Zoku: Wikis


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Zoku ( ?) is a Japanese term meaning tribe, clan or family. As a suffix it has been used extensively within Japan to define and coin subcultural phenomena.

As was the case in the western world, Japanese subcultures became a notable phenomenon in the post-war and early post-modern era. While many that have received international attention are not always suffixed with zoku, such as cosplay, some can appear with or without the tribal tag.

Often terms are formed using a Japanese stem, although hybrid terms using more familiar or distinctive English words to coin a sub-cultural reference. In line with the usual practice elsewhere in the world, subcultures in Japan that bear the zoku tag have almost certainly been labeled by an outsider to the group in question, often an influential person in the media, rather than a word-of-mouth evolution of the terminology.


Historic groups labeled as Zoku


In the 1950s and 1960s, changes in recreation and teenage culture affected the way Japanese youth organised themselves in much the same way as had occurred in North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia/New Zealand. Among the subcultures that emerged in the early post-war decades, many earned the suffix of zoku or tribe. These include the "motorcycle-riding Thunder Tribe (kaminarizoku), the amplified-music-loving Electric Tribe (erekizoku), and the Psychedelic Tribe (saikezoku)."[1]

Although zoku gradually became colloquially applied to others in society, like senior citizens, salarymen and political activists or uyoku, it predominantly remained used for the tribe-like social phenomena that youth subcultures seem to generate in a way that other trends cannot. Shintaro Ishihara's 1950s novel Season of the Sun gave rise to a reckless and care-free expression of youth which became stylised in subsequent films as taiyozoku ('sun-tribe'). This subculture had some parallels with the rocker and greaser subcultures being promoted in Hollywood by Rebel without a Cause around the same time. Taiyozoku was considered by traditional Japanese to be an unsavoury embrace of violence and promiscuity by the post-war youth. Some Japanese youths also embraced the music coming out of America in this period and Japanese Bill Haley clones were known as rokabiri-zoku (the rockabilly tribe).

While the West was experiencing the height of the hippy movement and the beginnings of the psychedelic age, the futen-zoku or vagabond tribe emerged in the Shinjuku area of Japan in the late 1960s. These youths were identified as perilous by the Japanese media due to their association with substance abuse and their public presence. [2] More recreational drug-users who patroned clubs and coffee shops were known as danmo-zoku.


One of the Japanese manifestations of the 1970s punk movement was known as karasu-zoku, which translates as 'crow-tribe'. As the name suggests, the group in question expressed themselves by wearing black clothing and accessories, just as the goth subculture and some branches of the emo phenomena would be associated with this preference today. Another fashion oriented group of the 70s was the an-non zoku, named for the association of its adherents - young women in late teens/early twenties - with Japanese magazines "an an" and "non no". As with most zoku being discussed, the an-non zoku drew comparisons with equivalent Western social phenomena at the time: in this case with the British Sloane Rangers. Today, similarities could be drawn to devoted readers of fashion magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue.

In the 1980s, fashion became mixed with music and dance in the form of the takenoko-zoku or 'bamboo-shoot tribe'. This subculture was named after a boutique in Shibuya and is a historic example of the pre-eminence of Harajuku in the production of influential Japanese popular culture and fashion that continues into the twenty-first century.

Harajuku itself, along with Roppongi and Miyuki Street, Ginza have in the past spawned groups that have had the names of these prominent localities included in their labels.

Another very significant group of the 1980s was the kurisutaru-zoku (crystal tribe), which were branded a social group after the success of a novel named Nantonaku Kurisutaru (Somewhat Crystal). This label applied to youth who were swept up in the freedoms of the economic boom of the 80s and became significantly materialistic and concerned with consumption of various commercial goods and construction of image. This strand of Japanese subculture has been contrasted against the 'rougher' street-cultures that had existed in one form or another since the 1950s. The socio-economic positioning of those who participate in the 'crystal-culture' led to some comparisons with contemporary yuppie groups.

The magazine-following culture resurged again in the late 80s with a popular magazine for young women called Hanako earned itself an eponymous tribe the Hanako-zoku.[3]

Glossary of other uses of the term

Street & racing tribes

  • Dorifuto-zoku: Drift racing tribe
  • Rolling-zoku: Off-road variety of bosozoku
  • Roulette-zoku (also 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 words

  • 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)
  • Hotaru-zoku: Firefly tribe (smokers/office workers 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 (emotionally spent salarymen) [4]
  • Shinkansen joso-zoku: Bullet train girl-tribe (crossdressers)
  • 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)

See also


  1. ^ [Seidensticker, Edward. Tokyo Rising: The City Since the Great Earthquake. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.]
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Buckley, Sandra (2002). Encyclopedia of contemporary Japanese culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 184. ISBN 0415143446. http://books.google.com/books?id=tOaHI25bn-kC&pg=PA184.  
  4. ^ Economic Bubbles and the Salaryman’s Vomit, by Nicholas Klar
  • Seidensticker, Edward. Tokyo Rising: The City Since the Great Earthquake. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Karl Taro Greenfeld Speed Tribes. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06092-665-1

External links

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