GIRL GANGS: Sukeban

The Japanese slang word ‘sukeban’ (スケバン) means ‘boss girl’, but everybody use it to talk about Japanese girl gangs from the late 1960s made up of girls who weren’t allowed into boy’s gangs (called bancho).

Sukeban bands are easily recognizable. They generally wear school uniforms with distinct features and modifications. Longer skirts (sometimes ankle-long ones) than the common ones, as well as cut shirts and messages embroidered or written on their clothes. They usually wear chains, which are used as weapons; mittens and dyed or de-bleached hair. Japanese surgical masks are also associated to sukeban gangs, but this is more recent.

tumblr_nt9o14pgV51r2kncco1_500

Sukeban girls usually wear the popular sukajan (that bomber-style jackets made with shiny fabrics and with embroidered details that are so fashionable now), created towards the end of the II World War during the American occupation of Japan. As a souvenir for their families and friends, they chose these jackets embroidered with Japanese details such as cherry trees, tigers and geishas, sometimes made with the fabric of American parachutes. In the 1960s, American trends were widespread in Japan and the Japanese youth started wearing these jackets as a symbol of rebellion. They were associated to gangs and criminal groups such as the yanki, boys that flirted with the yakuza and who were inspired by the American style.

In the 70s and 80s, these bands became very popular thanks to manga, especially the shojo (manga for young girls) Sukeban Deka, a series that also had a television version (both anime and live-action) and a series of films. The first sukeban-themed film series were Terrifying Girls’ High School by pinky violence film director Norifumi Suzuki.

sukeban deka 1 sukeban deka 2

sukeban deka 3 sukeban deka 4

Some of the weapons common in these bands are baseball bats (sometimes with nails or spikes), iron or wood rods and chains. In Sukeban Deka, the leading characters also use yo-yos and marbles. They are attributed with minor offenses such as theft and robbery.

Among sukeban famous figures in the West are Gogo Yubari (Kill Bill) and Saitama Crimson Scorpions from renowned anime author Shin Chan. In addition, last Maria Ke Fisherman’s F/W collection takes inspiration from the Sukeban Deka saga.