Bosozoku (暴走族) is a biker gang style that emerged in the 1950s, and is active to this day. The style is well known for its unique leather biking gear embellished with symbols and Japanese characters, and for its connection to motorcycles, gangs, and sports cars.

Name[edit | edit source]

Bosozoku, can be translated to mean "motorcycle gang", but more closely means "violent run tribe". The name was given literally to describe the lifestyle associated with the fashion style. [1][2]

The first bosozoku were known as kaminari-zoku, or "thunder tribes". [3] Another name associated with this style is yanki, although not all yanki are bikers. [4]

History[edit | edit source]

Bosozoku first started appearing in the 1950s, known as thunder tribes. This early delinquent subculture consisted of kamikaze pilots who returned from World War II, looking for excitement and danger and inspired by Western movies such as Rebel Without a Cause.[5] Early bosozoku would wear casual blue-collar shirts and Hawaiian shirts prior to the popularity of the tokkō-fuku.

In the 1970s, tokkō-fuku became a more prominent part of the bosozoku style. The bikers, who were largely working class, would wear uniforms reminiscent of the military jackets popular with Japan's right-wingers. As such, many tokkō-fuku were influenced by right-wing culture and often had right-wing slogans. In the 1980s, tokkō-fuku remained relatively simple, featuring only the rider's gang name and personal motto. It was during this time that bosozoku membership was at its peak: in 1982, membership was just under 43,000 members.

During the 1990s, police began cracking down on bosozoku members. Youth began abandoning their bikes in favor of walking in order to avoid trouble. However, the signature tokkō-fuku remained, becoming even more of a key part of a bosozoku's identity during this era as there was less importance on the bikes. Thus, tokkō-fuku embroidery designs became more intricate and detailed.[6]

In 1997, a tailor was arrested for embroidering a tokkō-fuku, as the police stated they had aided misbehaving motorcyle gangs. This would be followed by more restricing laws in different part sof the country, including more serious law action against reckless driving by groups of bikers that was passed in 2004.

Because of these crackdowns and targeting, the popularity of bosozoku has fallen dramatically since the 1980s. Modern reports in 2017 state that the number of members has fallen to around 6,000.[7]

Although the number of bosozoku has lowered, tokkō-fuku are now more popular with ordinary people. For example, it is not uncommon to see idol fans wear tokkō-fuku embroidered with their favorite idol's name or face at live concerts.

Style Basics[edit | edit source]

The typical bosozoku style is centered around jumpsuits, known as tokkō-fuku, which are elaborately embroidered and resemble WWII kamikaze pilot uniforms, or the uniforms of manual laborers. The embroidery many include kanji army slogans, patriotic rising sun patches, ancient Chinese characters, or even manji. These jumpsuits are often worn open to reveal sarashi, or bandages wrapped around the torso, and are paired with baggy pants and military boots. Leather jackets and even full leather suits can replace the overcoat, but they are not quite as signature a look as the overcoat. These coats will also be embroidered. [1][3][5][7] 

Accessories often include hachimaki, or headbands with rebellious slogans, round sunglasses, surgical masks to protect the identity of the rider, dangling earrings, and tasuki sashes. Hairstyles prominently feature 1950s pompadour-like hairstyles, punch perms, and rockabilly inspired hairstyles. Hair is often bleached blonde as well, although not always.

In the beginning, bosozoku style and subculture were male-dominated. However, by the 1980s, women, mainly girlfriends of male riders, began to join. Today there are all female gangs, and mixed gender gangs, in addition to the stereotypical all-male riders. [8]

The female bosozoku style features long, dyed hair with excessive makeup. A common bosozoku girl will also wear high-heeled leather boots. Some modern girl gangs are also bringing long nails, pink colors, and other "girly" things to the fashion, while still keeping the core style the same.

Tattoos are common amongst both men and women in bosozoku gangs.

Lifestyle[edit | edit source]

Unlike other Japanese fashion styles that are centered mainly around the clothing, bosozoku style is very closely connected to its lifestyle, which takes on a few different forms.

One form is the group who are interested in racing cars and motorcycles. Specifically, in the modification of these vehicles. These bosozoku will modify their vehicles in various, often illegal, ways, such as custom motifs, colors, adding Japanese characters and banners, and removing the muffler for a louder sound. They may also be involved in rebellious behaviors, such as running red lights, not wearing helmets, or swerving through traffic. Generally, these people are also under the legal adult age in Japan, making these actions extra rebellious.

While these groups are almost always considered to be "gangs" due to their reckless behavior, there are some of these groups that take the term to a more serious level, engaging in violent gang activity. However, many practitioners are not a part of an actual violent gang. In fact, many nowadays are more counterculture rebels than violent, and simply enjoy the style and its association to fast cars and motorcycles, and its condoning of rebellious attitudes and actions. In fact, older bosozoku believe that modern groups are too soft, and condone their adoption of helmets and customizing scooters instead of actual motorcycles. [3][5][7]

Regardless of whether or not these gangs are violent, they have had a long time association with the Japanese Mafia, and those who wear the style and are involved in these gangs are often feared. This is especially made true by the fact that their clothing is so unique, and can be recognized from far away. Sometimes, there have even been legal actions against this fashion, as in 2002 in Osaka where a court ruled the bikers clothes to be seized because their outfits were said to have inspired fear in the local population. They are additionally chased by the police often on sight, and harassed as well. [1][7]

The bosozoku subculture is often linked to extreme right-wing nationalistic groups in Japan due to some aspects of their fashion choices, however, this is not an intracetly connected part of the style. [4][5]

Brands[edit | edit source]

Although there are no brands directly associated with bosozoku as each gang has their own symbols and slogans, there are some stores that specialize in embroidery for tokkō-fuku such as:

Gallery[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Bosozoku." Wikipedia. July 10, 2020. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C5%8Ds%C5%8Dzoku
  2. "What is bosozoku?" Bosozoku Style. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://www.bosozokustyle.com/what-is-bosozoku/
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Bosozoku Japanese Biker Gangs And Bosozoku Style" Mookychick. September 3, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://www.mookychick.co.uk/indie-fashion/japanese/bosozoku-japanese-biker-gangs-and-bosozoku-style.php
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Spacey. "Yanki: Young and Angry in Japan." Japan Talk. July 17, 2012. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/yanki
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Bosozoku." Grinnell College. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/bosozoku/
  6. Tomohiro Osaki. "Worn to be Wild: Tokkofuku combat uniforms" The Japan Times. Retrieved December 8, 2020 from https://features.japantimes.co.jp/tokkofuku/
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "The Rebellious Japanese Motorcycle Gangs Influencing Global Fashion." HIGHSNOBIETY. February 6, 2019. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/bosozoku-japanese-gangs-fashion/
  8. Lillian Radulova. "Tattoos and talons: Inside the world of Japan's Bosozoku gang girls where the women are just as bad ass as the men." Daily Mail. April 2, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2020 from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2594830/Japanese-Bosozoku-bikie-gang-girls-bad-ass-feminine.html
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