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The Sydney Morning Herald

Breaking the mould

Author: By Ben Hills. Research by Mayu Kanamori
Date: 06/10/1995
Words: 1405
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Page: 9
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 Japan's ruin."

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 lists.

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 for $95.

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 Russia.

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 confusion nowadays."

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."

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