If you are interested in bikes and Japan, you probably heard about the
infamous gangs cruising on their customized bikes, often recognizable by
extended back rests and loud exhausts, sometimes waving Japanese flags.
Bosozoku gangs used to occupy the streets in the land of the rising sun, causing mainly problems and outbreaks of road violence, which was most commonly intended for themselves (rival gangs) and police officers.
If you browse for 'bosozoku', you will find many blog posts, forum discussions, articles and documentaries. There is a lot of visual material that portrays the scale of Japanese bike gangs a few decades ago. History attests their power, uniqueness and craziness, which often leads to mystification and especially in the perception of foreigners, intrigues curiosity and admiration of biker gang members. You might have watched the famous anime 'Akira', whose main protagonist is a bosozoku boy. This cartoon became its own cult (and even though I bookmarked it on YouTube 5 years ago , I never watched it - Kazuto neither).
As we started this blog, we received a Facebook message from Europe asking whether bosozoku gangs are cool and if they're still active on Japanese streets. Here's a response to how bosozoku riders are viewed in the eyes of general public (especially individual bike riders) in Japan.
Are they cool? Are they fierce?
Yes, most probably they are... but only to themselves...
Bosozoku is a subculture, with an interest in motorcycle customizing, most commonly by removing the mufflers to produce a lot of noise. Bosozoku boys challenge each other in reckless driving, speeding on city roads, extremely slow driving through residential areas (to create sound disturbance), waving imperial Japanese flags and starting fights (most commonly with rival gangs). Like in any organization in Japan, their hierarchy is utterly important, and the gang is led by a member with the highest rank, who is never allowed to be overtaken. Their subculture follows many stupid regulations found in Japanese criminal and work organizations, that has been there for decades (for no reason really).
In case you are not familiar with bosozoku gangs, check this video about one of the last bosozoku gang leaders filmed by Vice:
The most important fact about bosozoku gang members is: These boys have always been youngsters (between 16 and 20 years old). The gangs were commonly comprised of young countryside boys in search of belonging, recognition and acceptance. Like any other young delinquents, they were driven by the rebellion against the system, daily life, their parents, teachers, bosses and society in general. They rode the streets in search of themselves, and even more commonly, in search of trouble.
What united them wasn't really the love for bikes and open roads, but rather the sense of belonging to their peers, readiness to resist the outline of daily boring life, challenging each to do a crazier, more radical thing each day. A few decades ago, they were definitely a powerful and dangerous common addition to Japanese streets, but after strategic intervention of Japanese police, they almost completely disappeared (in parallel with infamous street car racing). After all, for most bosozoku boys, the gang presented only a short period of their lives, a hype of their wildest era, most often gone and forgotten along their later 20s (with an exception of a few older men lost in time like the 2 in the Vice video ).
That's why there's a clear distinction between bosozoku boys and individuals enjoying biker lifestyle. They don't share a common identity and passion, and frankly don't care much about each other. For most bosozoku boys, biker gang meant just a short period of their lives, and not something to hold on to in long term.
What's with the flags?
What's with an image of Che Guevara printed over teenage boy's T-shirt at a random place in the world? Is he starting a revolution?
Many are puzzled by nationalist symbols accompanying bosozoku style, which often makes it associated with uyoku groups (or 'black vans'). Despite similarities, those 2 groups are not associated, but both of them launched after the WWII, when nationalistic propaganda was at its peak. Bosozoku gangs are a product of post-war times, and their appearance combined American rockabilly hair and outfits with nationalistic Japanese symbols. After all, teenagers have always been keen on falling for branding and ideologies, even though they don't necessarily agree nor understand what's behind them. The flags remained as part as their branding, but there's no reason to search for symbolic behind it.
At least this is the opinion of the majority of people we got into a conversation about bosozoku.
We've seen many on the streets and met many on parking lots along one way or another. They didn't care too much about us, just as we didn't care too much about them. In most cases, they were lone riders, grandpas stuck in a previous times, trying to revive their youthful crazy days.
We only wrote about bosozoku boys in this article. If you're wondering where are the girls, check the video that shows transition from bosozoku girlfriends to riders:
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