When the human being reaches that difficult stage that is adolescence, the impact of belonging to the group worsens in his character, acquiring great importance. A difficult choice then arises: the tribe or subculture to which it will belong, as a symbol of his passage to adulthood. Interestingly, many of them have stood in time for decades, for the youth of each generation to join in, believing they are the first to do so.

In Europe the mod movement, which emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, had great relevance thanks in part to the movie ‘Quadrophenia’, which portrayed these young lovers of discos, ‘amphetas’ and, of course, scooters, their most recognizable symbol (along with parkas). Moving a bit geographically, in Japan an urban tribe emerged and still exists with a very similar (or even higher) passion for motorcycles: the bōsōzoku.

Frame of ‘Quadrophenia’.

This dangerous subculture has its origin in the 50s of the last century, when the auto industry began to expand throughout the country. Before bōsōzoku there were kaminari zoku (tribe of thunder), similar to British rockers: motorcyclists who used this means of transport as a banner of rebellion and dissatisfaction against society. The difference of the bōsōzoku is that it used to come from lower social classes, and its gang of bikers was its way of escape from a world that seemed to turn its back on it.

A group of bōsōzoku in 2013.

One of the fundamental characteristics of the bōsōzoku is its great interest in customizing its motorcycles (generally illegally), which used to be four-cylinder. They were responsible for removing mufflers to generate more noise, and often engaged in reckless driving activities. In the 1950s and 1960s these practices were more widespread, and the bōsōzoku could either hinder traffic by going incredibly slow in some areas or skipping the traffic lights without contemplation. In fact, the police of the time came to assign a department to escort them when they arrived somewhere and thus avoid dangers, calling them ‘Maru-Sō’.

They all carried weapons – wooden sabers, baseball bats, pipes, or even Molotov cocktails – and waved Imperial Japanese flags.

Not only that, the gangs, generally made up of people between the ages of 16 and 19, they used to always have a leader named ‘sentōsha’, who none of the other members could surpass when driving. The hierarchy between the groups, in fact, is somewhat reminiscent of that of feudal systems, which are extremely restrictive. They all carried weapons – wooden sabers, baseball bats, pipes, or even Molotov cocktails – and waved Imperial Japanese flags. Aesthetics, as is often the case in urban tribes, was especially important, so they decorated their motorcycles with many colors, with flags (inspired by the kamikaze riders and providing a strong nationalist sense) or other symbols that could identify the specific group to the that it belonged as well as its owner.

Source: Wikimedia commons.

In their best days, subgroups like ‘Black Emperor’ not only engaged in criminal activities, but also became involved in political affairs. Some members established themselves as activists against the Vietnam WarHowever, internal quarrels between them caused the first problems and other emerging groups ended up emerging. The documentary ‘Good Speed ​​you! Black Emperor ‘by Mitsuo Yanagimachi follow the exploits of this particular group.

Specifically, ‘Black Emperor’ used to wear the manji in their aesthetics, which may attract our attention due to its resemblance to the Nazi swastika. It’s about a sacred symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism which is used on maps to locate Buddhist temples and which is also the spiral of the chest of the Indian god Vishnu. When the Nazis appropriated the swastika they were actually using a symbol over 50,000 years old, and although young Asians continue to use it on social media, it is widely striking for us because of its connotations associated with Adolf Hitler’s party.

Subgroups like ‘Black Emperor’ not only engaged in criminal activities, they also engaged in political affairs. Some members were activists against the Vietnam War

During the 80s and 90s the bōsōzoku used to travel in groups, even driving more than 100 individuals, threatening drivers or damaging cars or other parts of urban furniture. Although it is true that over the years both the movement itself and its violence have been disappearing (during the 1980s the gangs had more than 40,000 members, and in the 2000s that number has dropped drastically), it is still recognized in Japan, although unlike mods, without expansion or relevance in an international arena.

Yes indeed, as with many other urban tribes, the bōsōzoku They have created a great cultural impact in the country. Some works like ‘Akira‘or the recent’Tokyo Revengers‘are inspired by this violent subculture with a certain nostalgia. The truth is that, as happens with some urban tribes that cannot escape the passage of time, the former members of this gang who used to scare passersby with their noisy motorcycles, are now parents. All that remains is the memory of these gang members who managed to guide their lives when they passed that difficult age, and who, like the kamizakes, plowed through the roads like bullets, skipping the traffic lights and sowing terror, perhaps seeking freedom.

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