Shibuya Meltdown: 3 Levels

Level One

In the many times I have visited Tokyo in the last five years, I have become no stranger to encountering drunken passengers and transient pools of vomit on trains and around train stations around one to two hours before the last train.

Or, even better, during the morning commuter rush, after the trains start running again after the sun rises. Nothing in the world wakes you up more potently than a delicious cocktail of crimson meat and stomach juices splattered all over the floor on a Yamanote Line train carriage on a bright and sunny Tuesday morning. I know, because I speak from personal experience.

Found on an early morning commute to Shibuya on the Ginza Line on February 19, 2016.

This makes the Ginza Line great for people-watching. Tokyo Metro’s slick marketing might have you believe that Japan’s oldest subway line is all about pandas in Ueno Park and temples in Asakusa. But at night it’s a silently wild party of alcoholic passengers and covered-up subway seats damaged from vomit.

So I was delighted to learn earlier this year that there’s a wild Instagram / Twitter account called Shibuya Meltdown (and a little disappointed that all my Instagram friends already follow it). According to a 2016 Vice article, an Australian fashion designer based in Tokyo started the account, which, at the time, consisted of (quite tasteful) flash photography of vomiting and street-sleeping individuals. They told Vice about the phenomenon:

I think it’s because for salarymen they work super long hours and their release is to drink. Also the last train is at midnight. So if people miss the last train and they can’t keep drinking, they fall asleep. So it’s totally kosher to fall asleep in a club or a bar or a restaurant. If you look around, you’ll see it all the time. You walk past a MOS Burger or something and 50 percent of the people in there are asleep. Nobody tells you to move on or get out. People here work so much that they just get a little wink of sleep anywhere they can. Maybe that’s why so many people sleep on the train. I’ve seen dudes with their hands in the train hooks and they’re just sleeping, standing up, swaying with the train. They’re not drunk, they’re just getting a rest in. I think they say that Japanese salarymen only sleep four or five hours a night. It’s just a busy culture.

Now the account consists mostly of follower submissions, and not all of them are pictures of people from Shibuya. Here’s a sample of their most recent posts, which include a person urinating in a train station, and another person trying to purchase a train ticket butt naked.

Level Two

As an ignorant gaijin I get to project my “observations” about Japan, exploit the silent camera function on my smartphone to take discreet photos, and write about how amazing it is to see fully grown men (99% of the time it’s men) inebriated and abandoned almost every night in dark corners of big Japanese cities on my study abroad WordPress blog all about Japan. (I’m only half joking.)

But what if Japanese people embrace Shibuya Meltdown as their own? What if an Okinawa-born rapper called Tsubaki (唾奇) decides to suddenly drop a track a few days ago called “SHIBUYAMELTOWN” just in time for Halloween? Or what if the Shibuya Meltdown account itself releases a whole compilation album about itself, complete with a launch party set for January next year, and a limited CD release that you can only get at the launch party? (You can listen to the album now on all major music streaming services.)

Has Shibuya Meltdown sold itself to mainstream pop culture? Is it no longer a place for people to safely side-eye these folks on their smartphones?

Level Three

The ultimate Shibuya Meltdown, though, is Halloween night, where thousands of people descend to Shibuya to turn a cute American excuse for kids to get candy into a night that shows Shibuya’s true colors: a dress-up college town playground radiating with endless amounts of youthful energy.

Last year, people decided it was a good idea to trash cars and restaurants while drunk. This year, the Shibuya district government has decided to enforce an open container law in a certain radius around Shibuya station, and some shops are closing early for the night to avoid dealing with the crowds.

But are Halloween parties that much fun with a heavy-handed police presence? Who knows?