Rad Racer

Bosozoku – Japan’s Disappearing Rebels

You’d think Japan is a country where respecting others, obeying the rules and being well groomed are some of the main pillars on which society is built. However, a few decades ago, you wouldn’t be too far off if you described Japan as a place where speed and rebellion reigned supreme with wild biker gangs that rode together without care for life or limb. Meet Japan’s very own motorcycle gangs — the Bosozoku!

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In the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese teenagers took to the streets in gangs called Bosozoku. The tribes consisted mostly of working-class teenagers. In the beginning, the subculture was exclusively male, but by the 1980s the girlfriends of riders started joining the ranks — existing in conjunction with other burgeoning subcultures like the Japanese sukeban who also had unique aesthetics.

Japanese Bosozoku’s take the concept of a motorcycle-centric subculture to a whole new level. These guys rode on pimped-out Honda CB400Fs running obnoxiously loud straight pipes, tucked-in Shibori handlebars, switchblade headlights, Rocket-cowl fairings, tall Sandan pillion seat rests, and just about every mod that would give most bikers an instant migraine.

The Bōsōzoku style is a form of youth culture that began in the 1950s. It has developed into an independent style of dress with its own language, music and customs. The recognized uniform of Bōsōzoku is the tokkōfuku, a modified working clothes version of WWII kamikaze pilot uniforms embroidered with the specific Bōsōzoku group name on the back, nationalist phrases, and stitched on nationalist symbols like the Rising Sun flag. Other aspects of bōsōzoku styles include greaseresque hairstyles, dokajan (jumpers worn by construction workers), sentofuku (overalls originating from right-wing organizations), jimbei (summer clothes), flu masks (to prevent recognition by the police), group flags, lighters, and matchboxes. When driving, Bōsōzoku tend to avoid wearing any protective gear as it adds an extra thrill to the ride.

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Bōsōzoku were feared. And it was counterculture defined – a two-wheeled social reaction to the new wave of consumption sweeping Japan. But these wild designs and the rebellious philosophy found its way onto cars.

The idea is simple: to make a car that looks outrageous. Bosozoku is all about shocking and polarizing car fans, with many thinking the cars are too weird and many others loving the absurdity. The culture is still largely an underground one, no doubt due to the fact that a lot of the modifications on these cars are illegal. Those drivers who brave the possible fines and criminal charges to come out to car shows mean that the rest of the car community can wonder at these insane but brilliant builds.

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