WHEN IT ALL BEGAN
Late 50s, early 60s, wealthy young people started to drive expensive motorcycle to draw attention to themselves. They were named “kaminarizoku” (thunder tribe) in reference of their muffler-less loud driving style without a muffler. This behavior was new in Japan and was enhance by the after-war desire for society changes. Although they were involved in traffic accident, Japanese people and media tend to accept them as part as a cultural boom. At that time, Japanese economy was in the high-growth period, so no one really wanted to complain about society transformations.
In the 1970s, motorcycle prices dropped and more people could afford them. The loud driving style spread to bad boys as well and people called them "kyousouzoku” (狂走族: mad run group). Those reckless youngsters were involved in assault/extortion incidents, public violence and group fights. Their unique clothing and hair styles also spread among other bad boys regardless of kyousouzoku affiliation. Public stopped seeing them as a part of the Cultural Revolution, but as is real threat to society… Bad boys (and girls) usually joined kyousouzokus after they graduated High School and groups were formed based on classmate’s experiences or geographical criteria. Most of them were already involved in violent activities and it was at that time a “natural” path, a path leading to join more organized criminal groups such as Yakuza.
It is still a sensitive topic, but the name of “bosozoku” seemed to have been used for the first time in 1972 in Toyama city and spread very quickly to rest of the country. Police started to use this name as well in official documents. Bosozoku alliances to form larger and stronger groups started in East Japan and become very common in the mid 70’s. Some of the most infamous teams, such as Specter or Black Emperor, were created at that time.
Authorities reported 86 cases of major troubles caused by bosozokus in 1974. The same year, the number of groups remarkably increased, and groups in all over Japan started to make unions, like the "Touhoku rengou (united Touhoku)", "Kantou rengou", "Bushu rengou", etc. In the first half of 1975, there were 571 groups and about 23,000 members! This was huge!
Groups started to fight each other with extreme violence. Most members would use kitchen knives, petrol bombs, katanas, wood sticks or even baseball bats. The increase in conflicts reinforced the formation of “unions for self-defense” and generate the creation of even larger organizations. Troubles involving general public also increased and bosozoku became government number one priority.
In 1978, the road traffic law were revised and included a new “prohibition of grouped dangerous behavior” article, you guessed it, tailor-made for bosozokus. It didn’t really stopped bosozokus from doing their thing but gave more power to the Police and increase the violence between them. Policemen wouldn’t hesitate anymore to run into bikes or cars to stop them. Bad boys revving their bikes and causing troubles weren’t the only bosozukus targeted. The Road Racers and Gurachanzoku, also inspired from the original Kaminarizoku, were on their end involved in illegal street racing or violent activities. This was a pretty wild period in Japan!
Early 80’s was the golden age of bosozoku. According to the Police data, in November 1980, they were 754 groups and 38,902 confirmed members! This statistics included 1,426 women and 1208 under 15 year old kids. Police also reported the arrest of 8255 persons (increase of 82.5% compare to previous year!). Although it was relatively easy to join boso groups and participate in by territorial/blood rivalries, it was much harder to withdraw due to the strict internal rules. Punishments for deserters were very severe. As time went by, youngsters started to reject strict rules, police repression was tougher than ever and the bosozoku movement started to slow down. It was common for members to retire around their twenties, to let younger blood join in. But after the 1990, due to the lack of successors members would stay longer or even come back after a break.
CLASSIFICATIONThe police separates the bosozokus in two main different groups: The "Joint Dangerous Type" and "Illegal Racing Type".
Joint dangerous type bosozokuThe classic Joint Dangerous Type bosozoku group involves youngsters riding loud motorbikes. The members of this group are mainly found driving slow and weaving in traffic of city streets or expressways. Their main activity is reckless driving, most of the times in large groups, but they’re also involved in violent fights and criminal activities. The hierarchy among Bosozokus is very important. At the top, you can find the president (“souchou”) and his vice-president (“fukusoucho”). During parades, a group called “shineitai” is in charge of his protection. The group driving in front, called tokkoutai, blocks traffic to allow the others to go through smoothly. The tokkoutai members are also always the first ones to join fights. The “hatamochi” group is in charge of the flags and banners (usually attached at the back of the bikes). And at the tail of the convoy, the “ketumochi” members prevents the police and other cars from overtaking the pack.
This is the adult version of the classic Bosozoku. This category, established in 2000, includes enthusiasts ex-bosozoku members who now drives outdated modified motorbikes (popular models out of sale now = kyusha). The group is different from "kyushakai (旧車会)” which designate old car enthusiasts. To avoid any confusion, the first group is often nicknamed “chinkokai”.
Biker (biker gang)
In the mid-90s, new groups, inspired by American motorcycle gang, started to blossom in Japan. Members would use foreign made bikes and wear leather jacket and pants.
Guranchanzoku is the “car version” of the classic bosozoku. The word Gurachan is usually used to describe heavily modified cars inspired by the Gran Champion Series held in Fuji Speedway and other famous races in Suzuka. Guranchanzoku are also often referred as Kaido Racer as they mainly drive on highways and gather on circuit parking.
Illegal racing type bosozokuThe second group, called “Illegal racing type bosozoku”, includes cars enthusiasts (mainly) inspired by motorsports who enjoy high speed driving style, alone or in small groups. They can be found in mountain roads or highways, and their vehicles are modified to enhance performance. While considered by the Police as bosozoku (as they are involved in dangerous activities, causing fatal accidents), the illegal racers prefer to call themselves “hashiriya” as they emphasizes driving skills instead of pointless reckless activity. After 1990, when the bosozoku phenomenon started to slow down, illegal racing became more popular and was quickly pointed out. Police strengthened the repression and shut down some roads at night to prevent gatherings. Nowadays, the illegal racing type is still strong in Japan, especially in the drifting scene.
While “bosozoku”, “kyusyakai”, or even “biker” were official names used by law related institutions to describe “Joint Dangerous Type” members, Media and sometimes Police created their own nicknames for some specific “Illegal Racing type” drivers.
Racers driving around cities circle expressways (Shuto Kōsoku in Tokyo, Kanjosen or Hanshin Kōsoku No. 1 in Osaka, etc). They usually gather in parking area before racing in groups, doing loops like on a racetrack. In the Kansai area, they are called the “kanjo zoku”.
Racers battling in the touge (winding roads, located in the mountains, sometimes used for sightseeing).
Racers practicing the art of drifting, either in harbor area or mountain roads.
Zeroyon stands for 0 and 4. It is the name use to describe drag racing (0 to 400 meters). The Zeroyonzokus gather at night in industrial area and race against each other in straight line.
Clothing fashion is a very important aspect of the bososoku culture. Members of Joint Dangerous Type gangs usually wear Tokkoufuku, which is composed of a long jacket, a sarashi (white band strapped around the chest, like samurai), and wide pants. Tokkoufuku are embroidered with team names, slogans, flags and symbols.
To give more impact to their message, Bosozokus often use difficult kanjis (old characters or characters with bad meaning). For example, they would write "夜露死苦" for “Yoroshiku” or, "愛羅武勇 for “I Love You". In the 1970s, it was very common for gang members to show off nationalist slogans or symbols on their tokkoufuku or headband. The purpose here was more to give a scary image more than real nationalist believes.
Air style was very specific. The “punch perm” (パンチパーマ, tightly permed hair) and Sorikomi (punch perm with shaved sides) were very popular, not only among bosozokus, but also often used by bad boys and gangsters.
Bosozokus rarely wear a helmet when they ride their bike. This is called “no-heru” (without helmet). If they choose to have one though, it is usually a half-helmet strapped around their neck (hanging on their back), or loosely place on their head but not attached (amidakaburi). A way to say “I’m not scared of falling down” while avoiding getting a ticket.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Illegal Racing Type members don’t follow any specific clothing fashion, not only because they don’t like to be compared to Joint Dangerous Type members, but also because they try to keep a low profile.
Bosozoku’s cars and bikes, also called Zokusha, are often heavily modified. Those modifications are illegal and violate safety standards or noise regulations (unmodified or legally modified vehicles can also be used for boso, but the case is rare).
While Illegal Race Types members also decorate their vehicles with aero parts or stickers, Joint Dangerous Type fellows win the fight when it comes extreme modifications!
Joint dangerous-type bikes:
A typical bosozoku bike is nothing less than a piece of art on wheels, with, in the case of motorcycles, "sandan seat ", "bakuon muffler" or "devil can", "shibori handle", flashy decoration, "tsuppari tail", "rocket cowl", "nunotare fubo", etc. Bikes with extraordinarily high rocket cowl and illumination are called "buchiage". Those bikes initially aimed to imitate choppers from the USA (modified motorcycles as seen in the movie "Easy Rider"). Imported motorcycles were so expensive at that time, they adapted the fashion to domestic models. High rocket cowl and buchiage generate a huge air resistance and motorcycle without a muffler have bad engine performances (especially on 2 strokes engines).
Most common models:
1970s model -Honda CB750FOUR, Kawasaki 750RS (ZII), 750SS MACH, Suzuki GT750, Yamaha TX750. After the regulations of large motorcycle license, Honda CB400FOUR (Yonfour), CBX400F, CBR400F, Hawk II / Hawk III (Babu), Suzuki GS400E, GSX400F / GSX400FS Impulse, GSX400 / 250E Katana (Goki), GSX400 / 250E (Zari), GT380 (Sanpachi), RG250, Kawasaki Z400FX (Fekkusu), Z400GP, GPZ400 / GPZ400F, KH400 / 250 (Kecchi), SS350 / 250 (Mahha), Z250FT, Yamaha XJ400E, RD400, RZ250 / 350, etc. After 1990s: Kawasaki ZEPHYR, Honda CB400SF, Yamaha XJR400 / XJR400R, Suzuki Impulse (GK79A / GK7CA), Kawasaki ZRX / ZRX-II, etc. In the 2000s, medium-sized and large scooters became also very popular.
Joint dangerous-type cars:
The ride height on Joint dangerous Type cars (Gurachan) is dramatically reduce to become "shakotan” (lowdown). Drivers install low profile tires and replace mufflers with straight pipes or "takeyari muffler” (long muffler extended upward)”. The body is modified as well, with "long nose” (long bonnet)”, "deppa” (sharp chin spoiler), over fenders and flashy decorations. As a result, performance of some of those vehicle is significantly dropped. Lowdown cars handle poorly, and access to parking is limited.
Most common models:
Joint dangerous Type boso usually use standard-sized sedans (especially FR type for Gurachan), minivans (flashily remodeled/decorated for “Vanning”) or luxury sedan (VIP style). The Nissan Skyline (Hakosuka, KenMari, Japan) or Laurel, the Toyota MarkII or Chaser, etc. were the most popular vehicles for Kaido Racer style. VIP members would often use Toyota Aristo, Soarer, Crown, or Celsior, and Nissan Cedric, etc. The Toyota Hiace or Estima, Nissan Caravan, and Honda S-MX were popular vehicles in the Vanning scene.
Illegal Racing Type members focus on performance (improve speed and handling) and includes engine, suspension and brakes modifications. In this case, the increase of noise level is a by-product.
Illegal Racing Type cars:
Illegal Race Type members would choose sports oriented cars (fast 4wd or FR coupe). The most popular cars are based model engaged in official racing (GT, rally, gymkhana, dirt trial, etc) like the Nissan Skyline, Fairlady Z, Silvia or 180SX, the Toyota Supra, AE86, the Subaru Impreza, The Mitsubishi Lancer, the Mazda RX-7, the Honda Civic, etc.
Like their fellow speed enthusiasts on 4 wheels, Illegal Racing Type riders modify their bikes for better performances.
Illegal Racing Type bikes:
With the Race Replica boom in the 1980s a lot of riders were using Honda NSR250R, Suzuki RGV250Γ and Yamaha TZR250R.
During the 80’s and 90’s, a lot of different magazines were covering the bosozoku scene. Nowadays, only Illegal Racing Type press remains as Champ Road sadly stopped publication in 2016.
Joint Dangerous Type
Champ road (1987 - 2016) - Kasakurashuppansha
Teen’s road (1989 - 1998) - Million publication
Young auto (1981 - 2001) - Geibunsha
Rider comic (1986 - 1995) - Tatsumi publication
Illegal Racing Type
Option (1981 - ) - Saneishobo
Option2 (1992 - 2015) - Saneishobo
Drift tengoku (1997 - ) - Saneishobo
G-Works (1990 - ) - Saneishobo
Baribari machine (1986 - 2002) - Heiwa publication
From boso to pro
Inside the Illegal Racing Type, you can find a lot of members who also enjoy driving legally on circuits. In Japan, some professional drivers come from the street and were spotted by teams during small motorsports events (for example: Keiichi Tsuchiya or Nobuteru Taniguchi). Motorsports is very popular in Japan, especially for cars. For this reason, Illegal Racing Type bosozokus are not always seen as bad people but sometimes as motorsport enthusiasts.
Dogs and cats
The rivalry between the two bosozoku groups was very strong in the early age of the movement. It was common for Joint Dangerous Type members to do "hashiriya gari (racer hunting)" or "tsubushiya (destroying a car)". They would ambush and attack Illegal racing Type members, especially the ones with luxury sports cars and or highly modified cars.
Winter is coming
In heavy snowfall areas, lowdown vehicles with large body kits can’t be driven during winter. Not only it is dangerous, but it also harder to run away from the police. That’s why bosozokus claim an “off season”. There are usually less bosozokus members in those regions because it’s difficult to maintain the organization due to the activity-stopping-period.
In Hokkaido (northern island), during winter, you could sometimes see bosozokus wearing tokkoufuku, walking in group inside cities, and shouting their gang name and making engine noise with their mouth. They were called the “toho bousouzoku” (徒歩暴走族 / walking bosozoku).
Teach them young
Kids seduced by the bosozoku culture, but too young to get a driving license, sometimes ride bicycles the way Joint Dangerous Type ride bikes. Police can arrest them by the low "prohibition of light vehicles running side by side". Their bicycles are decorated with cowls and fake mufflers and are called “Kaichari” (modified bicycle).
There is no national law that prohibits helping bosozoku, but some prefectures created bans directly targeted to bosozoku and illegally modified vehicles. For instance, in Kumamoto prefecture, it is prohibited to modify vehicles to promote the boso activity, gas stands are not allowed to refuel poorly maintained vehicles or with bent number plate. It is also prohibited to go shopping wearing cloth with embroidered logo, flags or gang names or wearing headbands.
Bad image campaign
Although bosozoku is considered as a social problem, it still seduces young people especially in country side areas, through manga or movies. To break this “cool” image, Police and local administrations created campaigns to make fun of bosozoku, often by simply giving them disparaging names.
The very first negative nickname widely used, Chinsoudan (珍走団), was found by a radio listener. After a couple of years, people forgot about it, but it came back in 2001 and the campaigns to change the name of bosozoku started again. This time, people brought different names: Nyochindan for women (女珍: women / weird), Chinko undo for the walking bosozokus (珍呼運動: weird /call /campaign), Chinkoufuku to describe bosozoku’s cloth(珍行服), Chinsha for their vehicles (珍装車)…
In 2009, the Ginowan Police (Okinawa prefecture) asked public to help them find a disparaging nickname for bosozokus. Their gathered more than 680 names such as yowamushizoku (coward group) or gokiburizoku (cockroach group), and finally selected “dasaizoku” after a three stage vote (in Japanese, “dasai” means “not cool” or “to suck”). The police then used it as a slogan to make fun of bosozokus.
Japan is a safe place. Crimes and violence are relatively rare and it is sometimes tough for the police to find something to get its teeth into! Back in the days when the bosozokus were a real social issue, cops started new training programs to simulate real life confrontation. Now you’re thinking: “That’s what any other police in the world would do!” Well… remember, we’re in Japan, and we like to do things differently! Someone sitting in the higher reaches decided it’d be a good idea to bring the realism of those training to the next level. So they created costumes, modified cars and bikes with fake muffler and crazy decorations… The idea was probably to make fun of the bosozokus but it back fired as soon as the local media quickly found out about this masquerade. The police, who spend countless hours playing with public money became the laughingstock of the whole country. We sometimes thing some bosozokus retired because they could stop laughing…