Sukeban refers to delinquent girl gangs or more correctly the boss girl in a gang. Sukeban first appeared in Japan during the 1960s, as a female equivalent to the male banchō gangs. By the 1970s banchō gangs were starting die-out, as the country saw the rise of the sukeban girl gangs. Initially the gangs started as small groups of girls sneaking cigarettes in the bathroom at school, but soon grew in numbers and the level of criminality they became involved in.
The gangs grew in the 1970s, and had a reputation for violence and shop-lifting. Gangs ranged in sized from Tokyo’s United Shoplifters group, which numbered somewhere around 80 girls, through to the largest gang which was known as the Kanto Women Delinquent Alliance, rumored to have had around 20,000 members. Making them bigger and more organized than the more well known Japanese organized crime gangs of the Yakuza. The idea of delinquent gangs of girls entered common culture in Japan in the early 70s, when they were featured in a number of exploitation movies known as Pink Films (in a sub-genre referred to as “Pinky violence”).
Sukeban identified themselves as gang members though having brightly dyed or permed hair, and by wearing school uniforms that they’d altered, by rolling up their sleeve, lengthening their skirts covered in gang affiliated symbols and slogans. The sukeban girls followed strict rules and codes of conduct within their gangs, and breaking them would result in “lynching”. Lynching involved several degrees of punishment, but burning with cigarettes was a common punishment for minor infringements of the rules. Reasons for punishment ranged from showing disrespect to the senior members, speaking to rival gangs, cheating with someone else’s boyfriend or being caught doing drugs. Although sniffing paint thinner or glue was a common activity among girl gang members.
It was common for girls to carry razor blades, which were easily concealed, through to chains and bamboo swords they’d stolen from the school gym. The criminal activities and violence of the girl gangs in Japan, reached such a high that they were described by Japanese police pamphlets in the 1980s as “omens of downfall”. Despite authorities attempts to quell the girl gang culture in the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a recent rise in gang membership. Sukeban have become popular characters in both Japanese fiction, manga, anime and movies.