A Day With The Bosozoku
Clashing With Society

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Bosozoku Style

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Oh, and of course the airhorns, most of which bellow out the theme song from The Godfather.

Hidden Meanings
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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.

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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.

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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.

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This may go some way to explaining the wolf-pack like mentality the bosozoku have. 

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But it also shows how people who once felt left out by society have formed unbreakable bonds with each other.

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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.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography

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41 comments

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1

Very nice article. I loved the history behind the Bosozoku. I also always love the motorcycle pics. Does Speedhunters have a writer/photographer that specializes in japanese bikes? The "UJM" era of Japanese motorcycles is awesome and many are used as the base for Cafe Racers today.

2

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. It really left an Impression on me so I guess I felt the need to go deeper . Also, I don't think so on the bike things, but perhaps from time to time can throw some in the mix o O?

3

Bracing myself for the judgemental, narrow minded comments. Not sure why people always seem to have a need to rationalise what they see by their standards. 99% of people seeing this just do not have the knowledge or existential experience to lay adequate judgement in this case, so I hope people can just appreciate what they see. Everything from their style to their car's style and their placement in society is of far off comprehension for most that I hope we can just appreciate their entertainment factor rather than saying retarded shit like go it's too low or the guards aren't fitted neatly. That really is missing the point. Just look, appreciate and don't speak for once haha let it be...it's ok

4
Mikko Kukkonen

Where are the "judgemental, narrow minded comments"?

5

Miracles do happen lol? I'm actually really happy that people found it so interesting ^^

6

Hahahaha I appreciate it. They say the antidote to ignorance is traveling and exploring out your bubble. If you haven't done it before, you gotta find something to nitpick about (which is ok too lol)

7

Interesting article, it was nice to learn a little about this niche!

8

Glad you thought so! I wanted to do something different than the usual program and hopefully people could enjoy / learn at the same time ^^

9
Garrett Palmer

The style is undeniably intriguing, and this is easily one of the most engaging articles I have read in recent memory. I was blind to the fact that they used the kanji in that manner and although it radically changes my mind about what exactly I thought the culture is, it only makes me more interested in it.

Author10

Thank you! It was really intriguing being there and trying to take it all in. I plan on diving deeper in the future and seeing if I can get more direct answers from some besides 'because it's Japan so its cool!'

11
Brooke Whiting

You like that photo of the Red bike with the yellow headlight twice as much as the rest of your photos?

12

Haha only sometimes ;) no I noticed that as well. I'll fix it later when I get back to my desk. Only supposed to be one

13

Haha - very cool coverage

Author14

thank you ^_^ glad you enjoyed it!

15

Very nice article Ron, I always liked Bosozoku cars. I didnt liked bikes with too many plastic. but now I see there are more "normal" bikes who looks like racing bikes from that period. I appreciate deeper look, its cool background.

16

Thank you ^^ I'm glad you enjoyed it! The cars and bikes are both pretty interesting to me (more of the cars) but the bikes tend to carry more meaning and history behind it. Probably easier access to buying bikes vs cars but that's just my guess

17

I don't, I kinda like these cars, though they're not for me. If done correctly, they look like superhero rides or things from speed racer. Or maybe what people from the 80's thought the future looked like...

18

Lol that's pretty much the idea. On both fronts tbh

19

That's a z10.

I didn't read anything else.

20

Great article! And, oh man! that Z31. And a 2+2, no less! :D

21

Appreciate it! And def was one of the few rolling around that day.

22

As one who owns and dailies an 87 2+2, it's always awesome and inspirational to see them on Speedhunters!

23

That X30 is pretty amazing.

24

I love reading about the cars, in typical fashion for this site but, this was honestly one of my favorite articles. Reading about the history and group behind the genre. Excellent article! Thanks for sharing!

-Alex

25

No problem Alex^^ I'm really glad you enjoyed it! It resonated with me in a special way so had to do things a little different on this one ^^

26

I remember when the Bosozoku-style was used by the young kids in an attempt to get noticed by the local Yakuza and be recruited. It's nice to see that style is being revered now as more of a cultural reflection. Great article!

27

Thank you! I think that connect is still there, but not nearly as much as it did back in the 80's / early 90s.

28
Tom Westmacott

Thanks Ron, I really appreciate this sort of article - rare to see someone take a balanced view of the Bosozoku like this.

One could see a connection between these working class, left-behind, nationalistic groups and, say, Trump and Brexit... maybe Japan is the future in more ways than we'd like to think?

29

Haha OOooh someone was catching on to where I was taking it ;) Well to a degree at least ^^

Yea, I brought my gf with me to the event (which she was visually nervous at first) but it was good because she could tell me the 'typical' Japanese thought process on it. That's when I noticed that everything was the Bosozoku fault and that felt odd and familiar to situations that I've had to encounter States side. So.. had to dig deep on this one!

30

I sure hope not as to that facet

31
Miles Hayler-MacMillan

Incredibly insightful article, really interesting hearing the background and culture around this.

Thanks Ron.

32

No problem! I'm really glad you enjoyed it ^^

33

These cars are pure art.

34

Excellent article. There are so many snippets of information on the Bosozoku scattered across the internet, it's great to see someone take a focused - and balanced - look at them.

35

Thank you! I could relate (not directly but closely) to them so to think that EVERYTHING is their fault is hard for me to believe. I'm still digging and hopefully I'll be able to share something new with everyone ^^

36

Another translation for bosozoku is speedtribe.

37

Thank you SO much for mentioning a thing about the misused war flags. Being a korean descent I always felt uncomfortable seeing JDM fanboys slapping these on their hondas while not even knowing what it really means

38

That was something that I found interesting during my research and asking people at the event.. I always knew about the flag but never knew how it effected other people tbh. Still researching for the next thing !

39

Great pictures! I didn't think anyone from Speedhunters would be at this event. I'm so glad I rented a car and took the day off to see this. Expected to be good but not this good, the sunburn was worth it!

40

Haha to be honest, I think my girlfriend spotted you. She told me about a 'foreigner' besides me being there haha. I bumped into JC of Work Wheels but she said it wasn't him. I'm assuming it was you lol ^^

41

That pink Wing Works Celica is in almost every bosozoku article on Speedhunters, it even had it's article before. I'd like to see it revisited with a proper shoot and article and not a parking lot shoot.

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