Who would have thought there were retired kamikaze pilots, the guys who were conditioned to fly their planes into ships like weapons, founded the most notoriously dangerous biker gang Japan has ever seen. Soldiers who survived World War II returned home in search of a spark of adrenaline and disgruntled young bikers emerged and created what was first known as ‘Kaminari-Zoku’. or “Thunder-Tribe”. The term “Bosozoku”, which translates to “Violent Running Tribe”, originated in the 1970s when riots broke out and biker culture became more criminal. The gang was mostly made up of working-class teenagers.
The Bosozuko became infamous for its violence, reckless driving and ridiculously loud modified exhaust systems. They drove around brandishing wooden swords, baseball bats, steel pipes and the occasional molotov cocktail which was used against civilians as well as police. The gang had unique aesthetic clothing known as “Tokko-Fuku”, which roughly translates to “Special Attack Clothing”. This is a jumpsuit which is a modified version of the Kamikaze Pilots uniform workwear embroidered with the specific name of the Bosozuko gang on the back, custom slogans, Kanji and sewn on nationalist symbols like the flag of the rising sun. They had absurd hairstyles, wore military boots and avoided wearing protective gear for the added thrill.
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Their bikes were extreme with crazy high seats, raised handlebars, custom frames, colorful paint jobs and most importantly Shugo (a multi-tube header and single header pipe connected to a muffler) from which annoying and loud sounds were issued. Their cars have been customized to have the appearance of a low driver that is exaggerated to be as flashy as possible. These were fitted with spoilers, skirts, airfoils and comic flashing lights.
There’s one thing no one can ignore, the behemoth of a front splitter and 7-10 foot long ‘Takeyari’ exhaust pipes that made a statement to stand out that are anything but mundane. The sheer number of flamboyant customizations, ironically, doesn’t make their vehicles any faster – just adding the illusory appearance of speed. The band’s distinct aural presence and unmistakable visual flair are known throughout Japan as well as the world.
Compared to most delinquent gangs in Japan, they surprisingly had a high sense of morality followed by an upholding of traditional Japanese values. These values were modeled after the Bushido or “Way of the Samurai” followed by warriors in feudal times in Japan. The code contained eight fundamental virtues: rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. These virtues of honor and loyalty influenced the mentality of the culture as the members were incredibly dedicated to their gangs and were willing to do whatever it took to protect their dignity.
They were driving recklessly and deliberately obstructing the streets. After a few massive groups blocked traffic and caused riots in quiet neighborhoods, they had violent disagreements with rivals, carried weapons and ended up in the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia). Rivalries between different groups were bloody and common; if they weren’t careful enough, they would be kidnapped or jumped by rivals, beaten or killed, often having their Tokko-Fuku stolen. Members have also become involved in organized crime selling drugs, guns, and other similar goods for the Yakuza. These ventures often led to a whole new level of danger if they didn’t stick strictly to business.
The subculture was obviously not all about violence, as in times of peace they were often found skipping school, playing cards, smoking or drinking and often hanging out in parking lots or restaurants. . They often talked about their bikes or their cars during meetings. They also worked on their bikes or cars around the workshops to pass their free time.
While they dominated the streets of Japan with their large, massive groups of motorcycles and modified cars, Bosozuko has faded in recent years. Police crackdowns have drastically reduced the number of real gang members since peaking at 42,510 known members in 1982, but the crazy changes have endured. It is now an art in its own right to look different and ridiculous in the street.
With increased legal stakes, many members decided it was no longer worth the risk and ended up leaving the gang. These days, the Bosozuko are an endangered species of vehicle enthusiasts who exist in people’s memory rather than reality itself. And soon, the memories might be all that’s left of the Bosozuko gang.