A streetcar named beer

December 10th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Tis the season to forget about the year with a mess of alcohol, so Kirin Holdings conducted a survey of salarymen to find out just how much they were willing to pay for a single bonenkai (end-of-year party). The limit, they found, was ¥4,690, which is less than what Kirin found last year, which was less than the year before, etc. Obviously, salarymen’s wallets are getting tighter, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to forsake their traditional December puke-fests.

The suds express

The suds express

Thus it was no surprise to learn that the Arakawa-sen’s “Toshi-wasure Beer-go” (Forget-the-year Beer Special) was booked up solid right away. The Arakawa-sen is the last of Tokyo’s streetcar lines, which runs from Minowa-bashi in Arakawa Ward to Waseda in Shinjuku Ward.

From Dec. 8 to 12 they are running a special “beer car” once a day at 7 p.m. (twice on the 12th). For ¥3,000 you get all the canned beer you can drink plus snacks. Reservations are limited to 20 persons, which is why there are no more spaces left, and the ride itself only goes as far as Otsuka Station, but it lasts two hours, presumably because it sits in a few stations to let the regular cars pass it by. Also, it should be noted that the cars have no toilets, so you have to wait until it stops at the Arakawa garage, where there’s a bathroom break.

Toei, which runs the streetcar (as well as the Toei subway line and city bus system), says that it set up the Biiru-go to help people forget not only the year but also “the recession.” In a way, it makes perfect sense for the line, colloquially called toden, to offer such a service. It’s probably the cheapest mode of transportation in Tokyo — ¥160 anywhere. Also, it’s the oldest. The municipal lines started in 1878 at horse-drawn carts that changed to light rails by the turn of the 19th century. In their heyday, streetcars were everywhere in Tokyo, but except for the Arakawa line, they had all shut down by 1972. So in addition to getting a buzz on, you can enjoy a piece of old time Tokyo — at old time Tokyo prices. But you’ll have to wait until next year.

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