In Tokyo’s “Subcal” Bars, Anything Goes

The term “subcal” is a Japanization of the English word “subculture.” Originally referring to the anti-establishment political and social counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s, over time, the word came to mean something more akin to a hobby. The ’80s and ’90s saw “subcal” gain traction as a buzzword in parallel with the more well-known term “otaku,” a catchall name for nerds of all sorts, particularly those with interests in anime, manga and video games. Once it was clear that marketing to geek culture could be lucrative, specialist magazines, TV programs and venues for the weird and sometimes anti-social began to pop up. These bars became a viable place for many Tokyoites—residents of a city notorious for tiny living spaces and often misunderstood as being cold to strangers—to get together with those of similar interests.