January 29, 2024 | Kaddy Gibson

The Bizarre World Of Bosozoku Cars


The Bizarre World Of Bosozoku Cars

From the Lowriders of Southern California to the Raggare greasers in Sweden, the world is full of bizarre and unique car cultures.

But when it comes to custom mods and eye-catching decorations, the Bosozoku in Japan have got everyone beat.

Starting out as a gang of thrill-seeking, young bikers in the 1950s, Bosozoku has evolved into a fully-fledged subculture that’s making its mark on the world.

bosozoku

The Origins Of Bosozoku

Bosozoku was born during Japan’s post-war reconstruction era. As people rebuilt what was lost and industry picked up again, it seemed like the country was on the fast track to a bright future.

But nothing could be further from the truth for some ex-Kamikaze pilots.bosozokuKILLER.Group.in.CHIBA, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Kamikaze

Kamikaze were an elite unit of the Japanese army, made famous for their one, harrowing task: to die in the pursuit of victory. You see, kamikaze pilots would fly their specially designed, highly explosive planes into enemy Navy ships.

This form of attack was more accurate and damaging than traditional attacks, but victory came at a high price: Nearly 3,800 kamikaze perished during WWII.Kamikaze attackUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Searching For Excitement

The kamikaze pilots who had never been deployed, or worse yet, who had failed their mission, felt like outsiders when they returned home. Restless and unable to find their place in society, some of these young veterans started looking for an adrenaline rush.

And they found it in American greaser culture.Kamikaze pilotsUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

American Influence

Imported American movies were popular in post-war Japan and they introduced the restless young veterans to the greasers. Movies like The Wild One and Rebel Without A Cause, also gave them a taste of American biker culture.

Seeking to create a new identity, the veterans embraced the greaser lifestyle. And thus, Bosozoku was born. Bosozoku carWildSnap, Shutterstock

Bosozoku Style

The easiest way to describe Bosozoku style is as a combination of American chopper and British café racer aesthetics. Raised handlebars and oversized fairings are two popular modifications on Bosozoku motorcycles.Japanese bosozoku motorbikesSC36, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Colorful Canvas

Custom paint jobs are the most eye-catching aspect of Bosozoku bikes. Gas tanks and fenders are often painted in bold colors and designs. Flames are common designs, as is the "rising sun" imagery that speaks to the culture’s kamikaze origins.Bōsōzoku bikersWildSnap, Shutterstock

Different Strokes For Different Folks

The different styles of motorcycle modifications can denote one’s regional affiliation. For example, Bosozoku from Ibaraki are known for stacking three or four oversized fairings on their bikes, as well as colorful, flashing lights.Bosozoku bikeIan Pattinson, Flickr

Bosozoku Cars

In more recent years, Bosozoku style has entered the world of custom cars. While flashy Bosozoku paint jobs already pop out, the body kits for Bosozoku cars take this bizarre style to a whole new level.Bosozoku carsGolf-Photo, Shutterstock

Bosozoku Cars

Bosozoku cars are unique for their oversized bumpers that look like shelves protruding from the front of the car. They also feature custom exhaust systems with chrome pipes that can extend outward and even rise several feet above the car.Bosozoku carWildSnap, Shutterstock

Unique Mods

Bosozoku cars have also been influenced by unique aspects of Japanese car culture. Yanky cars, for example, originated in Osaka and are recognizable for their wide fenders and wings. VIP-style cars often feature over-exaggerated embellishments, like shiny chrome features on the interior and exterior of the car.Bosozoku car in OsakaWildSnap, Shutterstock

Bosozoku Style

True to its American greaser influence, pompadour haircuts are common among Bosozoku. Baggy pants, jumpsuits, and combat boots are also common elements in Bosozoku style.Japanese bosozoku peoplestormstill, Flickr

Their Uniform

The Bosozoku jumpsuits were called tokkō-fuku, meaning “special attack clothing”. They featured elaborate embroidery with logans and slogans that identified one’s biker group.

Tokkō-fuku were often worn open and showed the bandaged wrappings that many Bosozoku wore under the uniform.Bosozoku manKILLER.Group.in.CHIBA, CC BY-SA 4.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

Bosozoku Girls

Like their male counterparts, Bosozoku girls are easily identifiable by their fashion. Bright colors, customized schoolgirl uniforms, and leather jackets are all features of their style. Many Bosozoku girls also have tattoos and like to wear long nails.Bosozoku girlsSpace Pirate Queen, Flickr

The Early Days

In the early 1950s, brands like Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Honda made a name for themselves by manufacturing cheap, reliable motorcycles. That was a boon for the former kamikaze pilots, who banded together to ride around the country.

Because of all the noise from their bikes, these early Bosozoku were called Kaminari-zoku, which means “thunder tribes.”The bōsōzokuUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Open Acceptance

Kaminari-zoku began to pick up steam in the 1960s, attracting young Japanese who hadn’t fought in the war but craved excitement all the same. And it wasn’t just men who were joining the ranks.Kaminari-zokuBaba Minbu, Wikimedia Commons

Ladies Can Join, Too

The women who joined Bosozoku groups were just as rowdy as the men. Many of the girls had boyfriends who were already part of the groups, but they quickly proved that they belonged among the Bosozoku with their penchant for recklessness.Bōsōzoku-style customized motorcycleOcdp, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Setting Themselves Apart

Tattoos and hand signals became ways to identify different groups, and the motorcycles were customized with painted gas tanks, extravagant fairings, and big, bold exhaustive systems.

The Kaminari-zoku were turning into bona fide biker gangs—and the authorities were taking notice.

BouzoukuKILLER.Group.in.CHIBA, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Fighting With The Law

The reckless groups of young bikers got embroiled in riots with law enforcement, and in the 1970s, they were given a new name: Bosozoku. Bosozoku means “violent running tribe”, and as the bikers grew in popularity, the proved why that name was so apt.Bōsōzoku At KobeTokumeigakarinoaoshima, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

Cool Jacket, Dude

As more and more Bosozoku gangs popped up across Japan, biker jackets became important ways to identify the different groups. Embroidered with bold Japanese script, these jackets became important symbols and were given to members as they rose up the ranks.

The Bosozoku had made their place in the world—but what began as a bunch of restless outcasts had turned into a violent, lawless subculture.Bosozoku menFredrik Strömberg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Change In The Air

The 1990s saw a dark shift in Bosozoku culture. In gangs of up to 100 riders, they sped through the streets of Japan, blocking intersections, running toll booths, and disobeying the authorities.BosozokuAsawin Phunphairoj, Shutterstock

A Not-So-Happy New Year's

New Year’s Eve became a dangerous night to be out as the bikers would smash cars and even attack people who tried to speak out against their unruly behavior.

But things really got worse for the Bosozoku when they joined ranks with the infamous Yakuza.

Portrait of the yakuza boss Chogoro YamamotoUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

In Bad Company

The Bosozoku had already caught the attention of law enforcement and concerned citizens but the vitriol towards them only got worse when they started working with the Yakuza mobsters. Working with the Yakuza was a way for the lawless youngsters to make some quick cash, but their association with the infamous gang led to the Bosozoku’s downfall.popular yakuza hangoutKakidai, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Breaking Up The Gangs

With the authorities more determined than ever to lock them up, the Bosozoku gangs started riding in smaller groups to avoid suspicion and evade arrest. Stifling their loud nature made the Bosozoku far less exciting, which led to a steep decline in their numbers.bosozoku bikemekadon3xvtzr, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Is This The End? 

When Japanese law enforcement finally got more authority to arrest large groups of bikers, Bosozoku lost all appeal for prospective new members. By the early 2000s, it seemed like Bosozoku culture had died out—but it was about to experience a rebirth.BosozokuDmitry Natashin, Shutterstock

Reborn

Bosozoku had lost its lawless side, which put the spotlight back onto the creative aspect of the culture. It also saw the birth of the first Bosozoku cars.bosozoku carDmitry Natashin, Shutterstock

New Meaning

Bosozoku style has taken on new meaning. In Japan, the Bosozoku jumpsuit, tokkō-fuku, has become a fashion statement among admires of the subculture. Bosozoku fans wear them at concerts and sports events, and often embroider their tokkō-fuku with slogans that praise their favorite musicians and athletes.tokkō-fukuDick Thomas , CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Not So Fast 

When it comes to performance, Bosozoku cars are pretty useless. With so many wacky body modifications, these cars aren’t exactly the fastest on the road or the best at handling sharp turns. But they sure do look nice.BosozokuAsawin Phunphairoj, Shutterstock

Get Low

Once again taking inspiration from America, Bosozoku cars often feature lower suspensions. This was inspired by the lowriders of Southern California, but the Bosozoku take it to the extreme—some cars are so low, they can barely drive on certain terrains.BosozokuAsawin Phunphairoj, Shutterstock

Noise Makers

Like Bosozoku motorcycles, Bosozoku cars are loud. Custom exhausts and the addition of airhorns means you can often hear these cars heading toward you long before you ever actually see them.BosozokuSupreet, Pexels

Here To Stay

In recent years, Bosozoku has transcended borders and become more popular among American car enthusiasts. Bosozoku cars are now an exciting feature at car shows around the country, drawing in large, adoring crowds.

There have been many attempts to stifle Bosozoku culture, but it’s safe to say this is one subculture that isn’t fading away anytime soon.bosozoku carsValentin, Flickr


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