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Photo taken from Masayuki Yoshinaga's Bosozoku: Japanese Bikers

"Kimi wa funky monkey baby
odoke teru yo
dakedo koishī ore no kanojo.
Kimi wa
funky monkey baby
ika re teru yo
tanoshī kimi to ireba.
Aisareteru itsumo
satisfied
kimi ga inakerya
baby I’m blue, no, no, no, no, no, no, no..."
"Funky Monkey Baby", the 1973 Breakthrough Hit of Carol.note 
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Japanese Delinquents, but WITH BIKES!... Or at least that's what it may look at first glance.

The bōsōzoku (暴走族, lit. "running-out-of-control tribe") is a Japanese youth subculture associated with customized motorcycles. Their Distaff Counterpart is called ladies (レディース). On a wider scale, "bōsōzoku" is also the go-to term in Japan for any outlaw biker gang (i.e. Hells Angels count as bōsōzoku).

The bōsōzoku have distinctive features among the various subsets of Japanese Delinquents. The longest-standing media portrayal of Japanese delinquent is the yankii from the late '70s to early '90s, or the earlier '70s tsuppari, who typically belong to a very specific school setting; while the average bōsōzoku is more concerned with gang matters than with school issues, if they haven't already dropped out of it. However, due to their close average age, there was a noticeable trend exchange between the two subcultures.

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The iconic bōsōzoku image is that of a low-speed zig-zagging motorcade gang making lots of loud noise and threatening whoever comes around, whose members engage in criminal activities with their peers. The average bōsōzoku was a delinquent teenager, and it was common to retire shortly before or after the age of majority at twenty — at least before Japan's increasing average age problem. Some low-ranked yakuza found an easy target of their activities with them, giving them drugs and weapons in exchange for money funds (and an easy way to recruit people, if they needed somebody to do dirty jobs) — the most faithful of them becoming eventually official pawns. By the time of their downfall in the late '80s, alternate ways of juvenile delinquency, such as the more American-influenced color gangs (カラーギャング) and the trendy teamers (チーマー), made the bōsōzoku look rather old-fashioned and outdated.

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Their origin can be traced to The '60s' kaminari zoku (カミナリ族, lit. "thunder tribe"), close cousins of the Greasers and Rockers: youngsters who could afford motorcycles, subsequently removed their mufflers and rode them recklessly on roads. However, excluding their annoying noise, they weren't much of a concern to Japanese society... At least, before motorcycles became cheap enough for the average high schooler to buy in The '70s, thanks to Japan's fast economic growth — and among those teenagers, your average Delinquent, who was more concerned with causing ruckus than anything resembling proper racing.

The bōsōzoku started to get identified as such by police since 1972, when the cases of assault and blackmail by motorcyle-riding teenagers against civilians started to rise. In a short time, the number of gangs exponentially rose, and violent riotous fights between gangs equipped with knives, Molotov cocktails, wooden swords, square timbers or even nunchucks were increasingly frequent, to the point of becoming a national threat — it was at this time when the gangs started forming into coalitions to protect each other, and while the quantity of battles decreased, the number of participants in each skirmish was much higher (up to 600 in the biggest riots), thus the collateral damage higher. This proliferation of large-scale gangs had two direct consequences: the creation of strict anti-juvenile delinquency laws, and the foundation of hierarchical, almost militaristic structures within bōsōzoku gangs, both which would impact to the rapid downfall of the subculture in the late Eighties (ironically, in the latter case).

Naturally, the true bōsōzoku's defining trait is his close relation to a vehicle, save for notable exceptions. By far the most popular choice is a motorcycle, although cars are present to a lesser degree — ladies are commonly associated with unmodified scooters riddled with stickers. Vehicle customization is one of the main traits of the subculture, and since their modifications are mostly illegal, they're an easy target for fines and arrests. Inspirations for the motorcycle modifications include the Easy Rider-style American Choppers (which were incredibly expensive in Japan); the narrow, windshield-equipped bikes of the press riders (プレスライダー, TV/newspaper file couriers distinguishable through their employers' flag); and motorcycle championship racers. It's commonly thought that with every new generation of bōsōzoku riders, the inspirations started to muddle each other, making a unique hybrid of all of them with increasing flashiness. To recognize their bikes, expect to see at least one of the following features in a motorcycle:

  • Showy paint jobs and/or decals.
  • Customized exhaust pipes, namely by removing the mufflers to amplify the motorcycle's noise (aka 爆音マフラー / Bakuon muffler), or Devil-kan (デビル管, lit. "Devil tubes", named after French company Devil) bass amplifiers. Some bikes have ridiculously tall mufflers installed known as takeyari muffler (竹槍マフラー, lit. "bamboo spear muffler"), but they're more commonly seen on the buchiage variation or on cars.
  • Illegal modifications made to disobey traffic codes: foldable license plates, longer swingarms, whitened red tail lights, or switchable headlights.
  • Sandan seats (三段シート, lit. "three-stage seat"), tall backrests named after the three possible ways to use it: as a common motorcycle seat, as a laid-back seat, and as the seat for the backrider. Variants include the much shorter chobisan (チョビ三) and the wakaishi sandan (墓石三段, lit. "three-stage tombstone"), named after its square shape and commonly more angled than the usual sandan. The dorsal of the sandan can also be custom-painted to write or draw something.
  • Custom short and/or narrow handlebars, such as the shibori handle (絞りハンドル, lit. "squeezed handlebar") and the up handle (アップハンドル).
  • Oversized flags and banners, normally mounted to a flag rod (described below)
  • Custom tailfins, like the elongated and curved tsuppari tail (ツッパリテール, lit. "delinquent tail"), the twin-pointed ebi tail (エビテール, lit. "shrimp tail"), Autobahn tail (アウトバーンテール), or the Kawasaki Z750 "Z2" tail (Z2テール).
  • Custom frontal fairings, like the famous aerodynamic Rocket cowl (ロケットカウル), although some of them prefer to place them in extravagant non-aerodynamic positions. A less flashy alternative is to install a fabric windshield (布たれ風防): extravagant ways to install it include the front-leaning regent fūbō (リーゼント風防) or the back-laid shinkansen fubo (新幹線風防).
  • Customised front wheel, with accessories like flag rods (旗棒 / hata bō, more popular during the more nationalistic paraphernalia period), or other decorations like an aero shark (エアロシャーク) front wheel fairing.
  • Air horns. A particularly popular fanfare is the first twelve notes of the Love Theme from The Godfather.
  • Particularly flashy bōsōzoku aim to drive an exaggeratedly tall vehicle: this trend is known as buchiage (ブチ上げ), where parts as the sandan, rocket cowl, tail, takeyari mufflers and/or hata bō are made as tall as possible, along with an additional set of decorative lights.

That said, the lesser-common four-wheeled vehicles weren't exempt of gaudy customization: the most common features include a lowered shakotan profile (シャコタン, commonly known as a stanced car), lower tire size, bakuon mufflers, a long nose (protruding bonnets), a deppa (デッパ, protruding sharp chin spoilers), the ostentatious and elongated takeyari mufflers seen in all kinds of shapes, and/or overfenders. These customizations were probably influenced by the late '70s silhouette racing car competitons, like the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile's Group 5 racers (4th Generation, 1976-1982) and/or the Fuji Grand Champion Series ' Super Silhouette racers (1979-1984).

For a long time, their choice of costume was almost indistinguishable from the British Ton-Up Boys/Rockers in the '60s, or the American Greasers in the '70s. However, it wasn't until the early '80s, during the peak of their craze, that the bōsōzoku's highly pseudo-nationalistic Iconic Outfit (inspired after some uyoku dantai uniforms) was made widespread between the gangs. This costume usually consisted of jumpsuits or tokkō-fuku (longcoats named after the tokkōtai kamikaze pilots, and originally an honourable item worn only by the leader, especially for important gatherings), and sometimes a scarf/gauze mask to conceal their identity and/or hachimaki headbands, both the traditional festival type and the WWII-style hinomaru style. Other stereotypical clothing accessories may include the tasuki sash or jika-tabi boots. Their clothing was usually embroidered with slogans written in needlessly complicated kanji, whether vaguely patriotic or simply cool-sounding English catchphrases, plus all sorts of far-right imagery like the Emperor's Chrysanthemum Seal, Rising Sun flags or swastikas. Ladies gangs are usually portrayed in similar clothing, but with a penchant for high heels and open tokkō-fuku jackets showing their sarashi.

It's commonly thought that their use of far-right paraphernalia was appropriated purely for shock value, although an alleged alternative reason is to justify that their gatherings were a form of political expression, in the case of being caught by police. Of course, the uyoku dantai, who were legitimate ultranationalist far-right groups, tried to take profit of this to recruit new members to their organizations, to mixed success. Since the '90s, the pseudo-nationalistic look has been usually heavily toned down to be less conspicuous, if not outright abandoned.

A particularly ironic offshoot is that of the toho bōsōzoku ("Walking bōsōzoku") from northernmost Japan, who can't take their motorcycles in frozen highways and keep making the same rowdy behavior, but on-foot. They've also been seen making noises in festivals and other places which don't let vehicles in. Some of them are simply amateur gangs who could buy bōsōzoku clothes but can't afford a vehicle yet. Another similar phenomenon is that of preadolescent kids who modify their bicycles with typical bōsōzoku modifications — even those have received small fines, probably to warn them of their idols' wrong behavior.

Rock & Roll was an important inspiration for Japan's rebellious youth in the '70s, and became a staple of bōsōzoku and yankii culture: once thought as old-fashioned during the '60s, Japanese bands like Carol, Cools or Yokohama Ginbae made rock, leather jackets, and pompadours popular again overnight. However, some rising rock superstars, like Carol's Eikichi Yazawa, took the decision to alienate a big part of their audience and ban any bōsōzoku from their audience to stop possible fights and other turmoil.

Japanese police technically classifies the bōsōzoku into two subsets: the kyōdō kiken (associative hazard), and the ihō kyōsō (illegal racing) types. The former subset is the well-known gang type; the latter is the more obscure offshoot of the kaminari zoku dedicated to street racing. These racers are more known as the hashiriya, and don't like to be associated with the standard kyōdō kiken-type bōsōzoku, because their profile is much more discreet than their cousins, since they're on the average more likely to be individualistic, and their vehicle modifications tend to be purely functional. Unlike the kyōdō kiken-type bōsōzoku, the number of hashiriya bikers has managed to stay afloat, peaking in the 10s — in fact, since their downfall in the '90s, the former kyōdō kiken-type bōsōzoku have borrowed traits from the hashiriya, such as being grouped on small individualistic and easily dispersible gangs, or having a bigger emphasis on racing.

The bōsōzoku didn't become a staple of Japanese popular culture until somewhere between the late '70s and early '80s, during their real-life peak. The media form where they were most popular was in manga, where the bōsōzoku genre was a brief but highly productive genre (along with its close cousin, the yankii genre), and probably gave them a reasonable boost of romanticization. In contrast, other media were less friendly: television mostly used them for cheap sensationalism (or the butt of the jokes in variety shows), their controversy made them taboo for contemporary anime other than inspiration for generic villains (at least until the OVA boom), the nascent Video Game medium was more concerned with fantastical and/or Hollywood-influenced settings, and films made by big studios were for a long time out-of-touch with contemporary trends, preferring to use western exploitation films like The Wild Angels for inspiration.

Nowadays, their longest-lasting legacy in Japanese media is being a shorthand of a Retired Badass, seen whenever a middle-aged character is revealed to be a former bōsōzoku / ladies. This is especially useful for female characters, who rarely have any chance of being associated in a movement wholly composed of tough girls.

Since The '90s, their membership has been rapidly declining, with most of the biggest gangs being already disbanded — a 2019 police report estimates 150 groups, in comparison to their 1981 peak of 835 groups. Some of the most noticeable reasons of their fall are a series of increasingly harsh police penalties, Japan's population ageing and declining birthrate, motorcycle enthusiasts being more interested in the hashiriya subculture, increasingly expensive vehicle and gasoline prices, the shift to eco-friendly vehicles, and an increasing disinterest of vehicle purchases in younger generations worldwide.

However, the bōsōzoku aesthetic is getting a revival through the kyūshakai, clubs composed of former bōsōzoku, young people who appreciate their style, and adults who didn't get to experience them in their heyday. Unlike their inspiration, though, they steer clear of any violent act or hierarchical organization, and drive vehicle parades on their free time such as weekends. However, they're still driving vehicles with illegal modifications, so they're closely monitored by the police (who usually receive complaints of their noise), in case one of them wants to emulate their inspiration further and drive recklessly on their own.


Bōsōzoku / Ladies in popular media:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA features two futuristic bōsōzoku gangs making all sorts of mayhem, especially in the earliest parts of the manga and anime. Both the main character and villain are bikers.
  • Bad Boys was a long-running manga about the heir of a rich family, who decides to rebel from his family and turns into the leader of a bōsōzoku gang. The manga was adapted into five OVA, a 2013 TV Drama and two live-action films. The manga itself got a sequel named Bad Boys Glare, a prequel named Megami no Oni and the non-bōsōzoku spin-off Bakugyaku Familia.
  • Bakuon Rettou is an Coming-of-Age Story inspired on the author's youth in the Zero gang. It was successful enough to be published again in a monthly magazine three years after it ended.
  • In Dead Man Calling by Junji Ito, three members of a family of five are brutally murdered in a random attack by the bōsōzoku. The murderers are sentenced, but the two surviving siblings are driven mad by the gang leader's insistence they forgive him, which he first communicates by letter, then as an apparition through Astral Projection. Only the leader's execution for his crimes stops his incessant apologies, allowing the family to finally move on.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka's eponymous character was a leader of a bōsōzoku gang. GTO itself is a sequel to the more yankii / bōsōzoku-centered Shonan Jun'ai Gumi! .
  • Shakotan Boogie, penned by the same author of Wangan Midnight, had the two protagonists Hajime and Koji being involved in such activities, with their iconic Cool Car Toyota Soarer being customized as a shakotan.
  • Shonan Bakusouzoku is probably the most popular bōsōzoku comic franchise, and one of the pioneers of the delinquent manga boom. It spawned twelve OVA, a 1987 live-action film, and five Direct to Video films. The author also did the popular Spiritual Successor Arakure KNIGHT, which itself spawned two OVA and six Direct to Video films.
  • Yankī Reppū-tai is another highly famous bōsōzoku manga, adapted into a 1995 live-action film and six OVA. The author also did the succesful Distaff Counterpart Ladies, who was adapted into four live-action films starring popular idols from the '90s.
  • Yū Furusawa is a manga author whose majority of works are based on bōsōzoku. Many of his works have been adapted into OVA (Taiman Blues, Tokkōfuku kyōhashi kyoku) or direct-to-video movies (Marusō kaizō jidōsha kyōshūjo, Tokkō kaishain, Zokugīn).
  • Saki from Zombie Land Saga was a high-ranking member of Dorami, a ladies gang from Saga prefecture in The '90s, in life. She ends up sorting out some family tension between her old captain Reiko and Reiko's daughter Maria, who wants to keep the gang going.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Black Rain features an American interpretation of the bōsōzoku. In the movie's case, the Big Bad is the one who leads the gang, and he's shown to be a highly ambitious and dangerous Yakuza.
  • Crazy Thunder Road is a cult 1980 film heavily inspired by Mad Max, about a biker gang with internal struggles, and in tune with contemporary bōsōzoku trends, the group's increasing division brought on by the shift to organized right-wing tendencies. It's also well-known in japanese cinema circles for being the 22-year-old director's graduation project.
  • Toei Company's long-running Furyō Banchō ("Delinquent boss") film series was Japan's answer to The Wild One or The Wild Angels, who usually star anti-heroic outlaw bikers fighting against Yakuza organizations. The films can be seen as predecessors and/or influences to the still-developing japanese delinquent culture, whether tsuppari or bōsōzoku, and similar explotation films such as Toei's own Onna Banchō series. In the '70s, the Spiritual Successor film Bakuhatsu! Boso yugi ("Detonation! Violent Riders") movie sparked a new film series, this time inspired by the real-life social phenomenon.
  • God Speed You! Black Emperor is the most famous documentary on the bōsōzoku, which follows a group of teenage members of the Shinjuku "Black Emperor" gang. Its fame between a real-life bōsōzoku audience made it a minor hit. Nowadays its biggest claim to fame is being the source of the eponymous post-rock band's name.
  • 1978's Kawajan hankō-zoku (lit. "Leather jacket rebel tribe", aka "The Young Animals") can be seen as Toei Company's answer to Saturday Night Fever, featuring bikers and disco dance floors.
  • Message from Space stars two bōsōzoku FROM SPACE!... Who, despite what their role may suggest, pilot standard space fighters.
  • Karl Taro Greenfeld's Speed Tribes is all about interviews with young Japanese people from the very early nineties and their subcultures. The chapter that involves the bōsōzoku is specially famous.
  • Katana's new design from Suicide Squad (2016) has a mishmash of bōsōzoku traits, like a heavy use of Chrysantemums, kanji lettering and a tasuki sash. However, the rest of the costume seems to have been more inspired by modern Biker Babe clothing.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • The Japanese performance art musicians / novelty instrument makers Maywa Denki (best known overseas for developing the memetic Otamatone) made in 1998 the Takedamaru, a hybrid between a saxophone and an airhorn-filled motorcycle in the vein of the bōsōzoku. In fact, in some live interpretations they perform a Suspiciously Similar Song to a famous tune typically used by bōsōzoku.
  • In one of his performance as Japanese Delinquent, lead singer Daishi from Psycho le Cému posed as a bosozoku in the music video of "Yume Kazaguruma." Being the whole video an exaggeration of classic Japanese stereotypes, Daishi poses as a bad guy, then appearing in a kid tricycle tunned as a bosozoku bike.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Yasha Kurenai (real name Rumi Yasuda), who was one of the main stars of joshi promotion Universal Wrestling Federation LLPW, wrestled under a ladies gimmick. She's considered one of the pioneers of larger-than-life personas in joshi wrestling.

    Video Games 
  • Japanese Delinquent Goh Kidokoro's stage in Aggressors of Dark Kombat takes place in a standard bosozoku-filled backlot cheering the ensuing fight.
  • The TurboGrafx-16 game Ane-san is a Beat 'em Up composed of an all-female cast made up of ladies gang fights. It's considered in its homeland as a bakage for its weird art direction and minigames, such as the scary face contest, the chicken racing game, the room decoration feature, or the intermission poems. It's also commonly thought to have been made as a Distaff Counterpart of the Cho Aniki series, even sharing the same composer.
  • Ren Idagawa from Big Bang Beat is the head of the largest bōsōzoku gang in Kanto, the Gokuren. He has a penchant for throwing dangerous objects and attacking with a wooden katana.
  • One of Final Fight 2's three playable characters is Maki, a ninjutsu user who was the former leader of a ladies gang. She's the only character from the sequel who made appearances in further games, appearing in Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium — character designer Akira Yasuda emphasized to other illustrators that Maki should be heavily inspired by ladies aesthetic.
  • The arcade proto-Fighting Game Kageki features a boxer fighting against a bōsōzoku gang one-on-one, after his brother was assaulted by the gang because he refused to join them.
  • Kenka Banchō 2 stars a yankii who can choose to fight against a bōsōzoku alliance or join them. Unlike the rest of the series, the game features lots of motorcycle-related features to allow for it.
  • The King of Fighters's main character, Kyo Kusanagi, was originally designed as a bōsōzoku called Syo Kirishima, who seems somewhat influenced by Kaneda from AKIRA, even sharing the same voice actor. He appears as a Assist Character in The King of Fighters '99 Evolution and The King of Fighters 2000 .
    • The Kagura sisters from the same series have also a penchant for vehicles, especially motorcycles. Extra material describes Chizuru doing chicken races on wharves against bōsōzoku.
  • Some of the Kunio-kun series' games feature bōsōzoku enemies. Most of them are the Darker and Edgier entries, such as the first game, Shodai Nekketsu Koha Kuniokun, Kunio-tachi no Banka and Tokyo Rumble, but some lighter entries such as Soccer Hen and the mobile port of Nekketsu Kakutō Densetsu feature them. It helps that series creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto was a former yankii and bōsōzoku.
  • The chapter set 20 Minutes into the Future in the video game Live A Live features the Crusaders, a classic example of an evil riotous biker gang. Matsu, their former leader, is a recruitable party member.
  • One of the bosses from No More Heroes 2 is Ryuji, whose standing trait is his bōsōzoku attire. He's treated as the main character's biggest Worthy Opponent, and his Undignified Death serves as the start of the main character's Jerkass Realization.
  • Zaki from Project Justice is the former leader of a ladies gang.
  • The villains of Road Blaster (set in America) are a highly organized biker gang who've been terrorizing the population. To apprehend them, the police has developed a task force and specialized cars to beat them. The bōsōzoku gang and the whole game is closely modelled after the first two Mad Max films and derivatives such as Fist of the North Star, who where immensely popular in Japan.
  • Date Masamune and his clan from the Anime adaptation of Sengoku Basara take a number of bōsōzoku / yankii stereotypes — most notably, Masamune's horse is outfitted with anachronistic handlebars and tailpipes.
  • Shissō, yankī damashī. (疾走、ヤンキー魂。) is a yankii / bōsōzoku MMORPG franchise. The original installment was a short-lived online game which barely lasted a year, mostly for server issues. The second version of the game, with new 3D graphics, also roughly lasted for a year and a half, mostly caused for developer Sync Arts' bankruptcy. The third and last version, made by Square Enix, was developed for mobile phones and lasted slightly longer than the previous installments, and had a crossover with Racing Lagoon.
  • PlayStation 2's low-priced Zoku-sha King series (Sometimes translated as Maxxed Out Racing) is a bosozoku racing game franchise. Most of them deal with four-wheeled vehicles, although one of them (Kyousou! Tansha King, translated as Motorbike King) is about motorcycles. Notably, they were supervised by notable real-life bosozoku magazine Champ Road.

    Western Animation 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) features the "Dragon Chopper" as one of the Foot Clan's vehicles. Its pseudo-Japanese decoration, tall mufflers, high seat and flag are reminiscent of some of the average bōsōzoku bike customizations, although its concept art makes the comparison even more obvious.
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