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Useful Notes / Subcultures in Japan

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Modern Japan is a fast-moving, highly volatile environment, with a strong sense of neophilia amongst the Japanese people. Combine that with the easy adaptability of the youth, and you get a veritable breeding ground for new and altered subcultures based on behaviours, clothes, music, whatever.

A short list of subcultures include:

  • Gyaru - "Gal" culture, an emulation of what Japanese perceive to be Western beauty standards, including tanned skin and blonde hair, revealing clothing, and an outgoing personality, all of which contrast with a traditional Japanese beauty. Very consumer and fashion oriented. This includes kogal, ganguro, and yamanba groups. A male version is gyaru-oh. Please see the trope page for more detail.
  • Yankii - Literally "yankee". The most famous of the many teenage Delinquents subcultures, but at least present since the earlier bankaranote  / tsuppari note . They're often portrayed wearing pompadours, loose school uniforms (long skirts in case of the sukeban) and small school bags, with a propensity to fistfighting, listening to Rock & Roll and probably smoking (or huffing thinner) now and then. Some of them graduated into the bosozoku subculture, and the two were frequently clumped together in popular culture for their similarity.. The yankii became obsolete by the early 90s, being replaced by more conventional american-style fashions, such as Hip-hop yankii, Gyaru-oh, the tougher-looking Ora ora stylenote , or the newer Manji-keinote .
  • Bōsōzoku - Literally "out of control tribe"note , a subculture associated with custom motorcycles (and to a lesser extent Pimped-Out Cars) and gang-ish attitude. They usually acted in loud, slow zig-zagging motorcades threatening whoever came close to them, and were involved in intra-gang fights and other vandalism acts. They evolved from the kaminari zokunote , who mostly turned into hierarchical gangs clad in pseudo right-wing clothingnote , and peaked in the 80s before drastically decreasing due to harsher traffic laws, population ageing, an increase of hashiriya bikers.
  • Hashiriya - car and motorcycle enthusiasts, particularly in regards to street racing and illegal modifications. The motorcycle-focused racers are an offshoot of the kaminari zoku and the early bosozoku, although they don't like to be associated with the latter. This group is becoming more visible due to movies like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, due to the links to drift racing, as well as more recently in the subtitle-less 2015 installment of Need for Speed. The subculture has been slowly dying out since its peak in the 90s for increasingly expensive car / gasoline prices, the shift to eco-friendly vehicles, and a global decrease of young car buyers.
  • Lolita Fashion, including "Gothic", "Sweet", "Classical", "Punk", and a number of other variants.
  • Cosplay, in several forms. Anime and J-rock (Japanese rock music) cosplayers and lolis gather around Yoyogi Park in Tokyo on Sundays.
    • Kigurumi — Also called animegao ("animeface"), this is the practice of cosplaying human and humanoid anime characters using masks and body stockings. The effect is often rather creepy, as it seems to back into the Unintentional Uncanny Valley from the human side.
  • Ero kawaii, another fashion subculture which draws on Western notions of sexiness in contrast to the popular cutesy (kawaii) trend.
  • Hikikomori - Young people who withdraw from active life outside their home. They often withdraw into isolated existences with no face to face contact and a refusal to leave their homes or rooms. While not specifically a subculture per se, their behaviour and living styles tend to follow similar patterns. Many of them hang around the notorious 2ch (ni-channel) web boards. Most anime is aware of the subculture, but because it also often includes some otaku it's a sensitive topic to address.
  • Otaku - In the Japanese sense, obsessive enthusiasts of a particular hobby — not necessarily anime. Generally follows the same tone as older, more derogatory meanings of the Western word "geek". Still, these enthusiast groups are extremely organized and, at least within their own area of interest, highly social. Recently some otaku have taken to calling themselves Akiba-Kei or "Akiba style", in reference to the Tokyo neighbourhood of Akihabara where electronics shops, anime merchandising and maid cafes abound. Female otaku, and especially those interested in BL, are called sometimes fujoshi or otome, the latter because they cluster around Otome Road in Ikebukuro and the former being a derogatory term for a Yaoi Fangirl which means "rotten girl".
  • Visual Kei: More elaborated upon on its page, musicians (generally of some permutation of rock music ranging from Heavy Metal to Power Pop) who dress in very elaborate and artistic styles, often intentionally trying to create Viewer Gender Confusion. Along with bosuzoku and yankii (which helped birth it in their own ways) one of the older subcultures, being, along with them, pre-Internet with its origins in the 1980s. Also unique in being one of the two first Japanese subcultures (along with Otaku) to gain true non-Japanese adherents worldwide (Lolita fashion was next). While some non-musicians are involved, usually some level of artistic or musical interest (if not competence or skill) or at the very least interest in the musicians is a prerequisite for involvement.
  • Dekotora: From "Decoration Truck", basically a hobby about extravagantly decorated trucks. The first notable examples appreared in the mid-60s, but it exploded in popularity in the 70s after the highly-succesful Truck Yarō film series, and had a healthy following even after the series died out. Despite being increasingly-frowned by trucking companies and the police (who were visibly upset of being the bad guys of the early Truck Yarō movies), AND having to withstand the blow of selling their old vehicles due to the newer eco-friendly regulations, the hobby still has a moderately successful following.

For further study into Japenese subcultures, there's a free online course - "An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures" here:

  • School-ambiented shonen manga aplenty have examples of yankii. For example, Yusuke and Kuwabara (who even has a red ducktail) from YuYu Hakusho. This is even discussed in Slam Dunk, when one of Haruko's friends voices her concern about her befriending Sakuragi (and his buddies, by extension) for being yankii. Sakuragi later finds a new purpose in life through basketball and the also gangster Mitsui returns to the sport.
  • Detroit Metal City is focused on the Heavy Metal and Visual Kei subcultures. It's actually gotten at least one Shout-Out from an actual Visual Kei act.
  • Gals! is focused around a trio of gyaru, with occasional conflicts slash comedy relief from three ganguro/yamanba girls.
  • Peach Girl puts a spin on the gyaru trend by way of having the main character naturally Ambiguously Brown; since that's not a natural skin tone by Japanese standards, everyone just assumes she is a gyaru and/or makes fun of her for it. She actually has an excessive tan from swimming outside so often.
  • Initial D focuses on drift racers.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka's eponymous character was a leader of a bosozoku gang.
  • Gravitation also features an arguable Visual Kei band.
  • The US film Tokyo Pop is actually most noticeable (and most remembered now) for its cameo by the members of X Japan, which was at the time one of the very first Visual Kei bands as the subculture began.
  • Rozen Maiden has Jun, a protagonist who is at least strongly implied to be hikikomori, though they never outright use the term. For an example of how strongly they imply it, in one episode he has to visit the school library to get a book. Entering the school and walking to the library is treated as a Metal Gear-style sneaking mission, and involves no less than two flashbacks. If he had simply walked in the front door and directly to the library, it would have taken less than a minute. Instead, it takes half the episode.
    • There's also an episode early on where Jun goes outside to get Hina Ichigo's favourite snack, which she had been bugging everyone about since the episode began. Jun's fears of his classmates and the outside world are greatly emphasised- even the short walk to the door suddenly looks like a mile away.
  • Many examples of cosplay can be found in the page for Cosplay Otaku Girl.
  • Several of the main characters of Welcome to the NHK are otaku or hikikomori. The show delves into many of the darker social trends in Japan, and treats being a hikikomori as a mental illness (putting it into perspective, Satou has plenty of nervous breakdowns throughout the story).
  • Pretty much every single Japanese man from the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a hashiriya.
  • Puni Puni Poemi briefly showed a Gyaru on a subsi-date before the title character violently showed her the error of her ways.
  • Chaos;Head: the protagonist is a hikikomori and batshit insane. Well, it could be a mystery plot and there could be paranormal forces toying with him, and so he might actually not be a schizophrenic serial killer, but the fact that he has an imaginary girlfriend who is an anime character speaks a different language.
  • The light Japanese novel (later adapted into a movie) Kamikaze Girls (which has an excellent translation available in English) is about the unlikely friendship between a yanki and a Lolita.
  • Genshiken has a Gyaru: Keiko Sasahara, Kanji's Annoying Younger Sibling. It was, however, more of a subversion of the endearing little sister trope.
    • And Genshiken is of course one of the most notable anime series about otaku culture
  • Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl parodies the ganguro subculture.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has a female hikikomori that goes by the Meaningful Name of Kiri Komori and, as pretty much everything else in the show, her being a shut-in is played for laughs. Her room is heavily protected by hundreds of paper wards and, after Nozomu and Kafuka finally manage to convince her to leave her room so she can attend school, she decides to get holed up in school instead.
  • More than one Case Closed case has featured members of these subcultures, either as victims or as killers:
    • One is about the investigation of very violent attacks on ganguros and yamanbas, and the murder of one of the ganguros. And it brings memories of another case that happened 20 years ago... involving a now mostly disappeared subculture of The '80s: the sukeban or girl delinquents. The Sole Survivor grew to marry Inspector Megure, one of the policemen investigating the case.
    • Another case had an otaku obsessed with tokusatsu series (more exactly Kamen Yaiba, an in-universe show about a Captain Ersatz of Kamen Rider) as the Asshole Victim. Who was tricked into killing himself in front of his club by one of the leaders, a guy whose little brother died after said otaku stole his most precious memorabilia piece while riding his motorcycle, which then caused the kid to try chasing after him and being hit by a car.
    • In another case, the victim of the week is an Elegant Gothic Lolita who's found strangled in a public restroom wearing a full-body black EGL costume, which is also a part of her killer's alibi, as said murderer was an Office Lady (ans the EGL's former friend) who wore the dress both while commiting the murder itself and later as a disguise.
    • And in yet another case, a Cosplay Otaku Girl is among the people suspected of being a Serial Killer who targetted the people involved in the very shady death of an Idol Singer (who used to be a Cosplay Otaku Girl herself, before starting her career). Other suspects include an otaku, a gravure model and an ouji aka male Elegant Gothic Lolita. She didn't do it. In fact, the poor woman witnessed the Idol Singer's death, which was a massive Break the Cutie event for her due to her friendship with the singer. Who was the killer? The ouji, who paid for it with his life. And the gravure model was both an Unrequited Tragic Maiden... and the last victim. Yeah, the case was really damn tragic.
  • Otaku no Video is an Affectionate Parody of 1980s Otaku culture.
  • Yuka Otowa's looks in Crescendo (JP) are all but stated to be based on the kogal. She lacks the tan but she does have the dangerously short skirt, cleavage-showing shirt and the loose socks worn by the ko-gals, alongside the lighter than the standard (and most likely bleached) hair.
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc we have a yankii (Mondo Oowada), an otaku (Hifumi Yamada), an Elegant Gothic Lolita (Celestia "Celes" Ludenberg) and a kogal/gyaru (Junko Enoshima). All of them turn to have other sides of their personalities... very tragic and cruel sides. And they all die.
  • Jinta Yadomi aka "Jintan" from Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is another hikikomori, who became this after the deaths of his mother Touko (illness) and his first love Menma (in an accident). His Unlucky Childhood Friend Naruko/Anaru has to drop by to give him his schoolwork. And then, five years after her death, Menma returns as a Cute Ghost Girl and she needs Jintan to get out of home to help her with her Ghostly Goals...
    • Anaru herself has looks that strongly evoke the ko-gal/gyaru/ganguro archetype, though since she's just 15 it's not as pronunciated.
  • In Hell Girl, one anime case deals with a hikikomori girl who's trying to deal with an online friend who wants to get her outside home. The live-action has an episode where a male hiki contracts with Enma Ai to avenge his father's death.
  • Karl Taro Greenfeld's Speed Tribes is all about interviews with young Japanese people from the very early nineties, and it logically includes these subcultures. The chapter that involves the Bosozoku is specially famous, and another chapter follows the last years of the Visual Kei band Zi:Kill.
  • Yandere Simulator is a Western game with an Animesque design, so naturally, it manages to fit in some subculture references. Musume Ronshaku clearly has a love of ganguro fashion, judging by her tanned skin, blonde hair, makeup, and tube socks. To a lesser extent, Osana Najimi has some elements of kogal in her character design, what with the orange Girlish Pigtails with hair decorations, and bright pink polka-dotted stockings (which were originally tube socks).
  • Persona 5 brings several subcultures into specific relief, including but not limited to Gyaru (Ann Takamaki), Yankii (Ryuji Sakamoto), Goth/Punk (Tae Takemi), and at least one Otaku for traditional art (Yusuke Kitagawa).
  • Shonan Bakusouzoku and its Spiritual Successor Arakure KNIGHT are probably Japan's most successful bosozoku multimedia franchises. The more modern manga Bakuon Rettou was successful enough to be published again in a monthly magazine three years after it ended.
  • The most succesful yankii video game franchises are the Kunio-kun and Kenka Banchō series. Both also feature a number of bosozoku bikers.
  • Kurohyō: Ryū ga Gotoku Shinshō and its sequel feature a delinquent main character who is clearly meant to be a modern "Ora ora"-style yankii.
  • The long-running Bakusō Dekotora Densetsu video game series is all about dekotora truck racing, customizing and performing other truck-related features.