It’s not that often I get angry; it takes a lot to push me over the edge. So, standing on my balcony at four in the morning in my undies yelling curses into the night, eyes wild and hair unkempt, I realized: This was serious. The first time it happened, I awoke – bleary-eyed – to what sounded like a building being demolished. Fearing either terrorism or a Godzilla-related disturbance, I staggered to my balcony, sleepily grabbing a frying pan in self defense.
But there were no terrorists, and no giant monsters. There was only a long column of excessively modified and skull-splittingly loud motorbikes weaving their way down the street below. Their exhaust pipes blatted out a tattoo loud enough to wake anybody in the surrounding houses. I watched this parade roll down the road (past a koban, no less) until it disappeared, and the usual drone of traffic returned.
What were they doing? What drove them to be so obnoxious? Why was I holding a frying pan in my hand? I had to know the answers to these questions. Ten minutes later, thanks to the power of Google, these faceless riders had a name. Bosozoku, “violent running tribe.” Or, as I like to call them, “little shits on bikes.” A mostly teenage activity, bosozoku gangs rampage through the night on their customized bikes playing loud music, making lots of noise, and doing generally anti-social things. The police rarely seem to do anything about them – forget what you’ve seen on “Cops”, with cruisers boldly ramming lawbreakers off the road. More often than not, the bikers scream through the streets with police unable to do anything but meekly follow and beep their horns.
My anger at the bikers soon subsided though. I realized that their booming stereos and roaring engines were nothing less than the loudest cry for help I’d ever heard. These kids are trying to escape an existence of endless studying and high expectations. Ferried from high school to cram classes to language courses to sports clubs, they never have a moment to breathe, to express themselves, or even to relax. You may accuse me of stereotyping, but with the average father at work 37 hours a day and a society that places harmony, or the appearance of harmony, above all else, it’s only natural to feel walled-in and isolated. Interviews with bosozoku often report the same emotions: they feel trapped, that nobody listens to them, and that they’d explode if it weren’t for their nightly forays into freedom. They feel literally voiceless, and a souped-up engine with an ultra-loud exhaust pipe acts as a pretty good substitute voice for them.
I’m no psychiatrist (you may have noticed), but I do know people, and I know what it’s like to be a pissed off teenager – and these are as pissed off teenagers as I’ve ever seen. Sure, some of the blame can be placed on them. In some ways, rebelling like this is taking the easy way out – instead of trying to change their situation, they are (quietly) accepting it by day and then (loudly) equalizing the pressure at night. But, we are all products of our society. What about the parents? Children learn the most basic things from them. Right and wrong: our moral compass. If parents place strong emphasis on success at school and, later, financial success in business, above everything else, then surely the children will, too? However, the perspective can become messed up for a child, with academic success rating as more important than human life, in extreme cases. You see the articles in the news – a school boy killed himself because he was caught with a cigarette lighter at school; another killed his family because he was failing at school and could not live up to his parents’ expectations; yet another bludgeoned a store owner to death because he “was in a bad mood and needed a distraction.” These are the actions of kids who don’t know right from wrong. They have an unbalanced value system. The first boy decided he would rather die than get in trouble. The second was so scared of disappointing his parents, he killed them. And, on a less extreme level, the bosozoku release stress at night, at the expense of everyone sleeping around them.
Misbehaving kids are not endemic to Japan, of course. In England, strict alcohol laws mean that most teens can’t wait to get their hands on the grog. I know I couldn’t. Perhaps in Japan, with conformity and quiet success held in such high regard, naturally kids wanting to express themselves will gravitate toward the opposite – mayhem and mischief. Bosozoku, annoying as they are, are nothing but a symptom. I recognize and understand their cry for help. But do they have to be so bloody loud?
By Matt Benyon, English, Editor & Insomniac