Of all the days I’ve spent hunting speed in Japan, this day will go down as one of the most unique, eye-opening and slightly uncomfortable.
Allow me to explain…
In Japan, the term bosozoku brings with it a mix of emotions that are usually geared towards anger and frustration.
According to the vast majority of Japanese people, the bosozoku are too loud; they are rebels against society and simply don’t belong; they are unintelligent and all drop-outs from school; they need to be controlled by the police.
Supposedly, it all stems from a bad upbringing. Parents teach their kids poorly, which leads them down the opposite path of conforming to social norms. Apparently, bosozoku always have family issues that stem from a lack of communication, and/or the lack of a father figure.
The term chuku is used to describe how on the outside the bosozoku seem full of mystery and stand for something. However, the further you dig, you discover that often times none of what I’ve just mentioned is true at all. Many bosozoku are in it because they just want to be.
On the other hand, how Japanese society judges the bosozoku is to a certain extent warranted. They ride around at all hours of the night letting their bikes scream their ear-piercing songs, waking everyone up. They also show little regard to rules; I have witnessed firsthand a group of bosozoku going at it with the police.
All of these thoughts were going through my head as I walked somewhat anxiously through the crowds assembled for the Fuji Kawaguchi Auto-Jamboree the other weekend. As an obvious outsider, right then and there I decided that this would not only be a hunt for speed, but a cultural hunt for a deeper understanding of the bosozoku.
The ’80s in Japan is widely remembered as the bubble period, when the country was experiencing vast amount of wealth. The key to getting a piece of that wealth was to study hard, get into a good college, and of course, land a good job straight afterwards. But what happened to those students who weren’t as astute as their fellow classmates?
They were simply ignored.
With the competition being somewhat cut-throat, it was easier for people to just forget about those who struggled than to spend time with them. Those students (normally in middle school) longing for attention began to rebel the way kids tend do when they feel left out.
Lonely and frustrated, many of these students were forced to give up on high school and go out an earn money for their family. Of course, it didn’t take long for the drop-outs to harbor ill feelings towards the upper elites and society, all the while needing a place to be able to show off, feel cool and share the experience with like-minded people. The bosozoku lifestyle was the perfect solution, and as a result it flourished greatly in the ’80s.
Their means of showing off and feeling cool translated into their motorcycles and cars in a variety of different styles. This event, which for 2017 celebrated its fourth anniversary, had at least one example of each.
Shakotan, which literally translates to ‘low car’, needs little explanation.
Of all the shakotan cars present, the best examples had to be this Toyota Cresta Super Lucent and X30 Chaser pairing. The owner of the Chaser told me that he much prefers the cleaner look compared to the more popular ‘works’ style.
Inspired by the production-based race cars that competed in Japan during the ’70s, works styling was easily the most popular at the event with many cars sporting huge fender flares and ultra-wide, small-diameter wheels.
Although many of the builds fell into the works category, including this Z20 Soarer, I find the style works best with models like the KPGC10 Skyline below.
That’s to be expected too; the KPGC10 was a racing homologation model, and its absolute dominance on the race track makes it one of the most respected and desirable models for this community.
On the subject of respect, there was a moment when Liberty Walk’s Kato-san rolled into the event in his works-inspired Mazda RX-3 and everyone came over to watch him park. Being a bosozoku meet, he made sure to give the 12A bridge-port engine a few big revs before shutting it down. Let’s just say I now know what Dino meant when he said it was loud!
Group 5 racing was defined as a special touring car category based on homologated production vehicles with the later years having cars equipped with radical ‘silhouette’ aero. These machine left a profound effect on many, hence this exaggerated street car styling.
Nothing stands out more, and is consequently seen as more iconic in the eyes of foreigners, than silhouette cars with their extended front splitters, massive wings, crazy exhaust tips, and other blended uses of work overfenders.
Oh, and of course the airhorns, most of which bellow out the theme song from The Godfather.
On the subject of foreigners, it would be wrong if I didn’t circle back to what it was that made me slightly uncomfortable at this event.
To many non-Japanese, bosozoku motorcycles with kanji writing all over them simply look artistic and cool.
However, once you start to read and understand the kanji, some slightly uncomfortable feelings start to set in. Many of the writings recall kamikaze division teams and Zero Fighter planes, and there’s an obvious use of the war flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.
Many bosozoku that I talked with seemed to have a very patriotic, almost nationalistic mindset, and they repeated to me over and over again how great Japan, its cars and culture is. To some of them, the only other time the country had such pride in itself was during WWII.
This may go some way to explaining the wolf-pack like mentality the bosozoku have.
But it also shows how people who once felt left out by society have formed unbreakable bonds with each other.
These were definitely some of the craziest people I have ever interacted with in Japan, but they were also some of the nicest people I’ve met here. Stay tuned for a few spotlights on some truly beautiful and unique builds.