Bosozoku: The Craziest Autos in the World

The common image that people have of Japan is the image of an orderly society that adheres to strict social norms. On a broader sense this may be true, but throughout Japan’s history, there have been many groups that have actively fought against this image. One such group is the Bosozoku. The Bosozoku, which roughly translates to violent speed tribes in English, are motorcycle gangs. These youngsters are very different from the motorcycle groups known in western countries such as the United States. The idea behind the bosozoku can be traced back to the post-war American teenage rebellion phenomenon. This was the time of the greasers, street fighting, and bad attitudes. Typically the bosozoku consists of young members, aged 16-20. This was because in Japan the legal age to drive a scooter or motorcycle was 16 and driving a car was only legal at 21. This was a heavily youth-oriented group and did not contain adults like the bike groups of the US. These bosozoku members often had a romanticized view of themselves which has led to a subculture that was at one point extremely popular among the youths of Japan. This popularity was evident in the number of youngsters clamoring to join the various bosozoku groups across the nation. To fully understand the complexities of this group one must first start by looking at its history.

Bosozoku: The Group That Rides Customized Cars, Bikes, and Vans

The word bosozoku is typically applied to the extreme customization of motorcycles. These custom bikes often have their exhaust pipe removed in order to let the bikes roar through the streets. Asides from customizing their vehicles, these groups also had a history in causing public disturbance such as reckless driving, weaving through traffic, running red lights, speeding, and riding without a helmet. All of these are for the sake of adding thrill to their everyday lives.The birth of the bosozoku trend can be traced to the years following the second World War when Japanese society had many problems in dealing with their loss. Most of the young men of Japan had been sent off to war at that time, some of which were fully prepared to die as kamikaze pilots. This brought home numerous war veterans that had gotten accustomed to living under constant threat and could not readjust to the peaceful everyday life of Japan. Some of these individuals looked for ways to bring back more excitement to their everyday lives. These bike groups were often seen riding around various locations in Japan. They have given birth to a particular subculture that mixes crazy fashion and an equally crazy car styling. Though the trend of bosozoku groups has diminished through the years, the love for wildly customized cars has not.

The majority of bosozoku members use bikes, but the trend of flashy customization has reached in the other forms of vehicles as the design and over-customization of cars and vans have been influenced by this trend.

The Bosozoku Image: Rider’s Fashion and Iconic Jacket

These bosozoku members saw themselves as a roaming band of warriors that represent their individual crews. They took ideas from the samurai culture of the pre-Meiji Restoration era and merged it with the modern ideals of nationalism. This can be seen from their overt displays of national pride,  more specifically the use of the Japanese imperial flag. This image is often plastered on everything they use. Their bikes, helmets, patches and even their individual flags contain this imagery.  

The common image of a bosozoku member is seen in many different Japanese media. From films and tv shows to manga, the stereotypical bosozoku look is depicted as a Japanese youth wearing a jumpsuit, often used by manual laborers, and a military coat. They would often leave the coat unbuttoned with no shirt underneath. They would match this up with baggy pants that match the coat with the legs tucked in work boots.The military coat, called the Tokko-fuku, is the defining feature of the bosozoku fashion as it often features slogans, written in kanji, that is painted on the back. The Tokko-fuku can be translated to the Special Attack Uniform. This was the uniform that was worn by the kamikaze pilots, called the Tokko-tai, and was typically adorned with symbols of nationalism.

Other common elements of the bosozoku fashion would be the tasuki. The tasuki is a sash tied around the torso to form an X shape. This was done to recreate the look used by Japanese fighter pilots during the war. These members also feature the use of round sunglasses, headbands, and greaser hairstyles. Typical hairstyles of the bosozoku member would be the punch perm and the pompadour. Female members of these dressed in similar fashion, except that they often dyed their hair, wore high-heeled boots, and put on makeup.

The Essential Parts of Building a Bosozoku Vehicle: Long Nose, Exhaust, and Pipes

The real idea behind a bosozoku bike is to make it as flashy as can be. A typical base of a customized bosozoku bike would have to be the normal Japanese road bike. Due to its lower price point and availability of parts, this was perfect for low-income youths to mess around with. The designs of these bikes often took cues from American chopper bikes and British cafe racers. These featured raised handles and oversized fairings.

The point of these bikes was typically nationalistic and eye catching. The use of the rising sun image was the most prominent. Stickers and flags were also attached to the bikes as a way of showing which group they belonged to. The region also typically determined the way they customized a bike. An example of this would be that the members of bosozoku in Ibaraki were known to use extremely loud colors and design motifs. The Ibaraki bosozoku also had three or four large fairings and their motorcycles would be adorned with numerous lights.

The bosozoku style of customization was also taken in by car enthusiasts, through the usage of oversized body kits, loud paint jobs, and huge wings. Typical looks of the customized car are the long nose. The normal car used for customization would be the Nissan skyline or any Shakotan, the Japanese term for a lowered car. A popular trend with car customizers was to extend the front end of the car and give it a sharper or more angular look. Called a “long nose,” this customization gives the impression of a menacing automobile which would tear up the streets.

Different Bosozoku Styled Cars

One of the more familiar or popular customizations would be the Shakotan. As mentioned earlier, the term Shakotan is used to describe a lowered car. The Japanese street car and customization scene typically affix these lowered cars with eye-catching wings and exhaust tips. The difference between a typical lowered American muscle car and a Shakotan is that the Shakotan is lowered to the point of it being almost unusable. In the Japanese car scene, the lower the better. This is a milder version of bosozoku styled cars. A popular Japanese movie, called the Shakotan Boogie, prominently features this style. The most popular car in use for this style would be the Toyota Soarer Z10 as it was used in said movie.

Yankee cars were very popular in the 1970’s and 80’s as this subculture boomed in the Osaka area. These decades saw the rise in popularity of Aloha fashion which the wilder youths of Japan quickly adopted. It didn’t take long for this style to integrate itself into the car scene. A Yankee styled car is also prominently seen in the Shakotan Boogie movie which also promoted this style of car customization. This movie featured a bright yellow Nissan 240 S30Z with the words “Yanky Mate!” written in big white letters on the hood. Yanky styled cars are most known for the lowered chassis, wide fenders, wings, and exhaust tips. This style is also considered to be on the more modest side of the crazy Japanese customization trend.

The VIP style is one of the less popular car customization styles but is also one of the loudest. It can be described as a mix of Shakotan styling and blinged out rigs. The cars used in the VIP style of customization are usually luxury cars. These cars are filled in with as many novelties that can fit. These might include giant rims, speakers, wild chassis customization, and lights. Many consider the VIP style to be the more expensive and luxurious version of the bosozoku style. This is evident in how Japanese car customizers who use this style are known to use the newest models of luxury cars while bosozoku customizers typically use cars manufactured between the 1970’s to the 1990’s

The Kyusha style of car customization revolves around the use of classic and old Japanese cars. It is the most modest of car customization as it aims to bring out the restoration and modernization of classic Japanese autos. These cars might feature a lowered chassis, fender flares, and shiny rims.

The 70’s and 80’s was a great time for car customizers as it also brought about the Grachan, sometimes referred to as Garuchan, style. This stemmed from car enthusiasts meeting in the parking lot of the Fuji Speedway during the Grand Championships. Car customizers from all over would gather during this event where they would show off their newest creation. The Grachan style of customization would borrow the style of the race cars in the circuit. These might include big or wide fenders and racing stripes.

The bosozoku style is much different from those stated earlier as it can be described as the wild combination of all of them. It features a lowered chassis like the Shakotan, distinct body modifications like the Grachan, big and wide fender like the Yanky, and eye-catching exhausts as seen on motorbikes.

Where and When to Find these Crazy Cars

For the person looking to see these over stylized cars first-hand, Japan holds many events that draw in these crazy car customizers.

The Tokyo Auto Salon is the biggest and most popular auto show in Japan. It is held annually during the month of January. It is typically located in Makuhari Messe in the city of Chiba and is hosted by the Nippon Auto Parts Aftermarket Committee or NAPAC.  This is one of the most anticipated and highly regarded auto shows in the world. Just to give you an idea of how large this show is, the Tokyo Auto Salon 2013 brought in over 400 exhibitors, 800 vehicles, and 3600 booths selling car accessories. This event is one of the most visited by car enthusiasts around the world. Every big name in the industry will be present during the Tokyo Auto Salon. Car manufacturers, customizers, accessory producers, schools, and celebrities are all present here. Another popular feature of the Tokyo Auto Salon is the unprecedented number of car show models. These ladies tend to have a pretty strong following and will often have pictures with the fans.The Tokyo Auto Salon has been held for around 30 years. The specific date of the show varies year to year but it is always held during January. To ensure a good long vacation, foreigners looking to attend this event might want to visit Japan during the Month of December, should it start at the beginning of January, or extend their visit up to February, should the event be at the last week of January. Be warned that the attendance to this event is so large that it will be hard to march through the crowds to go and see the cars.

Another popular auto show held in Japan is the Motor Fan Fiesta. Even though it was only first held in 2016, the Motor Fan Fiesta brought in at least 20,000 visitors. The following year saw an even bigger crowd and crazier cars. The Motor Fan Fiesta is a one-day event that is held on the first day of Golden Week, a week long holiday that starts at the end of April and runs through the first week of May. As Golden Week is the biggest and the longest holiday that most Japanese people get, car show enthusiasts often find the Motor Fan Fiesta a great way to kick off their long needed vacation. This event is held at the Fuji International Speedway, which is a 90 km drive from Tokyo.

Other popular auto shows would be the Tokyo Motor Show, held during October or November, and the Osaka Auto Messe, held during February. The hotter months of June, July, August, and September typically do not have shows as the heat from the sun and the heat from the cars would be too much to handle for event goers.

All in all the bosozoku style has grown from a form of youthful rebellion to a wacky and eye-catching car subculture. The images that one sees online are not enough to capture the sheer craziness of the cars that the Japanese customizing scene has to offer.