The Rise and Demise of the Outlandish Custom Motorcycles - Reminiscing the Glory Days of the Bosozoku
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From the car tuning of Akira Nakai to the custom motorbike buildings of Hideya Togashi, it's safe to say that Japan today has a rich culture in vehicle modification. However, most nowadays aren’t aware of the demographics of the bike customization scene back in the 20th century, a golden era for bike modification, when the Bosozoku ruled the streets with their flashy, over-the-top, style-oriented Kaizosha (custom vehicles). Today, we rewind it back to the 80s and 90s and celebrate the excellence of the Bosozoku vehicles.
A distinctive difference between the Bosozoku and any other form of gang in Japan is their love for their vehicles. The Bosozoku first saw light in post-war Japan, similar to the Taiyo Zoku and other Japanese subcultures at the time, they emerged due to the drastic change in social demographics after World War II. Originally composed of retired soldiers, as time went on working class teenagers started taking over the community, and by the end of the century we even see female Bosozoku leading the bike scene.
As for why bikes rather than any other vehicles, there is no exact reason but while some believe that the demise of the car industry during the start of Japan’s postwar period may have amounted to people’s interest in alternative vehicles, others claim that the wild nature of a motorbike just fits the spirit of rebels perfect. One activity that the Bosozoku are best known for is their notorious parades on the roads of Japan. The rebels will speed through the streets in a dangerous fashion, disturbing the traffic and terrifying the public with not only their terribly risky riding styles but also their weapons that include wooden bats, steel pipes, and more. Other than the parades, the Bosozoku also engaged in violent gang battles, which often resulted in considerable facilities, and made them a thorn in the Japanese government's side.
Zokusha, also known as gang motorcycles, are customized vehicles adorned by the Bosozoku. The motorcycles’ trademark features include the three-stage seats, rocket cowls, piyo-piyo visors, and other exterior customizations, as well as straight pipe mufflers and other exterior and sound flamboyant features. These customization, in contrast to professional racer car customization today, does not necessarily aim for performance. Instead, most modifications we see on a Zokusha are purely for the purpose of showing off and looking flashy.
Some of the most popular base models for modification among the Bosozoku are, to name a few, the Honda CBX400F, 400cc Kawasaki ZEPHYR400, and Yamaha XJ400. It is said that a standard modification which features the three-stage seats, bent-back handlers, and pipe mufflers costs anywhere between 2500 - 3000 dollars today. If anyone is thinking of getting a second hand Zokusha, you can find the steals on all sorts of Japanese online shopping platforms. For instance, this Yamaha XJR400 4HM featuring full exterior paint, dual cowl, CBX switch box, Yashiro 3 X-wire, oil temp gauge, 3-step seat, Laurel Blinker Engine, and the Shakuri board now goes for a mere 800000 yen on Mercari! (https://jp.mercari.com/item/m34366404358)
Zokusha references can be seen in many products of popular culture too. For instance, the Kamen Machines, aka the Kamen Riders’ vehicle, are outlandish and colorful motorbikes that highly resemble the ones of the Bosozoku. Also in Akira, Tetsuo, Kaneda, and the rest of their friends’ gang affiliation and their love for their vehicles suggests that they are likely a portrayal of the Japanese Bosozoku.
However, due to new law regulations being issued around the end of the century, hunting down biker gangs in Japan became a main aim for the local police. Similar to most crime-affiliated groups in Japan, as much as most refused to give up to the police, the Bosokozu was forced to their demise. As for today, with the elder generations retiring and the younger generations no longer interested in their activity, the Bosozoku population is near extinction. Although we do see people like Eguchi San, the 38th Narashino Specter Leader, holding on to the culture, it is no denying that the heyday of the Bosozoku is long gone and not likely to return anytime soon
Nonetheless, although gang members of the Bosozoku barely exist today, we still see people showing appreciation of the culture in their own ways. While some pay tribute through employing the Bosozoku aesthetics in their modern bike customizations, others formed Kyushakai, also known as old motorcycle circles, to reminisce the brilliance of the Zokusha. What are your thoughts on the Zokusha influence on the motorcycle customization scene?
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