Say goodbye to the cliches of the clean, polite, demure, law-abiding and,
above all, conformist Japanese youth. BEN HILLS discovers another side.
IT'S past midnight in Shibuya, a funky entertainment district whose bars,
restaurants and discos are popular with Tokyo's younger generation. Three
high-school boys are lying unconscious on the footpath outside a busy bar. Two
teenage girls in party gear are throwing up. A third, who looks about 16, is
dressed up like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, striking erotic poses in the
middle of the street while three boys grope her breasts and buttocks.
Ten metres away, a uniformed officer stands outside his police-box,
studiously ignoring the scenes of drunken teenage debauchery that have become an
almost nightly event in this part of town.
Welcome to the world of the kogyaru, the femio-kun, the boso zoku - the new
tribes of Japan's younger generation who are worrying the wits out of their
parents with their wild behaviour.
Rebelling against what the psychiatrist Masao Miyamoto calls the
"straitjacket society" - where kids have their whole lives predetermined for
them by the time they reach junior high school at 13 - they are shocking the
authorities with their sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. Particularly the sex.
A national survey of 3,600 14- and 15-year-olds by the National Congress of
Parents' and Teachers' Associations confirmed every parent's worst fears about
what little Yoko and Hiroshi are up to when they aren't in the classroom.
One quarter of the girls admitted that they had frequented terekura - Japlish
for "telephone club" - the 500-odd dating agencies that have sprung up all over
Tokyo, where frustrated men pay for introductions to schoolgirls. The girls
boast that they can earn $700 or more in cash and gifts for a date.
Two-thirds of the students said they regularly drank alcohol (the drinking
age in Japan is 20), one in six said they had shoplifted, and 7 per cent said
they used drugs - an extraordinarily high figure in a country where possession
of even one marijuana joint almost invariably brings a stiff jail sentence.
Hiroshi Itakura, a professor of criminal law at Tokyo's Nihon University,
said the survey showed Japanese youngsters had "an undeveloped sense of right
and wrong and a general attitude of permissiveness (which) will provide a
fertile breeding ground for crime". He asserted: "Some day this will lead to
The schoolgirl date-club phenomenon sprang into the headlines earlier this
year when three 15-year-olds confessed that they had picked up a 43-year-old
office worker through a club and gone with him to a love hotel - one of
thousands of specialised hotels in Tokyo that rent rooms with video cameras and
erotic themes by the hour.
There the girls squirted him in the eyes with a teargas canister and fled
with his wallet containing $1,500. The embarrassed man told police he thought
the girls were treating him to some kinky S&M and didn't realise he was being
robbed until too late.
In the uproar that followed, police were ordered to crack down on the clubs.
In a series of raids on places with names such as Shinjuku Strawberry and
Madonna, a posse of nearly 300 teachers and police rounded up no fewer than 526
schoolgirls - some as young as 13 - and charged more than 100 of them with
outright prostitution. The clubs, however, soon resumed business with new client
Not far from that Shibuya bar, two casually dressed 16-year-olds named Yuko
and Akiko are primping at a street corner, waiting for someone to pick them up.
They are typical kogyaru (literally "child/girls"), attending school by day,
partying by night.
Yuko denies selling her body but cheerfully admits she sleeps with strangers
who sometimes leave her money. She sold her school knickers, along with a photo
of herself wearing them, to one of the specialised buru sera sex shops in Tokyo
Buru sera means "sailor's bloomers", the latest craze among Tokyo's dirty old
men, who are also willing to pay for schoolgirls' fingernails, vials of saliva
and used tampons in shops which cater for men with lolicon - Lolita complex.
Akiko had left home two days earlier and was looking for someone to sleep
with. "I don't want to go back home. I just want to go to Canada and become a
snowboard pro," she confided.
Both girls said they used drugs - amphetamines, marijuana, hash (choco) at
$40 a gram, and LSD (el), which costs an extortionate $200 a shot. The latest
craze on the Tokyo teen scene is capsules of a liquid used to clean video
recorder heads, which is said to give a high when inhaled.
The drugs are freely available at dance parties - schoolkids hire disco
venues for afternoon hip-hop raves - and are sold more or less openly by Iranian
vendors in streets and parks around Shibuya and Shinjuku. Although Japan still
has an enviably low rate of drug use, particularly mainline drugs such as
heroin, police figures show a dramatic increase among the young.
Last year, police arrested more than 10,000 juveniles for drug use or
dealing, most of the arrests involving paint-thinner abuse. Inhalation of
thinners has been blamed for a rash of deaths among teenagers, most
sensationally five junior high school girls who leapt from an apartment building
on New Year's Eve last year in a mass suicide attempt in which three were
killed and two terribly injured.
THE boso zoku - literally "reckless tribe" - have been around Tokyo since the
movie Easy Rider came here in the early 1970s. This year, however, the bikies
and their rivals in hotted-up cars have been giving police and law-abiding
drivers a bigger headache than ever.
Wearing black leather and chains, and sporting gangster-style tattoos and
rings through their ears, noses, tongues, belly- buttons, nipples and genitals,
the young reckless riders nightly turn sections of Tokyo's Shuto expressway into
a raceway, defying police and ignoring speed cameras.
More than a third of the 1,000-odd motorcycle deaths last year involved
teenagers, and police are now pushing for tougher laws - including raising the
age limit for bikers from 16 to 18 - to try to cut down on the mayhem.
And then there are the femio kun ("feminine lads") who began appearing last
summer in the streets of Harajuku, the centre of Tokyo's teen culture, famous
for its Sunday afternoon open-air exhibition dancers. Although they deny they
are gay, anywhere else in the world they would be regarded as having a severe
case of gender confusion.
Wearing berets over their short "monkey-hair" cuts and carrying dainty
backpacks, these kids parade around the streets, indifferent to sideways looks,
wearing necklaces and make-up and dressed in tight skivvies over lacy blouses,
mini-skirts or billowing bell-bottomed trousers, and platform shoes.
A WHOLE new industry has sprung up to cater for this latest subculture -
magazines, clothing shops with names such as Milk Boy - and hair stylists and
social commentators are falling over themselves to explain the appeal of the
androgynous look. "They (the feminine lads) are very popular with the girls,"
said one young woman. "They are not macho or threatening - it's like having a
pet to play with." Those are just three of the scores of zoku, or youth tribes,
that are changing the face of boring grey old Tokyo.
No-one has yet come up with a snappy name like Generation X to describe the
kaleidoscope of subcultures. The term most commonly used by tut-tutting TV
commentators is shiji machi sedai which translates clumsily as "a generation
awaiting instruction". Nor can any two sociologists agree on the causes, or the
consequences, of Japan's youth rebellion.
International surveys consistently show that Japanese youngsters are more
discontented with their materialistic society than kids in other countries. They
also tend to be more apathetic, less ambitious, and more inclined to give "it
can't be helped" as an answer to any problem.
The latest poll, conducted by the Government's Management and Co-ordination
Agency, found that only 44 per cent of Japanese aged under 20 were happy with
their lives - a far lower percentage than in the United States, Europe and even
The parents, of course, are appalled. "The results were very shocking," said
Kazuo Hirose, an association official involved in the survey. "It shows that
young people's sense of ethics and judgment of good and bad is in a state of
But for the moment, all they can prescribe for their wayward offspring is a
stiff dose of law and order. They have called for tougher policing of the
date-clubs, and a ban on the ubiquitous sidewalk slot machines where anyone can
buy a keg of beer or a bottle of sake, no questions asked.
The author Hideo Kato, 65, puts it down to frustration over the Japanese
education system, under which by the time a child leaves primary school his or
her - particularly her - options of education, and hence career, have already
been mapped out.
If the track doesn't lead to an elite university, they can forget about ever
reaching beyond middle management in industry or the public service. Teenage
suicide is common - almost 3,000 deaths in the past decade - under the
relentless pressure to succeed at school.
Hideo Kato says: "When their future is decided for them in this way, there is
often a gap between their parents' expectations and what their teachers say is
possible. They develop an inferiority complex and a shaky sense of identity. The
future is not worth thinking about, so they pursue the pleasures of the moment
- that's why they sell their bodies or their underwear. They don't care any more
what society thinks."