Saturday, 5 July 2008

暴走族: インタビュー Bousouzoku: An Interview

After I came back from Korea I went to a party a friend of mine organized. It was a Korean party, so I could show of with the view words I have learned in Korean and some cool stuff from the demo. However when another friend arrived and I got to get him from the station, we got lost and had to ask for the way. The guy we asked said he has the same direction (University). We started chatting and found out that he was no student and in fact dropped out of school. His name is Taz (name changed for safety reasons) and he earns his money with boxing. He is one of the few members of the Japanese (super) heavy weight league and is world rank 96. After some more chatting we invited him to the party and after some hesitation he accepted. At the party I found myself talking to Taz all night long, well it was more him telling me his life's tale and me triggering stories by asking clever questions.


Taz is 24 years old, huge for Japanese standards (around 2 meters) and has a really muscular body. In spite of his heavy weight of 150 Kilo, his shape is quite athletic and he looks like he could push a truck over. His hair is practically short and his face tells a lot of stories, as do scars on his hands and arms. In spite of this appearance his tone is calm and sober, he does not drink and keeps a healthy high protein diet (for boxing).
It turned out when he dropped out of school he joined a local Bousouzoku gang and quickly raise in fame, because of his extraordinary fighting skills. Eventually he became the leader of his own chapter of the Tochigi Bousouzoku, which by defeating other gangs, had quite a high national role, with him on top. Sooner or later he turned to an age where the most talented Bouzouzoku are picked up and promoted into the Yakuza. He did not give a reason, but apparently rejected their offer and turned to Boxing instead. Having acquired quite some fighting skills on the street, it was quite easy for him to pick up and quickly raise in national charts until he turned world rank. Now in world rank 100 super heavy weight, he will earn 500.000 Yen per match (3000 Euro) and another 500.000 Yen for winning the match (price money). His idol is Mike Tyson and he was lucky, that he already had the honour to fight with him once in New York. It was only a training match, but Taz was able to punch Tyson several times in the face. Considering that matches are usually months apart and everybody needs an out time, he developed a hobby by following his fathers footsteps and crafting jewelery and smith.

That's a short description of Taz's character. The day we met him, was the first time he ever talked to foreigners, and indeed I had big trouble understanding him and often had to ask, if I didn't get something he said. Nonetheless when will you ever have the chance to talk to someone who quit at the Bousouzoku and refused to enter the Yakuza in a familiar and comfortable surrounding like a student party. Also he was so talkative and almost never stopped telling, so I never stopped listening and asking.

暴走族 Bousouzoku

One thing I was curious about, was how the bousouzoku would make money. I could not imagine them working normal jobs at day time.
"The bousouzoku basically have three forms of income. First the new members usually still had normal jobs and kept working for a while, they would give a share of their earnings to the gang. Second the gang itself got a lot of contacts to other gangs, gangsters and motorcycle dealers and stuff, quite often some job or other would come up that needed to be delivered or done and would usually pay of quite well. Third the Yakuza and the bousouzoku are independent groups, however the Yakuza sees the motorcycle gangs as a kind of base of their pyramid, a kind of base camp where they could get new recruits from and which they sometimes could hire for jobs. So even if no jobs are pending, the Yakuza are interested in keeping the bousouzoku going and therefore give them some monthly financial injections."

Another thing I did not know much about, is what the bousouzoku actually do, so that was my next question.
"There are for example the gang fights. Two bousouzoku gangs will meet at a certain spot and time and fight each other, this usually means fist fighting sometimes involving sticks and knives. The fight might be about jobs and territory, but it is also about predominance and honour. The loosing gang will put stickers on their helmet, which read defeated by the xxx chapter. The defeat also means that in bigger gatherings the winning gang will have the right to speak for the losing one and they will follow their rule and command. Another past time activity are simple parties, at parties bousouzoku chapters will meet not to fight but to hang out with each other, drink, eat and enjoy girls. At those parties there will still be some competition as often races are carried out at them. For these races every gang usually constructs their own racer car from scratch and gives it a lot of love and tuning. These cars will then race against each other at some public road. Another more dangerous form is the wall race: the two racers give full speed and try to reach the wall first. However the timing for the breaking is crucial: to late and your dead, to early and you cant touch the wall and loose. Sometimes such races also replace normal battle. Last we have battles with the police. A gang will block some road or vandalize until the police shows up. Then the police is the enemy and will be fought or rather played with. Of course the weapons and numbers of the police are usually stronger, so it is rather a play, how long to hold up with them and how much damage to cause, before heeding into flight. One good trick he usually practiced, was to prepare some really greasy motor oil and smear it at the windows of the police car. Sight impaired like this the escape would be easy and if you are lucky the impaired police car would crash into another."

This triggered another question in me. If those battles with the police are so popular, why do we never read about it in the news.
"Same reason you never read about the Yakuza. Somebody decided to write about the Yakuza in a public newspaper or talk about them in the TV or Radio News and he will disappear. More than that the broadcasting company or newspaper agency will also suffer a lot by the political and economic means of the Yakuza. That is why they wouldn't allow some of their reporters to write about it in the first place, even if they dared. Now since the Yakuza kinda watches over the bousouzoku like a little brother or son, the same rules count for writing about bousouzoku."

He mentioned girls at the parties, I wanted to know if there are girls in the bousouzoku.
"Yes girls in fact have their own gangs with their own rules. The girl gangs will often meet with the boy gangs at parties and other events and often have boyfriends in other gangs. There is even one female gang consisting only of foreigner girls. The normal age for bousouzoku girls is between 13 and 20, while it is 15-24 for men. Often the races I mentioned earlier will be held to win the favor of one of the girl gangs."

I asked him what happens after reaching that age.
"That depends, most of the boys turn over to the Yakuza. Starting at the Yakuza they will again be at the very bottom, but their is more money to be made and a new world, that fits their previous one. Some others will simply stay at the gang until a higher age, their are people who stay as long as 40. Then again a few others turn into other related sectors. Like being experienced in fighting many choose martial arts or boxing like me. Again others turn into bums or find some way in the Japanese society"

Now I wanted to know what he thought of the Japanese society. I noticed that other Japanese people at the party had in fact a hard time talking to Taz and could not keep it up for very long, since he did not follow the usual rules of communication in Japan and rather said directly what he thought or wanted.
"I could simply not imagine living in this society. My world now is different and I live by my own rules. Many people who turn to the bousouzoku are similar, they cannot keep up to the strict and useless rules of this society."

Then he jokingly asked me and a friend, if we are interested in joining a bousouzoku gang and I asked him what we would need to do for that.
"The basic procedure is quite easy, I would arrange a fight for you in one of the gangs and you'd have to fight one of their members. You do not need to win the fight, you simply need to show your sincerity and that you are a man. After the fight all the members of the gang can decide together, whether to accept you or not. Also in your case, you would need to speak fluently Japanese, as next to no bousouzoku speak English."

We thanked him for the offer but declined.
"Since you are so interested in the bousouzoku, even if your not a member of a gang, you could joining one of the parties (the ones without fighting). You could join for some drinking and eating like a lot of not gang member girls do. To do that you'd have to find the leader of the party and ask him, whether he allows you to join or not. Be sure to show politeness and to use keigo (Japanese Politeness Language)."

He then gave us actually date and location of the party. Man I am really tempted to go, but of course equally afraid too!
I had one more question. Since he left the bousouzoku, I wanted to know if he had still friends their and what the people's opinion on him was.
"Yes of course, most of my friends are bousouzoku. I got some boxing friends too, but most are from the gangs. Well I was their leader and my time to leave had come. Since my new profession as a boxer is still about fighting, I still have a lot of respect with the guys. At least a dozen from my old gang would still give their live to protect me"

I was really amazed by Taz and his stories. Of course theoretically he could have made them up, but then the scars on his hand, where his bones shattered once out of his hand after a heavy blow (he could not use his right hand for a year), his enormous muscles, his statures, his appearance and his calm way of speaking kinda proof most of what he said. He is certainly not the type to exaggerate or make things up.
The world Taz comes from is so fascinating. There all these fights with each other, with the police and all, but then it is really rare that someone dies. You have to keep in mind that most of these guys are still kids, it is a nothing but a cool game. It is amazing that such a society can be maintained by a system of honour, that let's you fight with knowing the other one won't kill you.

Well I kinda got an invitation to the next bousouzoku party and I definetly would like to go, I just don't know if it is reasonable or not...



Leslie P. Polzer said...

I don't suppose this is going to be dangerous ;)

Vilwarin said...

I guess the worst that can happen is that we will be beaten up. And maybe this risk is worth taking for being able to delve deeper into this second kind of society within Japan. It is really exciting to explore this basically new world ^_^

I am sure to tell you about it, if we manage to join their party!