Kickin’ it With The Tominoko Tribe

You’ve probably seen the pictures before: Gundam fans in full costume dancing on the streets of Tokyo. When the magazine Fanroad debuted in August of 1980, the inaugural cover featured a dancing Gundam fan in blue Earth Federation costume with the heading “Tominoko Tribe Arrival!?” But what were the Tominoko tribe and why were Gundam fans dancing in the street?

The name “Tominoko Tribe” is a tongue-in-cheek play on Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino’s name and the Takenokozoku (竹の子族), literally “Bamboo Shoots tribe,” the name for kids who gathered around Harajuku and danced in flowing, brightly colored clothes. One of the multitudes of youth movements in Japan, the Bamboo Shoots tribe showed up sometime in the late ‘70s and continued until the early ‘80s. Predominantly female, Bamboo Shoots tribe kids would dance through the streets in groups and hang out in Harajuku.

Tominoko tribe coverage in the first issue of Fanroad. [Source]
According to both Fanroad and other publications, the Tominoko tribe were a group of Gundam fans who also gathered in Harajuku and danced around in early cosplay, or so the photo essay and subsequent coverage would want you to believe. The Tominoko tribe was covered in official Gundam publications, too, like the theatre pamphlet for Mobile Suit Gundam: Encounters in Space. Whether this was a true spontaneous youth movement gathering in a hip area or some clever marketing playing up the Gundam wave of proto-otaku, well, you can be the judge of that.

For what it’s worth, the coverage in Encounters in Space’s theatrical pamphlet (part of a larger section of the booklet called “The Gundam World” that covered the cultural impact of Gundam) painted the picture of the Tominoko tribe being a legitimate movement, alongside other “tribes” like the aforementioned Bamboo Shoots tribe and the Crystal tribe1. The image at the top of this article is from that pamphlet, with photos of Tominoko tribe members flanked by super deformed illustrations of Gundam mobile suits in clothes that I assume are supposed to evoke the sort of clothes worn by Bamboo Shoots tribe members.

Fan movements can make for particularly good marketing (for reference, when the premier issue of Fanroad hit newsstands, the first Gundam compilation film was about four months from release), but I’d love to know if Gundam fans back then actually referred to themselves as “Tominokozoku.” The photos included in the theatrical pamphlet (published roughly two years after the Fanroad issue), included many of the same photos from the earlier coverage suggesting that this was a one-time event and not a recurring social phenomenon. Perhaps, like the later yappies of 1984, it was just an early attempt at finding some sort of name to capture the movement of older fans who weren’t growing out of anime.

It’s worth noting that the proto-otaku Tominoko tribe weren’t the only fans hanging out in Harajuku in the early ‘80s. A similar PR stunt was launched for the theatrical release of the Ideon movies a few months before they were released in 1982. In that instance,  fans in Ideon-branded hapi hoisted an Ideon shrine and danced in Harajuku alongside the Bamboo Shoots and Roller tribes.

Ideon shrine from the pages of My Anime, July 1982. [Source]



  1. A term for rich, fashionable, college-aged women, named for Yasuo Tanaka’s 1981 novel Somehow, Crystal.