Futenzoku

Japan’s answer to the Hippies – the Fuuten-zoku – used to clutter up Shinjuku station in the late 60s during the day and sleep out in the bushes in the night (the so-called “Green House”). In a land of few illicit substances, they took sleeping pills and huffed paint thinner out of plastic bags. The authorities came in and washed these kids away, and by the end of ’69, they were essentially gone.

There’s a good reason no one has much nostalgia for the 60s in Japan: they smelled like tear gas and paint thinner.

A side note: I spent most of last night looking through a History of Japan series created in the early 60s, flipping through pages upon pages of pictures from the immediate post-War period. A lot of the events of that era do not make it into the English textbooks about Japan, except as small references to bigger trends, and noticing this, I realized that I have much left to learn about 20th century Japanese cultural history. We look back upon everything as if Bubble-era wealth and 90s-taste were some predetermined, inevitable conclusion when the truth is that for a very long time, Japan was a grey, dreary place straddling the fence between Fascist relapse and Socialist revolution. The older generation always whines: the kids don’t get the poverty we went through, and they are right. Unlike Americans who worship the Wonder Years of American Dreams, the Japanese don’t have a history fetish for anything post-1920 and pre-1980. Much effort is required to really feel the social history of that specific time frame.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 13, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

22 Responses

  1. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Marxy, Have you read Murakami Haruki’s Norway no mori? Or the other Murakami’s 69?

    And I wonder if you’ve read Gary Snyder’s accounts of the tribes that gathered around Nanao Sakaki in Shinjuku in the 60’s. Those people were definitely not glueheads. It could be argued that there was an influence on the American counterculture via Gary Snyder, who dropped out of the monastery to travel with Sakaki’s tribes.
    Several communes were founded and some traces of these still continue today.

    I wonder if you followed my link the other day about the band Hadaka no rallizes? Julian Cope’s review of their recordings indicate that their up there with any other psychedelic band of their era.

    On a different point, where I live there is tons of nostalgia for Taisho and Showa era antiques, architecture, and paraphernalia. Maybe it’s different in Tokyo.

  2. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I think some other facets of Japanese Hippy counter culture need to be mentioned.

    Both macrobiotic and natural farming movements started in Japan and had major worldwide influence. Can’t remember the names of the founders off the top of my head, they can be googled in necessary. Then there’s shiatsu another fad that spread from Japan in the late 60’s and early 70’s and continues to have a big influence.

    On the new age side, there’s reiki and a whole host of b.s. new new religions.

  3. marxy Says:

    I’ve read almost all of the H. Murakami books, except for Norweigen Wood for some reason. In 2000 or so, I found part one of the out-of-pring Alfred Birnbam translation somewhere and read the first couple of chapters. I should probably give it another read. My lit prof in college hated the other Murakami so I never got around to him.

    Most of the other things you mention don’t enter into my general conscious for one reason: they are not particularly “pop culture”. Yes the Les Rallizes Denudes existed in the 60s, but no one had ever heard of them. They may have had a very small influence on underground culture, but for whatever reason, their brand of psych rock never became a mainstream phemenon like it did in the West. I think “Tomorrow Never Knows” is interesting enough on musical terms, but the fact that it was on a hit record and ended up being a symbol of the times is the really interesting part.

    Essentially, the problem I am trying to tackle is: why was there not a Japanese progressive youth cultural explosion in the 60s like that of the West? There are some very straight forward answers – no money, no drugs, no freedom – but there are also some more subtle avenues of exploration – no concept of Bohemianism, no intellectualism in colleges, the Leftists embracing folk instead of rock, the birth of indigenous rock being created by the industry, etc.

    The New Age-y stuff you mention is interesting but doesn’t get me closer to the music/fashion/pop question.

  4. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I think we should first decide whether we are discussing pop music and fashion or counter-culture. These overlap but are not identical. Unusual, avant-garde things done by a few people, even if not widely known, are more significant ultimately more influential than mass popisms.

    We seem to have quite different pictures of the Japanese counterculture as it existed in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I didn’t go looking for the history of this stuff but there simply seem to be a lot of people in Kyoto who were countercultural or leftist activists in the sixties. I’m not particularly political or countercultural myself, but I happened to meet some of these people when I arrived in Japan due to an interest in environmentalism and world music. Personal interactions and some followup readings are what informed my notions of that era.

    And I used to live a couple of hundred meters from Hyakumanben and the Kyodai clock tower, two icons of the student riots. Seibu Kodo and Yoshida dormitory, which were and still are loci of leftist counterculture, were both within earshot.

    Kyoto had a very direct connection to the international counterculture in other parts of the world because of people like Gary Snyder and other poets who had an interest in Zen or generally found Kyoto to be an attractive base. A lot of western hippies followed these people to Kyoto and had an influence. For example it’s said that there was alot of LSD in Kyoto in the late 60’s. Another story I heard is that grass used to come into Japan via the US army bases. There’s certainly plenty of the stuff grown locally now and after all it was legal here until MacArthur banned it.

    It also seems to have been a centre of leftist activity. Kyoto’s still a Kyosanto stronghold and Karatani’s New Associationist Movement, a few years ago, was based not far away.

    This stuff doesn’t really make it into the mainstream media, and perhaps that’s a large part of the answer to the question you are posing.

    But it seems clear to me that there was a strong, meaningful Japanese counterculture that had an influence in Japan and around the world. It continues to have some influence through things like the slow life movement, natural farming, leftist politics.

  5. porandojin Says:

    what about psilocybe? it was legal, wasn’t it.

    Tell me, wasn’t marijuana also legal in Japan untill American occupation? And if so did they use it as often as tobacco ?

    Do you know Nakazono Eisuke’s ‘Matsuri-no shinu hi’ ?

  6. marxy Says:

    I think we should first decide whether we are discussing pop music and fashion or counter-culture. These overlap but are not identical.

    Well, this blog is “the pop sociology of pop,” so popular culture will always be the main focus at the end of the day. Needless to say, the counterculture had a huge influence on consumer culture/pop culture in the 60s West; it did not in 60s Japan. In Japan, there was less crossover, and probably proportionally, less counterculture.

    Unusual, avant-garde things done by a few people, even if not widely known, are more significant ultimately more influential than mass popisms.

    They can be, but then again, for better or worse, The Beatles are probably the most influential band of all time.

    For example it’s said that there was alot of LSD in Kyoto in the late 60’s.

    This is interesting, because the official line is that there was basically no acid in Japan during the 60s. A friend told me that Japanese scientists had used it in psychological experiments (a la MK-ULTRA) and that even Ishihara Shintaro had taken it as part of one, but non-clinical uses were virtually unheard of. If there was LSD in Japan, it seems to be a forgotten piece of history – either too limited in scope or too taboo to become a real story.

    I have a feeling that psilocybe was something that became used in the 90s because of the drug loophole, but had no real culture in the 60s. I don’t think those mushrooms are indigenous to Japan. Most was imported from Holland.

    There’s certainly plenty of the stuff grown locally now and after all it was legal here until MacArthur banned it.

    Hemp has always been important in Japan (think of all the girls you know named 麻子 etc.), but even when it was legal, I’ve never gotten the sense that there was a traditional “marijuana” culture in Japan. In contrast, there was very definite kakuseizai usage built into society.

    But it seems clear to me that there was a strong, meaningful Japanese counterculture that had an influence in Japan and around the world. It continues to have some influence through things like the slow life movement, natural farming, leftist politics.

    I don’t know if Japanese leftist politics became a model for anything anywhere. What do you mean?

    Obviously, traditional Japanese culture like Zen became an attractive alternative to Western civilization to the Hippies, and perhaps, some of this mystical strain’s modern analogs spread through the Kyoto-West coast network. But I’m skeptical that the Japanese counterculture was big or meaningful or had a tremendous impact on Japan itself. Countercultural music rocked the entire cultural industries in the West. In Japan, psych was just one more fashion to import as a foreign good.

  7. r. Says:

    http://glitchslaptko.blogspot.com/2005/02/how-long-must-we-sing-this-song.html

  8. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I don’t know if Japanese leftist politics became a model for anything anywhere. What do you mean?

    I’m not sure I understand the question. Kyosanto is still a fact of daily life if you get involved in any kind of social activism in Kyoto. It’s one of the reasons (not the main reason) I’m not involved with the environmental movement here anymore – I basically don’t think it’s a good thing to involve oneself in politics of a foreign country. Also I’m not a communist. I’m more of a European-style or Canadian-style social democrat. The slightly radical, confrontational flavour of Kyosanto is exotic but doesn’t really appeal to me in the long run.

    Up until a few years ago, basically up until the design cafe boom, most of the cool, arty cafes in Kyoto had owners who were Kyosanto supporters.

    That’s basically what I mean that there’s a continuing leftist influence in the counterculture in Japan. I assumed that such a thing exists in Tokyo. Certainly it must exist in certain areas of Tokyo, but maybe it’s just not a part of the circles you move in – a bit strange for me given that you call yourself marxy and your blog neomarxisme.

    And I don’t think Japanese writers like Mishima or others will be a particularly good source for knowing what was going down in the late 60’s because they had their own agenda. I vaguely recall an American academic has done an extensive study of the student movement of the late 60’s. That might be worth tracking down. Still, if you are really interested, your best bet would be to try to talk to some people who were actually there.

    I’m not an expert on drug culture in Japan or anywhere else nor do I aspire to be such a thing. However I suspect if you want a picture of what it was like in the 60’s here you will have to talk to people who were there. As you say the official line is that there were/are no drugs in Japan. But that’s the official line. Did you know that a popular form of amphetamines were invented in Japan in the early 20th century? Speed was heavily used in Japan for most of the 20th century. My pet theory is that it was partially responsible for some of the war atrocities. They always use the euphimism “stimulants” in the media. Were the 60’s in Japan drug-free? I strongly doubt it.

  9. marxy Says:

    a bit strange for me given that you call yourself marxy and your blog neomarxisme.

    I’m making a joke on modernism and my own surname. If I had been christened Larry Structural at birth, this page would be neostructuralisme. (And for the record, it is not “neo marx is me” – that sounds like a Leftist Matrix fan’s website.)

    Speed was heavily used in Japan for most of the 20th century.

    That’s what I meant by this, “In contrast, there was very definite kakuseizai usage built into society.”

    I’m more of a European-style or Canadian-style social democrat. The slightly radical, confrontational flavour of Kyosanto is exotic but doesn’t really appeal to me in the long run.

    Besides the 60s protest movement, the Kyousan-tou seems to be less radical and more commonsense these days. They are more of a Peace party than a “eradicate private property” party. They did probably have more influence on Japan than the CPUSA every did in the States, but I have a gut feeling that the Ultraright/Yakuza still has more overall influence. How many Rightists do you see in the Kouban mug gallery?

  10. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I have a gut feeling that the Ultraright/Yakuza still has more overall influence. How many Rightists do you see in the Kouban mug gallery?

    No arguments with that. But your original statement to the effect that the student radicals of the 60’s had no or, at least, neglible effect is wrong. Former student radicals are found among the ranks of the Kyosanto. And as I’ve stated there is a continuing influence in the Japanese alternative culture.

    If you have had no experience of “alternative” Japan and want to learn more, I recommend the book The Japan We Never Knew by David Suzuki and Keibo Oiwa.

  11. Chris_B Says:

    (And for the record, it is not “neo marx is me” – that sounds like a Leftist Matrix fan’s website.)

    But that is so much more clever and amusing…

  12. Sarmoung Says:

    I’ve long had a theory that the haphazard nature of construction in post-45 Tokyo was the product of prolonged meth use. More seriously, I’ve also wondered whether the widespread use of health/energy drinks is in some ways an echo of that earlier period, i.e. there was once a time when you could get something from the pharmacy that really would perk you up. As far as I understand it, meth came in a variety of forms and the disposable syrette was the preferred route. I think there’s a scene in one chapter of Karl Taro Greenfield(?)’s Speed Tribes where he goes to an illegal car race along the 246 and someone’s managed to obtain a old box of them.

    Hiropon, one of the trade names, still turns up from time to time. As an adult magazine or Takashi Murakami’s art studio for example. Here’s some info:

    http://www.tpa-kitatama.jp/museum/museum_03.html

    Unfortunately I know far more about this culture than I’m prepared to fill up this comment area with. Shibuya-kei as music pretty much passed me by as I made my living in a demi-monde of gangsters and prostitutes. I did provide “stimulant drug” to some famous people though and I’ll accept reasonable offers from shukanshi for lurid tales…

    My effective boss had been very instrumental in the setting up of Roppongi as a new entertainment district in the 60s (fairly much the world of Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underground) and the gang ran the speed market in the general Shibuya area. There was a clear distinction for him between meth (which he saw as Japanese and with its own kata and etiquette) and cannabis, cocaine and similar which he didn’t particularly condone the use of. Cannabis was a drug he associated with leftist-longhair-layabout-whathaveyou types. It certainly was never a drug the gang had anything to do with as income and I suspect that and what few psychedelics there were came via stationed military on the whole or outside of the yakuza market. They only started muscling in on Ecstacy to any extent once it was clear it was a potential earner.

    One abiding image of Japan is the night I was in Roppongi and a small street skirmish was occurring between a few Japanese gangsters and some American hip-hop types I recognised from a club. The Americans would run forward occasionally and throw bottles. The Japanese stood there and shouted in that fairly incomprehensible language I always wanted to learn. Police turned up and immediately asked the Japanese what was going on. The next thing I hear is the gangster to my right asking after the policeman’s wife. Oh, she’s doing fine, thanks.

    That said, some mushrooms are indigenous to Japan and meth, whilst not psychedelic as such, certainly leads to some very delusional mind states and hallucinations. As a former addict, I possibly see more of it in Japanese culture than might strictly be there, but there’s something in 60s Japanese pop/counter-cultural art that is distinct from the Hapshash style of things.

    If only Ultraman had more overall influence.

  13. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Sarmoung you are an amazingly eclectic fellow.

    That said, some mushrooms are indigenous to Japan

    Yes and correct me if I am wrong but I believe they were known about traditionally as well (the waraidake). I’ve heard there is evidence that grass was also smoked traditionally in pleasure quarters.

    I don’t have many lurid drug tales because I’ve never really been keen on drug abuse myself. However when I spent several weeks in the Yaeyama islands in early 2000, I was surprised to meet several kids driving around on scooters from cow field to cow field collecting psilocybe mushrooms. They’d ship them off to Tokyo to be sold, in the open, in little stalls on the streets of Shibuya. Shrooms are found anywhere you have cows and rainy, warm weather.

    As for perk-up drinks, alot of these contain ephedra, a naturally occuring product which is structurally similar to amphetamines. My walk home from work involves crossing a road that is a night trucking route. There’s a convenience store with many such drinks. I once bought and consumed a carton of something called Masai Jump, which contained ephedra. Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night.

  14. Chris_B Says:

    s for perk-up drinks, alot of these contain ephedra

    Interesting… That might explain why my body craves meth when I have certain genki-drinks.

  15. Sarmoung Says:

    Thanks for the compliment. I doubt you would have said the same towards the end of that particular jaunt in Japan! Normal service, of a kind, has been restored for some time now.

    The drug underground was a very interesting couple of years in Japan. I certainly saw aspects I would never have done otherwise. The only people I miss from that world are the boss, for we bonded over a love of the Manyoshu and Japanese court poetry, and his wonderful tales of childhood; his mother a Ginza madame, his father a black marketeer in Amecho.

    There was also a supplier in Yokohama who drove around in a van with a jet-ski in the back, just in case he needed to make a getaway. “I’ll just drive up to the water’s edge and then BANG! I’ll fly out the backdoor.” The most courteous and punctual drug dealer I’ve ever met.

    I’ve long wondered about your name. Are you at all related to the shakuhachi player behind this label?

    http://www.sparklingbeatnik.com/

    Or did the same canned drink catch both your eyes?

  16. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Or did the same canned drink catch both your eyes?

    That’s it. A spicy beverage with a witty name. Guarana is just what you’d expect a beatnik to drink. It was brief lived. Disappeared from the vending machines several years ago.

    What ever prompted you to dive into the deep end of the Tokyo underworld? Research for a book, perhaps?

  17. marxy (away from computer) Says:

    interesting talk going on here. i will post real material when i go home tomorrow.

  18. Sarmoung Says:

    Nothing prompted me really, aside from the opportunity being offered. I did think for a long time about writing a book about my experiences, but I find drug novels, with a few notable exceptions, dull reading. They’re a repetitive porn and I’ve no desire to encourage anyone to follow the lifestyle. I had little interest in contributing to the “I’ve been in Japan for a while and here’s my book of observations” section. The fact my lover was committed to an asylum and then died was no particular encouragement either. If anyone asks, I tell them to read PK Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue and synthesise the two. Maybe throw in the odd tanka for good measure.

    It has provided me with an immense number of bizarre anecdotes though. The only time I was arrested in Japan was in Takanawa in Tokyo where I was having a walk around at night. I’ve no idea what it was doing there, but I discovered a life-size crucifix behind some bushes. Hmm, that could come in handy, I thought and proceeded to drag it down the street like Joseph of Arimithea. Past the koban. Oi, you! I refused to stop since by that point getting the thing home had taken on certain metaphysical dimensions. In the end I was tackled to the ground and only released on the instructions of a friend.

    Anyway, I shouldn’t fill up Marxy’s box with this drivel!

  19. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    The protests never ended:

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v333/sparkligbeatnic/kichi_hantai.jpg

  20. marxy Says:

    I’ve long had a theory that the haphazard nature of construction in post-45 Tokyo was the product of prolonged meth use.

    For whatever reason, Japan has never really considered meth/speed to be a drug. I appreciate Sarmoung sharing his personal experience with us, and as far as I’ve read and heard, there’s absolutely nothing positive about meth use. All drugs have social drawbacks, but our society’s great hypocricy is that we worship drug-influenced media but say no to drugs. Best albums ever: Revolver and Sgt. Peppers. LSD? Terrible!

    The proliferation of speed seems somewhat undemocratic to me in that it makes people 1) work harder and 2) not “drop out” of the system. Correct me if I’m wrong, but speed usage subconsciously reinforces being a part of society instead dropping out/escaping it.

    I suspect that and what few psychedelics there were came via stationed military on the whole or outside of the yakuza market.

    From what I’ve read, the police gave the yakuza the greenlight to start up the speed trade as long as they would not get into selling “foreign” drugs like pot, LSD, cocaine, or heroin. The yakuza now has moved into the marijuana market – probably because of popular demand. There are controversies whether the yakuza was obtaining cocaine from South America, but certainly celebrities like Iijima Ai etc. spent a good part of the Bubble with bloody noses.

    They’d ship them off to Tokyo to be sold, in the open, in little stalls on the streets of Shibuya.

    Getting the wrong mushroom can be very very dangerous. Shibuya in 2000 seemed to be mostly dried mushrooms imported from Amsterdam.

    Sarmoung, the story about the life-sized crucifix seems far beyond the repetitive porn of drug novels.

  21. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Shibuya in 2000 seemed to be mostly dried mushrooms imported from Amsterdam.

    Perhaps. But it seems surprising that a country which grows or harvests a great manner of mushrooms would not set up their own grow-ups or harvesting operations to cope with demand. The fact of the matter was that I did meet some pro shroom pickers.

    Selling locally grown or picked shrooms as being from Hawaii or Amsterdam could be a marketing strategy.

  22. marxy Says:

    Someone posted this and it got cut for some reason. So I am reposting it. This is not my comment — Marxy

    hello, im a student in kyoto. ive read all the posts, very interresting. i got here through googling for foreign perspective on the student riots of the 60s. my father was a radical leftie back then, and later became a hippie.

    i wont say much on whether there was pop-culture in japan back then, cuz even if there was it couldnt have been the equivalant to that of the west. im not very sure what is the answer Mr.Marxy is looking for. and.. i can only tell stories my dads told me, but my impression is that the student movements were the pop thing at the time. it was deffinitely big, and fashonable.

    if you are interrested in movies which portray youth culture back then, i can only give the japanese title but i recomend you watch “gaki teikoku” and “pacchigi”. they are both filmed by Izutsu.

    kyoto is still a kyosanto strong hold, and universities like kyoto-uni, and ritsumeikan-uni still have leftie student activists. there are stories comming from rivalties between new-lefts and kyosannto-sects. which im not a part of, fortunatly.

    nyway, the main topic here seems to have moved on to drugs.

    marijuana: yes it was legal before McArthur banned it, and was used by peasants, and not the nobles. the noble class was able to take rice from the peasants, and make sake(rice wine) from it. marijuana was cheap entertainment for the peasants as they could not eat the rice they made or make sake from it to drink. there used to be a word “asa yoi” -“asa” is hemp, and “yoi” is drunkness, or being drunk.

    mushrooms: kyoto university is famouse for its research group for being mushroom maniacs.
    a very wide range of mushrooms grow in japan, and its not surprising to find some of them to be “magical”. and well, thats what the students at kyoto uni research for.

    LSD: my father was under effect of it when he dated my mother.