Gaijin Rider



Glossary - 0-9

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Bosozoku of the late 80s-early 90s
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Zoku (族) is a Sino-Japanese term meaning tribe, clan, or family.   As a suffix it has been used extensively within Japan to define subcultural phenomena, though many zoku do not acquire the suffix (e.g. cosplay, Otaku and Lolita).

A zoku may be labeled with a Japanese stem (e.g. kaminari zoku) or a foreign language (gairaigo) stem (e.g. saike zoku, where saike comes from "psychedelic").

Although zoku is applied to many others in society, like senior citizens, salarymen, and political activists (e.g. Uyoku dantai), it is mostly used to label youth sub-cultures.

As with the usual practice elsewhere, sub-cultures in Japan have almost certainly been labeled by an outsider to the group, often an influential person in the media.

Historic groups labeled as Zoku...


Sub-cultures that emerged in the early post-war decades include the amplified-music-loving Electric Tribe (erekizoku), the Psychedelic Tribe (saikezoku) and the motorcycle-riding Thunder Tribe (Kaminari zoku) (See also: THE BIRTH OF THE MOTORCYCLE GANG: USA X JAPAN and YANKI AND BOSOZOKU: ORIGINS AND HISTORY).

Shintaro Ishihara's 1950s novel Season of the Sun gave rise to a reckless and carefree expression of youth which became stylised in subsequent films as taiyo zoku (Sun Tribe).

This sub-culture had some parallels with the rocker and greaser subcultures being promoted by Hollywood films such as Rebel without a Cause.   Traditional Japanese considered the post-war taiyo zoku violent and promiscuous.

Some Japanese youths admired American music, and Japanese Bill Haley clones were known as Rokabiri zoku (Rockabilly Tribe) (See ROKABIRI: The Sound of Japanese Teen Rebellion for over 60 years).

At the height of the hippy movement and the psychedelic age in the 1960s, the futen zoku or Vagabond Tribe emerged in the Shinjuku area of Japan.   Japanese media depicted them as dangerous because of their substance abuse and their public presence.   More recreational drug users who patronized clubs and coffee shops were known as danmo zoku.


A 1970s Japanese punk movement was known as karasu zoku (Crow Tribe) because they wore black clothing and accessories.   Young women readers of the 1970s magazines "an an" and "non no" were known as the an-non zoku.

In the 1980s, fashion became mixed with music and dance in the form of the takenoko-zoku or (Bamboo-shoot Tribe).   Takenoko-zoku were mainly girls but often with one boy leading, were colourfully dressed and danced in a distinctive style on the sidewalk to music from stereos.   To an extent, they were precursors to the Kogal and Gyaru groups that would eventually arise in the 90s.

A performance of a Takenoko-zoku group can be seen in Chris Marker's film Sans Soleil.   The Takenoko-zoku sub-culture was named after a boutique in Harajuku.   Roppongi, Ginza, and Harajuku have been centers of Japanese popular culture, and many zoku have been named after sites in these localities.

Another very significant group of the 1980s was the kurisutaru zoku (Crystal Tribe), which were branded a social group after the success of the novel Nantonaku Kurisutaru (Somewhat Crystal).   This label applied to youth who were swept up in the freedoms of the economic boom of the 1980s and became materialistic and conscious of their image... in other words, Japanese yuppies.   They have been contrasted with the rougher groups that had existed since the 1950s.

The Hanako zoku of the late 1980s was associated with a popular magazine for young women called Hanako.

Street and Racing Tribes...

  • Bōsō zoku: motorcycle gang
  • Dorifuto zoku: Drifting tribe
  • Kaminari zoku: (雷族 "Thunder Tribe") an early fore-runner of the Bōsō zoku:
  • Rolling zoku: Off-road variety of Bōsō zoku:
  • Roulette zoku (aka Circuit zoku): Circular-highway racing tribe
  • Vanning zoku: Van-driving tribe (van owning youths who install massive sound systems)
  • Zeroyon zoku: 0-4 tribe (racers who use 400m straight-track roads)

Other Tribes...

  • Bara zoku: Rose tribe (gay subculture in Japan)
  • Danchi zoku: Unit tribe (white collar apartment dwellers)
  • Dobunezumi zoku: Sewer rat tribe (company employees in dull clothing)
  • Figure moe zoku: Otaku who collect figurines
  • Ereki zoku: Electric Guitar Tribe
  • Hodo-Hodo zoku: Employees who avoid promotion to minimize stress and maximize free time
  • Hotaru zoku: Firefly tribe (smokers on their smoking break)
  • Hashi-nashi zoku: Chopstickless tribe (foreign tourists who cannot use chopsticks)
  • Madogiwa zoku: Window-seat tribe (older, redundant employees who are retained by companies)
  • Nure ochiba zoku: Wet leaf tribe (clingy retired salarymen) from the Japanese word for 'Wet leaves' (濡れ落ち葉 nure ochiba)
  • Oyayubi zoku: thumb tribe (heavy users of cell phones for texting)
  • Sumaafu zoku: Smurf tribe (obscure Japanese specialty workers)
  • Yuri zoku: Lily tribe (the lesbian equivalent of bara zoku)
  • Zoku-giin: Policy tribes (many Japanese political factions are also suffixed with zoku)

Anyone interested in the history of Japanese youth culture should already be familiar with the word zoku (族), but this episode from the Brtish series Japanorama should give the uninitiated a good working knowledge of the major youth 'tribes' of Japan to start with...

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PART 1 -
PART 2 -
PART 3 -

ROKABIRI: The Sound of Japanese Teen Rebellion for over 60 years


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