Saturday, 28 June 2008

レビュー: 暴走族 Review: Speed Tribes

Today I want to introduce to you another wonderful book, which allows you detailed, interesting and fascinating insights into Japanese culture. But not the culture you hear about in the news and commercials, no this book talks about Japan's crime scene, Japan's porn industry and all the grey areas in between.

Speed Tribes
by Karl Taro Greenfeld

Karl Taro Greenfeld, born in Kobe, has a Japanese mother and an American father. Therefore the book can be enjoyed both in English and Japanese, both written by him. One day he realized how boring normal corporate life is and decided to delve into Japan's underground. He had stories about this underground, stories about やくざ Yakuza or 暴走族 Bousouzoku (Motorcycle Gangs) but he knew as good as nothing about them.

In his book he will take a closer look at most of such scenes and modern phenomenon by following the footsteps of one of its representative members for a while. This makes the reading even more enjoyable, since every chapter introduces a new actually living character, who's story is henceforth told in vivid and living stories as well as shared feelings and anxieties. Also since the scenes are not all without interrelations it is interesting to learn about a scene mentioned earlier in the story of another character. Like that the reader's knowledge and mental image about Japan's underground is gradually built up puzzle piece by puzzle piece.

International Oppinions

In place of the kimonoed ladies and the men in grey flannel suits who form so much of our sense of Japan, Greenfeld pulls back the curtain on a much more colorful and disaffected group: gangsters, good-time girls, gold-toothed bikers and punks... As young, hip and plugged in as his subjects, Greenfeld provides a racy, knowing portrait of the people who are usually cropped out of the country's official portrait of itself.
Pico Iyer - Time

Greenfeld accesses contemporary Japanese culture at levels of resolution unavailable elsewhere. I know of no better or more enjoyable work in the subject. Writers of diction will be ripping Greenfeld off for decades to come.
William Gibson

I added the second one, not only because I like Gibson and his Cyberpunk novels very much, but also because by reading Speed Tribes, Gibson's images of a computer/machine human coexistence world, where not everything is pretty came alive. And not as a dark future depiction, but as the Tokyo and Japan of now.


Greenfeld talks about 12 different scenes down at the Japanese underground, all of which are interesting and fascinating to read. Here are some examples:

Tats: The Speed Tribes

Follow Tats who has his own chapter of a Bosouzoku Motorcycle Gang and waits for second chance of a big run, he experienced when he was still fresh on his saddle. A big run where lots of motorcycle gangs confronted the police at a beach and gave them a hell of a trouble and many injuries.

Choco Bon-Bon And Emi: The Perfect Tuna

Choco Bon-Bon refers to male testicles and is the nick name of a famous porn star of the 90s and perfect tuna is porn industry slang for a new 18, 19 year old girl, who is completely new to the porn industry and literally cached from the street with the promise of much money. In this chapter you follow both of these characters and by their eyes and dreams explore the porn industry of Japan, one of the biggest in the world...

Kazu And Hiroko: The Map Maker

The laws concerning drugs are very strict on Japan, but strangely enough they focus in equal parts on consumer and dealer, meaning the dealer's sentence will be about the same of the one time consumer. This makes the Japanese Drug Market very attractive for dealers.
However the drug market is pretty knew and the Yakuza know not how to get the stuff yet, so what they need is Map Makers, someone to organize the deals with foreigners who bring in the stuff.

Ozaki: The True Believer

右翼 Uyoku or in English the Right Wing. Nationalists, anti-foreigner groups and deniers of the World War 2 massacres. Sounds just like the Nazi scene in Germany and indeed it is quite similar. With one difference: the ideology might be really important for the 右翼 Uyoku, but most are in for the money to make. Interrelated with the similar minded Yakuza, the Uyoku with their black vans and speakers, figured out where to get money from. But yes of course the utopic goal is to give Japan back his World War II power and conquer Asia once more.

Snix: The Otaku

In an education system where all that counts is information procession and storage, it is not surprisingly for someone like the お宅 Otaku to show up. A person who is focused on a specific field, person, manga, weapon category, vehicle, etc. and henceforth wants to know everything about it. Every little fact there is to know, like which childhood diseases his idol had or the velocity of the armor-piercing ammunition of the German Pzk Mark IV.
However all Snix learned because of his interest in idols was where to get information from by hacking into corporate networks and accessing information not meant for the masses. Know that he has grown old, he found himself in need of money to make a living. With this incentive he found out that the information he accesses with his deck in this networks are worth quite a lot to certain companies focused on advertising and looking for target customers.


This should be enough to arouse your interested. The other chapters are not less interesting or fascinating and talk about: protection money, motorcycle thieves, clubbing and sex, the infamous Tokyo Toudai 東大 University (the Harvard of Japan), the idol music industry, hostesses, and problem kids (homestay).

The book is a must read for everyone interested in Japanese culture, to get a wider more in depth look at parts of the society usually behind a curtain for foreigners. For others it will be a fascinating exciting journey through the underground of a society who boasts of being the safest in the world.



Leslie P. Polzer said...

Sounds very interesting, thanks.

I have a somewhat similar book called “Reefer Madness -- Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market”.

We can swap those books when you return.

Vilwarin said...

I'd really like to do that, but I already passed it on to the interns community, so that they can also learn about this not so well known aspect about Japanese culture.

But I am sure that I will find another nice book for the swapping ^_^.

Also when I find some time tomorrow I will write about one ex member of a Bousousoku (Motorcycle Gang) I met myself, who told me his entire life story in one evening!