racks above the seats. For five minutes as the crowd boards, we replicate Tokyo’s morning rush hour. Instead of grumpy office workers, though, we’ve got giggling young women in glow-in-the-dark cat ears.
A few people grab seats, the rest stand and a voice comes over the intercom: “ageHa train … start!” Suddenly, the lights go out and the crowd gasps. Colored strobes start to flash and the music starts pumping. Staff reveal the trash cans they’ve hauled on board are stuffed with cans of Budweiser, which they start passing out. The passengers gradually start bobbing their heads and the music instructs them to “Put your hands up!” There’s a mad rush of iPhone selfies, a risky decision considering we are in a moving vehicle.
Before heading out for the night all I could think of was why someone would pay ¥7,000 (¥3,000 for women) to have an experience that they likely have several times every day, but soundtracked by fried-out bass? It seems like Seibu Railways are the ones winning here, ageHa Train is making it clear that the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of Tokyo’s rush hours aren’t what makes riding a train miserable — trains can be fun! — it’s the pervading morning vibe that nobody wants to be there that’s the problem.
On the contrary, the kids on this train seem happy to be jammed together, especially in front of the DJ booth and CyberJapan Dancers in car No. 9. Despite the squeeze, and the fact that every jolt and turn in the tracks sends riders falling to one side — divinely, the biggest wobble comes as pop-star Ke$ha sings “It’s going down / I’m yelling timber” — nobody seems stressed out, even though we’re all sweaty messes.
This is not remotely close to being one of my top 10 most uncomfortable train rides ever, but I have to admit I wouldn’t voluntarily do this again — one packed EDM train is enough for me. Perhaps a “downtempo bus” would be a good way to get home?
The lights come back on as the conductor announces we are nearing the terminus at Shin-Kiba Station. A few clubbers don’t want it to end — they cue up Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” on their phones and continue dancing as we stop.
The doors open and hundreds of sweaty, colorful club kids spill out into the night. The opposite platform is filled with families returning from Tokyo Disneyland, and they stare with bewilderment, taking photos. Looks like we weren’t the only ones who got a new experience.
For information on ageHa’s other events, visit www.ageha.com.