Bosozoku: discovering Japanese biker gangs between manga and reality

Bosozoku: discovering Japanese biker gangs between manga and reality


Before introducing the bōsōzoku, let's start from the fact that Japanese culture has always exerted a great fascination on the West, thanks to its particularities that make it so different and unique compared to ours. Already at the end of the 19th century, when the eastern archipelago opened its ports to other countries, the European states experienced a period of falling in love with everything that came from the country of the Rising Sun, so much so that the term " japonisme " spread to indicate in particular the Japanese influence on European artistic movements. This love for the Japanese country has been reborn for several decades now: modern pop culture made up of anime, manga and video games has begun a new invasion of Western countries, also greatly influencing the creativity of the new generations in various fields, including that of comics .

Some aspects of Japanese daily life seen in the works that have come to us have now become familiar, such as the life and structure of Japanese schools, one of the most used (and abused) settings in manga and anime. Of course, there is always a distinction between reality and fiction, you won't find middle school boys who break through the nets with a ball or girls capable of transforming themselves into wizards on the streets of Japan, yet there are some characters who have now become archetypes, actually derivatives from the Japanese reality.

For example, the classic hooligan described by manga and anime, with hair that defies the laws of physics and very flashy clothing, however exaggerated, finds a counterpart in reality. A famous anime, Tokyo Revengers, recently arrived at the second season, has brought this figure back into fashion. One of the main themes of this series is precisely the fight between gangs of young motorcyclists and thugs and actually, as exaggerated as this may seem, it refers to a figure who is now increasingly endangered in present-day Japan, but who among the 70s and 90s was very popular: that of the bōsōzoku, i.e. the young rebellious motorcyclists.

The history of the bōsōzoku

The cultural impact of motorcycle gangs in Japan has been much more profound than one might think. In a particularly rigid society, which implicitly requires respecting impeccable etiquette when in public, on pain of ostracism, these gangs represented a bit of an outlet for those young people who were unable to integrate properly. The phenomenon saw its beginnings in the 1950s, when Japan, having emerged in ruins from the Second World War both materially and spiritually, was intent on rebuilding itself under the leadership of America and was also looking for a new identity for its people. , which has always been anchored to ancient values.

Many young people, especially ex soldiers, unable to adapt to the new lifestyles that were emerging in society and still feeling tied to now obsolete values, sought a thrill in racing on two wheels. Other boys also joined them, influenced by American films such as Rebel Youth, and thus the first bands called "Kaminarizoku" (thunder tribe) were born, characterized by a style that was very reminiscent of American greasers.

Always more young people marginalized by society joined these gangs and the real boom came in the 70s, a period in which many biker gangs were formed and the term bōsōzoku (tribe of unbridled speed) was used for the first time, coined by average; at the time, clashes between these gangs and the police were frequent. However, the phenomenon experienced its maximum splendor in the 1980s, when it was not uncommon to see a hundred motorcyclists on glitzy motorcycles darting at full speed on the highways, in a parade that was as fascinating as it was dangerous. In 1982, there were over 40,000 members of over 700 gangs scattered throughout Japan. It was precisely in those years that female gangs were also born, who often joined their male counterparts during long motorcycle parades.

The phenomenon began to decline already in the 90s, when, with the explosion of the Japanese economic bubble, it became very difficult for young people to be able to bear the costs for the modifications and maintenance of a motorcycle, but the real coup de grace came in 2004, when laws were promulgated that made the life of the bōsōzoku really hard, so much so that the police could arrest them just because they identified them as such. According to the latest estimates, in 2017 the members belonging to these gangs were around 6000; in the meantime, groups of motorcycle enthusiasts have sprung up who are once again taking up the bōsōzoku's passion for two wheels, but in compliance with the law.

Considered criminals by society, the bōsōzoku instead saw themselves as rebels who embodied certain values ​​of the Bushido. Although theirs was a rebellion against the society in which they lived, within the gangs there were still strict ranks to follow and a strong discipline, as well as a great sense of respect for one's superiors and loyalty to one's group. Among their rules, many gangs had a ban on the use of violence against ordinary civilians and those who did not comply were banned from the group. However, the strong sense of honor has also caused several gang wars over the years, sometimes so violent as to lead to the death of some of the members involved. Many members of these gangs ended up joining the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime, even if it wasn't as natural a path as one might think. Indeed, the figure of these "warriors on two wheels" has entered the Japanese common imagination often with a more positive than negative connotation.

The figure of the rebel anti-hero in modern Japanese culture

Despite the stigma of society, over time these two-wheeled rebels have been almost mythicized, so much so that they have become the protagonists of many works, including manga, anime and films, often with characters with a positive role. The characteristics that made them modern anti-heroes are to be found in their moral integrity and in the profound principles that animate them, despite the rebellious spirit towards society. Indeed, their unconventionality highlights the evils of society, often hidden by traditional culture. There are also many stories of good deeds performed by some bōsōzoku towards ordinary citizens, which has contributed to their positive reception in popular culture.

Probably, however, what makes them such beloved characters, above all, it is their love of freedom, a freedom that allows them to always be true to themselves, without having to bow their heads or wear a mask when they are among others, a luxury that few in Japanese society can afford. In Japanese manga and anime there are many figures who embody this archetype of the anti-hero and, in addition to the bōsōzoku , we also find the figure of the yankii , i.e. the classic thug present in every school, and that of the honorable yakuza , all characters in reality very similar to each other, united, positively, by the spirit that animates them.

Red, flaming, futuristic, recognizable everywhere: Akira's motorbike has become a real cyberpunk icon Among the most famous is Akira , whose protagonist is Kaneda, leader of a motorcycle gang in a Tokyo destroyed by the third world war. Katsuhiro Otomo, the author of the film (and also of the manga from which this was taken), was inspired precisely by the bōsōzoku, which in the 80s, when the film debuted, were experiencing their moment of maximum splendor. In the film these perfectly represent the anger of young people disappointed by a society that fails to understand them; the most negative figures in the film are, instead, the adults, precisely those who should represent the institutions and whose task should be to create a better future for the following generations.

The examples of works dedicated to these figures of modern anti-heroes are very many, so much so that in Japan they have become a separate sub-genre, especially in the world of manga. The comics dedicated to the adventures of bōsōzoku gangs and thugs are numerous and the most representative names of this category are Crows and Worst , two manga created by Hiroshi Takahashi. Crows has also received three film adaptations, which also arrived in Italy. Let's not forget Shonan Junai Gumi , the prequel to the more famous GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka , which tells of when Onizuka, in his high school years, was part of a motorcycle gang and fought alongside his best friend Ryuji against rival gangs. Onizuka then maintained his rebellious character, even once he became a professor in GTO and in the comic sequels, a feature that made him an enormously popular character.

Recently it was the Tokyo Revengers anime that rekindled the spotlight on the figure of the bōsōzoku, thanks to the success, in 2021, of its first season, which then also pushed the manga from which it is based, so as to make it one of the three best-selling comics in Japan in recent years, with over 70 million of copies distributed worldwide. In Italy, the comic is published by J-Pop and here too it has been in the best-selling manga charts in bookstores for a long time. Recently, a live action film dedicated to the series was also released in Japan.

Powered by Blogger.