In Japan, railway mania comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. There's "tori-tetsu," a compound word made from "to take a photo" and "railway"; "nori-tetsu," which involves riding aboard specially configured trains; and then there's "ekiben-tetsu," making oneself an expert in the boxed meals served at stations around the archipelago.
In addition, reports Shukan Shincho (April 23), there's yet another type referred to as "bari-tetsu," which comes from "baribari" (energetic), but in this case meaning particularly enthusiastic train photography.
Sometimes the hobbyists get carried away, and on rare occasions wind up breaking the law. On March 24, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested a male high school sophomore and sent a younger boy in middle school for guidance counseling after it was learned that last November, the two had pilfered a "kantera" (railway signal lantern) and electric megaphone from a Tokaido line train. "It was fun to keep it at home and switch it on and off," the young perpetrator told police.
On March 13, the Hokutosei overnight train linking Ueno with Sapporo made its final scheduled run. But JR will still operate special runs of the train on an ad hoc basis and in fact, in May alone, the Hokutosei will make 20 such special runs from Ueno to Sapporo.
That having been said, on March 13, a huge crowd of photographers turned out to shoot the "final" Hokutosei, converging on the station with expensive single-lens reflex cameras, tablet computers and camera-equipped smartphones. So many, in fact that 70 station staff, private security guards and police officers were required to control the crowd.
When the train pulled into the station at 6:45 a.m., the excitement reached its peak. Mixed in with the crowd of cameramen were enthusiasts armed with "jitori-bo" (selfie sticks). At 7 a.m., the stationmaster gave the signal and as the train began to pull away, nostalgic shouts of "Good-bye" and "Thanks for everything" could be heard from the crowd of fans.
The mobs of fans have been known to cause problems. In February 2010, a man attempting to take photos of a special train equipped with tatami mat seating that runs on the JR Biwako Line illegally entered a fenced-off area, forcing the driver of the train to slam on his emergency brakes. In June of the same year, a local government employee was arraigned on criminal charges for breaking into a restricted area to take photos from a tripod-mounted camera.
Fatalities during such events, while rare, have been known to happen. In January 2013, a man attempting to photograph the Narita Express at JR Shimbashi station was hit by a train and died of his injuries.
But the main concern seems to be the decline in fans' manners.
"I started photographing trains when I was a kid," a man in his 60s tells the magazine. "Even then, there were times when adults who didn't exercise caution might fall from the platform onto the tracks. If I got too close, an adult would warn me. Since railway fans weren't so numerous in the past, the environment was easier to instruct youngsters."
With the greater numbers, however, public manners worsened. "People from Kansai are obstinate; if somebody walks in front of them while they're shooting, they'll raise their voice and blurt out, 'Hey -- what do you think you're doing?' Some time ago, I took my son to see the final run of the Izumo express, but the platform was mobbed and my son was so upset he made up his mind never to go to such an event again. Anyway, people's manners are definitely in decline."
Ryozo Kawashima, a rail expert and author recalls that about 40 years ago, a campaign was started to instill manners and common sense among trainspotters.
"It didn't work," he sighs.
Isn't it time to put controls on the mobs of rude rail hobbyists, Shukan Shincho's reporter asked the spokesman for East Japan Railways.
"It hasn't come to the point that we've considered banning them from the premises," came the reply. "More than anything, we're hoping that people will mind their manners."
That may take some doing, the article concludes. These days, there's not much difference in behavior between Japan's rude "tori-tetsu" and soccer hooligans in Europe.© Japan Today