A look into the infamous Japanese bike gang ‘Bosozoku’
Who would've thought that there were retired Kamikaze pilots, the guys who were conditioned to fly their planes into ships as weapons, founded the most notoriously dangerous biker gang Japan have ever seen. The soldiers that survived World War 2 returned home looking for a spark of adrenaline and the disgruntled young bikers emerged and created what was first known as 'Kaminari-Zoku' or 'Thunder-Tribe'. The term 'Bosozoku' which translates to 'Violent Running Tribe' was created in the 1970s when riots broke out and biker culture became more criminal in nature. The gang mostly consisted of working-class teens.
The Bosozuko became infamous for violence, reckless driving and ridiculously loud modified exhaust systems. They drove while wielding wooden swords, baseball bats, steel pipes and the occasional molotov cocktail which was used against the civilians as well as the police. The gang had unique aesthetic clothing known as the 'Tokko-Fuku', which roughly translates to 'Special Attack Clothes'. It is a jumpsuit that is a modified working clothes version of the Kamikaze Pilots uniform embroidered with the specific Bosozuko gang name on the back, personalised slogans, Kanji and stitched on nationalist symbols like the Rising Sun flag. They had absurd hairstyles, wore military boots and avoided wearing protective gears for the extra thrill.
Their motorcycles were extreme with crazy tall seats, raised handlebars, custom frames, colourful paint jobs and most importantly Shugo (a multiple-tube header and a single collector pipe connected with a muffler) from which annoyingly loud and forceful sounds were made. Their cars were customised to have an appearance of a low rider that is exaggerated to be as showy as possible. These were equipped with comical tail-fins, skirts, airfoils and flashing lights.
There is one thing that no one can ignore, the behemoth of a front splitter and the lunatic 7-10 foot long 'Takeyari' exhaust pipes that made a statement of standing out which are anything but mundane. The sheer number of flamboyant customisations, ironically, does not make their vehicles faster - just adding the illusionary appearance of speed. The group's distinct auditory presence and unmistakable visual flair are known all over Japan as well as the world.
Compared to most delinquent gangs in Japan, they surprisingly had a high sense of morality followed by holding onto traditional Japanese values. These values were modelled according to the Bushido or 'Way of the Samurai' which was followed by warriors during feudal times in Japan. The code contained eight basic virtues: rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honour, loyalty and self-control. These virtues of honour and loyalty influenced the culture's mentality as members were incredibly dedicated to their gangs and were willing to do whatever it took to protect their dignity.
They rode recklessly and purposefully clogged up streets. After a couple of massive groups run blocked traffic and incited riots in tranquil neighbourhoods they got into fierce disagreements with rivals, carried weapons and ended up in the Yakuza (Japan's Mafia). Rivalries between different groups were bloody and common; if they weren't careful enough, they would be kidnapped or jumped by rivals, beaten or killed, often having their Tokko-Fuku stolen. Members also got involved with organised crime by running drugs, guns and other such goods for the Yakuza. These businesses often led to a whole different level of danger if they didn't strictly stick to business.
The sub-culture obviously wasn't all about violence, as during peaceful times they were often found skipping school, playing cards, smoking or drinking and often hanging out in parking lots or restaurants. They would often talk about their bikes or cars during meets. They would also work on their bikes or cars around workshops to pass their free time.
While they used to dominate the streets of Japan with their large massive groups of modified motorcycles and cars, Bosozuko has been fading in recent years. Police crackdowns have drastically reduced the number of real gang members since the peak of 42,510 known members in 1982, but the crazy modifications lived on. It is an art of its own now to look different and ridiculous in the streets.
With legal stakes heightened, many members decided that it isn't worth the risk anymore and ended up quitting the gang. Nowadays, the Bosozuko are an endangered species of vehicle enthusiasts that exist in people's memories rather than within reality itself. And soon memories might be all that remains of the gang Bosozuko.