In typical Japanese fashion, the cops shut down the meet in the most undramatic way possible. Arriving 30 minutes early, they locked the gates to the car park. The addition of a couple cruisers parked outside resulted in an above average number of modified cars pulling U turns in the street.
And it's understandable – the Fresh Tokyo Car meet the night before was an unmitigated disaster on the law enforcement front. An entire section of Odaiba was shut down and blocked off as modified cars flooded the area and showed off the immense strength of the Japanese Car Scene.
That being said, this tension between the police and modified cars seems quite strange. Especially viewed in the context of the relatively lax car inspections are and the massive history of modification in the 1990s.
Furthermore, it seems odd that the police seem to target car meets so directly. I mean at the heart of it, meets are simply car people getting together to talk about their love of cars. It’s the automotive equivalent of a knitting club.
Well it turns out that The Law's rejection of modified cars is deeply rooted in several distinct factors that all came together. So these facts I'm throwing out may seem random, but hold on - they'll come together.
The End of the Japanese Miracle
By the late 1980s Japan seemed unstoppable. Despite the total destruction inflicted upon the country by the Allied nations in the early 1940s, Japan had beaten expectations and rebounded. Due to some brilliant economic maneuvering, the Japanese economy grew to become the world’s second largest economy in the world.
Unfortunately, some of those economic forces that drove the Japanese economy were left unchecked, and in 1991 the economy collapsed, trapping the economy in a recession for nearly 20 years. It took until 2007 before the Japanese economic output recovered back to its high-water mark in the 90s.
To get into a good university program in Japan, students take extremely rigorous standardized exams that are specific to each university. The problem is that if a student wants to even take the standardized exam for one of the top universities, they must first get into a good High School. So, students begin planning their path to university from middle school.
Of course, this leads to significant stress for students. I mean how can anyone expect an average 14 year old to have the ability to even think about high school, let alone college.
This stress was only compounded by parental expectations. By the 90s, one entire generation of Japanese had gone through this system. While the first generation to had relatively sympathetic parents, the second generation was greeted with a collective “Suck it up. We survived, you can too.”
So imagine taking entrance exams in the mid 90s, working your butt off since age 12 to get into a good university. And all for what? The economy was in the tanks, and unemployment was still on the rise.
Effectively the Japanese promise that a good college would equal a good job was broken, breaking the culture that had kept the previous generation in school.
Growth of the Bosozoku
According to the media, the late 90s, were a dangerous period, with school aged children and adults alike committing crime at higher and higher levels. Many in Japan attributed it to societal changes, citing the unhealthy work ethic of the previous generation and consumerist culture as the reasons why the current generation were so violent.
While I was unable to get any data on dropout rates in Japan in the late 90s, I suspect the increasing unemployment and extremely competitive academic system led more and more students to just drop out.
In a country where following the path from School to University to Work is considered essential to being an normal Japanese citizen (as The Nash pointed out so well), these drop outs were essentially ostracized from the community. And in fact, searching for a community to belong to drove many drop-outs to join the Bosozoku.
Pushing the Yakuza Above Ground
Through the 80s, the Yakuza were tolerated. In essence as long as the Yakuza didn’t do anything too illegal, the police looked the other way. In communities, the Yakuza were even seen as a benign organization that, through it’s patriarchal structure, kept the criminals in line and away from normal citizens.
By the early 90s, the Yakuza had utilized the economic growth of the 80s to become an international force. Under pressure from other countries who didn't view the Yakuza in the same light, the Police began cracking down on the Yakuza.
In addition, the 90s economic crash weakened the Yakuza’s legitimate income sources dramatically. Since the Yakuza is a business, they need to make money, and without legitimate sources of income, they grew the illegal ones. This shift killed the goodwill the gangs had built up with the Japanese People.
So What does this have to do with Cars?
In Taryn’s interview, she mentioned that modified cars have their origins in illegal street gangs. And that’s the key. Then newly reformed police in the early 2000s directed all their attention to dealing with the recent spike in crime.
As a result, there was a large crack down on Bosozoku and Yakuza alike. Since these two groups had done a great job alienating the Japanese public during the mid to late 90s, the general public views symbols of the Yakuza and Bosozoku quite negatively.
Since the VIP style and Yankee styles originate with the Yakuza and Bozosoku, similarly modified cars were considered evidence of these gangs. The violent end of the Mid Night Club only gave more reasons to dislike these cars, so the public perception of modified cars went sharply down. In fact, in typical Japanese fashion, they even came up with a name for it – hashiriya.
Japan tends to be rather slow to change views, especially with symbols of criminality. For example, nearly all the wildly popular public bathhouses in Japan, Onsens, refuse entry to anyone who is tattoo'd on account of the association between Yakuza and ink.
Similarly, the association between modified cars and the Yakuza, Bosozoku and street racing gangs still casts a dark shadow over the modifiers today who do so out of self-expression.
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