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Japanese biker gang membership is at an all time low. Remember when these bosozoku sorts used to be instantly recognizable and intimidating with their leather-clad militaristic styles and wicked hair? Unfortunately all this has changed. Along with bosozoku membership being dangerously low, they aren’t even dressing as flashy as they used to. Being in a Japanese motorcycle gang just ain’t what it used to be.

But before we get into that, let’s explore what these bosozoku used to be so we can really see how far they’ve fallen. Bosozoku used to strike fear into neighborhoods, terrorize locals, and lead to yakuza membership. Today’s bosozoku pale in comparison. So what were bosozoku like in the beginning?

Bosozoku and Their Heyday

The first bosozoku started popping up in Japan in the 1950s when Japan’s automobile industry started to expand. These early hooligans were known as kaminari zoku or “thunder tribe.” Many of these kaminari zoku came from lower class families and joined up for many of the same reasons people in all countries join gangs. These reasons include dissatisfaction with the system, government, or just their place in society. These members joined up to feel like they were part of something bigger while at the same time sticking it to the man.

Bosozoku members are almost always under the legal age of 20, and their anti-establishment attitudes and lack of respect for authority set them apart from the normal teenager in Japan. Many dedicated members move on to become low ranking members of the yakuza after their 20th birthday or so because in Japan, you can do everything once you turn 20.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZvjfsBRY50′]

This video is from a documentary about bosozoku filmed a handful of years ago.

Reaching their peak in the 80s and 90s, the modern bosozoku were infamous for illegally modding their bikes, making noise, causing disturbances, driving recklessly, weaving in traffic, not wearing protective headwear, running red lights, speeding, and being a pain in Japan’s collective butt. They were also known to gather in the hundreds and drive slowly though suburbs, blocking traffic and waving imperial Japanese flags while creating an unbelievable uproar with their illegally modified mufflers.

Bosozoku members were also known for starting fights and terrorizing people with wooden swords, metal pipes, baseball bats, and even Molotov cocktails. They would vandalize cars and beat up anyone who got in their way. Foreigners were always a favorite target for their aggression. Clearly they were a force to be reckoned with.

Helmets!? What a bunch of babies!

However, membership of the bosozoku has fallen from an all time high of 42,510 in 1982 to an all time low of 9,064 in 2011. This was due in no small part to new laws being passed in 2004 which gave the police more power to arrest groups of reckless bikers. With more arrests and prosecutions being carried out, the bosozoku started becoming less brazen in their ways. As a result, membership fell and the members started to not be as extroverted as they once were. Some even started driving dinky little scooters instead of the heavily motorized motorbikes that became synonymous with the classic bosozoku image.

Bosozoku Bikes

Along with their flashy clothing, bosozoku are most well known for their extravagant motorcycles. Their typical ride would consist of a normal Japanese road bike combined with elements of an American chopper and a British café racer. These mods included oversized fairings (the shell over the frame), raised handlebars, large seat backs, and colorful paint jobs. These bikes are very unique and definitely have a style all their own.

Styles would also vary by region. Apart from gang symbols or logos on the bikes, some regional differences were marked by distinct modifications such as heavy use of lights or multiple oversized fairings. Regardless of the regional differences, when you saw a bosozoku bike, you knew it was a bosozoku bike. Most of the time you wouldn’t even have to see the thing to know it was bosozoku. Usually you’d hear these things long before you could see them. Those modded mufflers are loud.

The Traditional Bosozoku

Since bosozoku are so infamously well known in Japan, they are often featured in anime, movies, and TV shows. The stereotypical bosozoku are instantly recognizable with their jumpsuit uniforms or kanji adorned military jackets worn open with no shirt to show off their bandaged torsos. They would also wear baggy pants and tall boots to complete the look.

These uniforms became known as tokko-fuku or “special attack uniform” which was also the name given to kamikaze pilots during the war. To complete the look, the uniforms would be adorned with slogans, gang symbols, flags, and even manji. Leather outfits were also common. For accessories, they favored wrap around sunglasses, hachimaki headbands, surgical masks, and both pompadour and punch perm hairstlyes.

Female members, although less common, would dress in a similar manner. They were known to wear high heeled boots, excessive make-up, and have long, dyed hair. It also was not unusual for them to wear skirts and stockings instead of the more traditional baggy pants.

The Sad Decline of Bosozoku

Today’s bosozoku? Not as cool.

Like I mentioned before, bosozoku membership has reached an all time low since their peak in 1982. Along with newer, stricter regulations imposed by police officers, there are a number of other factors to be considered. These new threats to the bosozoku lifestyle have encouraged them to ride in smaller groups, ride scooters instead of motorcylces, and generally be more tame and less interesting annoying than ever before.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7mbC4iVsfE&feature=fvst’]

The new laws passed in 2004 make it easier for Japan’s police to arrest large groups of bikers all at once, and with the global economy in a recession, Japanese hooligans just don’t have as much extra cash to spend on bike mods as they used to. Spending lavish amounts of money on flashy clothes and motorcycle upgrades just isn’t as easy as it used to be. Therefore today’s bosozoku are much more likely to buy scooters instead of bikes, and just wear their everyday street clothes while riding. Some of them even wear helmets. So uncool.

It’s also been suggested that everyday distractions of the modern world also contribute to discouraging today’s youth from getting involved with the bosozoku. I mean, why spend all that time and money getting involved with a real gang risking arrest when you can just vent your angsty teenage feelings in games like Grand Theft Auto V and Yakuza 4? Much more efficient.

“Cheese it, it’s the fuzz!”

These days bosozoku are harder to identify than ever before. Long gone are the stylized and flashy looks I described to you above. Today’s bosozoku are much more likely just to dress like anyone else their age. This combined with a lack of members in general has made the presence of bosozoku much less noticeable in society. It’s also made Japan’s streets much quieter.

So basically, the bosozoku have gone from rambunctious, highly stylized hoodlums riding around on ridiculous motor machines to a much more tame and common looking group of lousy kids riding around on scooters. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rIguM71LQI&ob=av3e’]

And speaking of the fallen mighty, these guys are from the gang known as Black Shadow. They’re a bit older than the traditional bosozoku, and they like to pass the time dancing around in the park. Not very intimidating for a gang if you ask me.

So what do you think about this dying breed? Will bosozoku ever completely die out? Should their culture be preserved? Are they an interesting and important part of Japan’s society or are they a mere nuisance that deserves to be snuffed out? Let us know in the comments!

[Header Image Source]

Sites Referenced:
Bosozoku Wiki

  • Koichi’s secret twin

    The uploader has not made this video available in your country. Why??? 

  • John

    :(

  • robersora

    proxy tube might help.

  • Paladin341

    Hm, the Black Shadow gang at the end of the article reminded me of Grease.  With the leather jackets, distinguished hair styles, and dancing, you can’t help but see the similarities.

  • ZXNova

    Hmmm, The Bosozoku still don’t compare to your typical American biker gang. They have guns.

  • Hjguk

    I despise american bikers, but i think the bousozoku deserve to carry on, if they can.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607790802 Alex Napoli

    ゴッド・スピード・ユー!BLACK EMPEROR

  • John

    Bosozoku seem to be a junior version of the typical biker gang, especially since most all of their members are in the teens.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

     Godspeed You! BOSOZOKU

  • Pcfrisbee

    But Japanese bikers express themselves in more creative ways- just look at their outfits and bikes.  Sure the gun may win out over a bat.  But who has more balls, the guy with the gun, or a guy who goes into a fight with a bat, ready to take it on the head?

  • Pcfrisbee

    High school rules against bikes and scooters have also had an effect on bike gang culture in Japan.  Back in the day, alot of the bikers were high school students trying to enjoy their youth before they entered the work force and settled down (I’m pretty sure more bikers became hard working family men than yakuza).  But nowadays, at least from my experience, high schools have rules against students owning bikes, riding bikes and even obtaining liciences.  So in order to attend even the lowest level high schools, students kind of give up their right to bike.

    I think another factory is the popularity of western street/hip-hop culture.  Alot of young people want to dress in the US hip-hop style instead of the old-school Japanese yanki and bosozoku styles.  Though it seems those older yanki styles are currently experiencing a resergence in anime, movies and drama.

  • ಠ_ರೃ

     That depends; are we talking about before or after the body decomposes?

  • Juli

     I lived in a more rural city in Fukuoka Prefecture for a while, and every night around 10/10:30 you could hear those crazy loud mufflers.  And they are LOUD.  The Japanese girl I lived with was scared to death of them, but we never even so much as saw them.  Supposedly there was a strong Yakuza influence in this city as well.  Coincidence?  Maybe…

  • Nlk2104

    Kishidan will never let bosozoku die!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ib0i7UUhYY

  • taeko

    oh man, when I was little, their noise used to keep me awake at night.

    i was terrified.

    my best friend actually joined bosozoku, i didn’t hear from her since.

    true story. oh, well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MollyHouse Molly House

    Hah, I saw  these guys dancing outside Meiji Jingu. It’s 20% more awesome in person.

  • John

    I assume it’s 100% worth it as well.

  • Kira Minaki

     I hope they don’t die out but I also hope that their numbers won’t increase if they’re really such a nuisance to the community. I’ve always wanted to meet/see bosozoku dudes in real life ><

  • TripMasterMunky

    Thanks for the history lesson! I saw these guys dancing when I visited Harajuku. Really awesome to see, but I didn’t know the whole story behind them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any bikes.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/blaketarrantjones/ *bj*

    I’ve been (fortunate?) enough to ride with the Bosozoku, after a chance encounter last year in Tokyo.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/blaketarrantjones/5498227003/in/photostream/

    I rode with the guy in the middle, looking at the camera. Without a doubt one of the craziest experiences of my life…

  • TripMasterMunky

     I’m so jealous. That must’ve been awesome.

  • Marlow Where

    You forgot the meth. Guns and Meth. You want to go up against that?

  • Marlow Where

    Waving the Imperial flag, but sporting American greaser haircuts and regalia. Irony level: look at those fuckin hipsters!

  • John

    Haha wow, that’s really cool.

  • John

    lol

  • http://twitter.com/miezeljotschek miezeljotschek

    I wonder how they style their hair like that!

  • neuromantic

    that guy in the middle of the black shadow pic at the top has the most actually effective comb-over i’ve ever seen. also,

    KANEDA!

  • John

    Lots of product and blow drying, I’m sure.

  • FoxiBiri

    I’ve seen the Black Shadows dancing in Yoyogi park :D Another dream of mine came true that day :3

  • Tom

    In the first video, I love the Tony Tony Chopper bike!

  • Anonymouse

    Nooo! Not the gangsters!! It hursts my heart! Gangsters are culture too!

  • tttdtdddd

    iv become super interested in bosozoku in the past weeks and am very sad that they have become super lame.  i am hoping for a revival so i can become one of them..

  • SaraWyatt

    The poor modern bousouzoku in the pic look cold. :'( Their mommies should take better care of them! muhuhahahaha!

    btw, haven’t the yakuza gotten more tame as well? Maybe it’s the trickle-down effect.

  • Greasy Cuff

    You blatantly ripped off Wikipedia like somebody in middle school. The subject matter is aces though. :)

  • Greasy Cuff

    ..but they’re too fat and wheezy to even pull it out form their unkept stained waistband. Another old code that is now gone.  A shadow of the former self. Now just addicts like the rest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ironshounen Nauj Ibarra

    Well, I’m TRYING to spread the word here in my circle of friends but since we lack the kind of motorcycles they have, we’re moving it up to their sick kaido racers. Those uniforms are ridiculously expensive because of their embroidery though.

    But anyway, the same can be said for the yankii scene. I’ve always been a fan of these types. So much better than any other delinquents and gangs from other countries.

  • joe_wells32

    you are scum.

  • L_Mariachi

    Yeah, I assume these guys were inspiration for Akira?

  • Athene G

    Notice the girls in poodle skirts dancing off to the side. These guys are definitely copying the American greaser gangs of the 50’s. I have to admit, I fuckin’ love these guys. Ever since I first saw a picture of them in FRUiTS years ago, they’ve been my favorites.

  • Athene G

    This is a dream of mine too! :D

  • ultra_man_legends

    I like the dude with the long hair due In the picture at the top lookin’ at the other guy like: You forgot the cranberry sauce bro?

  • Scott

    Get rid of the bosozuku! They are low level thugs that enjoy terrorizing the peaceful people here. As the title of this post suggests, they are often VIOLENT and many end up as Yakuza. Why would you want to keep violent idiots around? Is getting your car vandalized, being very late for work because they blocked traffic, getting beat up because you tried to drive past their blockade… Is that all worth nostalgia? Nostalgia for what? Violence? These aholes don’t just ride around making loud noises while looking ‘fabulous’.

  • zzy

    What a bunch of nonsense. Juveniles who break the rules, how original. In America we have REAL biker gangs and real gansters and REAL crime. And it’s a REAL mess and it’s not cool or romantic or nothin….These Japanese punks and this writer should just grow up or come over here to L.A. and experience real violence and then they won’t feel that this phony crap (bosozoku) is very important.

    I’m Japanese American and just found a news article today about some biker gang crime in Japan and I was shocked–what a bunch of utter B.S. If those older bosozoku dudes would have run into the LAPD they would have gotten their asses kicked right into jail–the boyz in the hood would have shot them full of holes. People in L.A. would have never tolerated such idiots on the streets!

    What kind of country is Japan. I grew up in L.A., not in the nice part and you never saw crap like this. What a disappointment.

  • Julia

    @6f208bba2dc4043b71e88fb45ba446a5:disqus Hi *bj* ! For a documentary for a popular German TV program we are looking for people who have met Bosozokus. I’d like to here about your Bosozoku- Ride experience. Please contact me: noelker@storyhousepro.com

  • Cheka

    Oh my god… Its the asian version of johnny bravo (refering to the top picture)

  • Brandon Chai

    wow… black shadow… are shadows supposed to be in any other colour? such redundancy does not instill fear, but satisfying comic relief :D

  • Steven Olenicki

    We need more nuisances like this in society. Good for them for making their bikes theirs. I wasn’t a fan of old jap bikes until now.

  • ndcan

    Wow, you really do have a big inferiority complex, eh? You sound like one of those whiny Canadians that nobody likes.

    American bikers, the strongest of all, are what the bosozoku used as their inspiration… Without one you would not have the other.

  • johns

    “More creative ways”? Yup, sure, like COPYING American bike gangs of the 50s is so creative…jeez.

    The Hells Angels are about as creative as you get…seen any like that before they started?

    There is nothing up here in CANADA that creative..,we envy Americans and Japanese.

  • Mit Lewgad

    There is no doubt that this is what “bike clubs” were intended to be originally. Not necessarily dancing in the park but, a shared interest along with a love of bikes. Not all groups need be considered “gangs.”

  • zetahazel .

    Pretty lame that practically everything in this article was lifted from Wikipedia.