One could criticize "Speed Tribes" for any number of literary transgressions: Bad writing, shaky structure and strange characters that sometimes don't fully represent the story.
Toss all that. "Speed Tribes" overcomes its flaws and is, in fact, an extraordinary trip into subterranean Tokyo. Tokyo author Karl Taro Greenfeld--who has dispatched these down-and-dirty stories for the likes of Los Angeles Times Magazine and Details--is the Douglas Coupland of Japanese youth culture; better, actually, since the L.A.-raised Greenfeld digs up nonfiction and Coupland dreams up his youth terrain.
Greenfeld brings readers a collection of stories on young Japan, from the motorcycle gangs they call "speed tribes" to the girls who dance and do drugs in Tokyo discos to the book worms who devote their lives to the all-important college-entrance exam. This is one of the first books to document Japanese youth culture. It is also one of the first to examine the effects of an unparalleled explosion of wealth on a Japanese generation of youth that didn't have to work for it (sort of recalls America's baby boom).
Sadly enough, "Speed Tribes" without an American peer: No work of this breadth has been published about modern American youth culture. Baby boomer Donna Gaines' 1991 book "Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids" comes close, but was much more narrow. Meanwhile, the Generation X publishing frenzy has produced some solid fiction ("The Secret History," "Fast Sofa") and a lot of sorry nonfiction ("Twentysomething American Dream," "Prozac Nation"). If anything, perhaps "Speed Tribes"' most important legacy is as a wake-up call about the need for an American counterpart. Greenfeld gets inside the youths that, for better or worse, have etched their own style into the rigid culture of Japan. Here we find out about fashion, drugs, groups of thugs, and even Japanese techno and metal music. The stories describe a rebellion against Japan's solid work ethic, morals and conformism. As told by Greenfeld, Japan is the midst of a full-blown, Western-style pop explosion (Music critic Greil Marcus defines a pop explosion as "cultural upheaval that cuts across lines of class and race . . . and, most crucially, divides society itself by age"). Ironically, new pop explosions have been happening in the United States (electronic dance music culture, hip-hop jazz, spoken-word poetry, designer drugs and street fashion) that hardly get mentioned in American books. In fact, you might learn more about cutting-edge American youth culture by way of "Speed Tribes" than from any American novels.