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THE BIRTH OF THE 'OUTLAW' MOTORCYCLE GANG:
USA X JAPAN

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After World War II, countless
veterans came back to America
and yearned for the close bonds
and camaraderie they had found
in military service, particularly amongst tight-knit groups such
as bomber crews
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Post-War America...

After World War II, countless veterans came back to America and many found it difficult to readjust to civilian life.

They searched for the adventure and adrenaline rush associated with life at war that had now left them.   Civilian life felt too monotonous for some men who also craved feelings of excitement and danger.

Others sought the close bonds and camaraderie found between men in military service, particularly amongst tight-knit groups such as bomber crews and the like.

Furthermore, certain men sought an escape from their horrifying war memories and experiences that haunted them.

Thus, motorcycling emerged as a substitute for wartime experiences such as adventure, excitement, danger and camaraderie.

Men who had been a part of the motorcycling world before the war were now joined by thousands of new members, and the popularity of motorcycling grew dramatically in the US after World War II.

Throughout the 1930s, Hollister, California hosted an annual Fourth of July Gypsy Tour event.  Gypsy Tours were American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sanctioned racing events that took place all over America and were considered to be the best place for motorcyclists to converge.  The annual event consisted of motorcycle races, social activities, and lots of partying. 

In Hollister, the event and the motorcyclists were very welcome.  Especially because Hollister was a very small town, with only about 4,500 people, the rally became a major event in its annual calender as well as an important part of the town's economy.  Due to World War II, the rally was canceled, but the event organized for 1947 was the revival of the Gypsy Tour in Hollister.

On July 3, 1947, the festivities in Hollister began.  But as previously mentioned, the popularity of motorcycles grew dramatically and this rise in popularity caused one of the main problems of this event: massive attendance.  Around 4,000 motorcyclists descended on Hollister, almost doubling the population of the small town.  They came from all over the United States, even from as far away as Connecticut and Florida.  Motorcycle groups in attendance included the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington, the Boozefighters, the Market Street Commandos and the Galloping Goose Motorcycle Club.  Approximately ten percent of attendees were women.

The town was completely unprepared for the number of people that arrived.  The large attendance was unexpected since not nearly as many people had come in previous years.

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Just as the furor was dying down in Hollister, a single photograph fanned
it all back to life.   Life magazine's national distribution made sure that
all of America got a good, long look
at the drunk 'outlaw' on the Harley.
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Initially, the motorcyclists were welcomed into the Hollister bars, as the influx of people was great for business.

But soon, they started causing a problem in Hollister.  The drunken motorcyclists were riding their bikes through the small streets of Hollister and consuming huge amounts of alcohol.

They were fighting, damaging bars, throwing beer bottles out of windows, racing in the streets, and other drunken actions.

Also, there was a severe housing problem.  The bikers had to sleep on sidewalks, in parks, in haystacks and on people's lawns. 

This was all too much for the seven-man police force of Hollister to handle.   The police tried to stop the motorcyclists' activities by threatening to use tear gas and by arresting as many drunken men as they could.

Also, the bars tried in vain to stop the men from drinking by refusing to sell beer and voluntarily closing two hours ahead of time.

Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying, "It's just one hell of a mess", but that "[the motorcyclists] weren't doing anything bad, just riding up and down whooping and hollering; not really doing any harm at all."

The ruckus continued through July 5th and slowly died out at the end of the weekend as the rallies ended and the motorcyclists left town.

The strongest dramatization of the event was a staged photo of a drunken man sitting on a motorcycle surrounded by beer bottles.  It was published in 'LIFE' magazine and it brought national attention and negative opinion to the event.

The Hollister riot helped to give rise to the 'outlaw' biker image and as a result Americans started to fear motorcycle "hoodlums" and potential rampages. 

The AMA released a statement saying that they had no involvement with the Hollister riot, and, "the trouble was caused by the one per cent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists" and that the other ninety-nine per cent of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens.  The AMA's statement led to "one-percenter" being widely used to describe outlaw motorcycle clubs and motorcyclists.

It is worth noting the Hollister riot had little effect on the town itself.  The nationwide fear of motorcyclists did not result in many changes in Hollister.

Bikers were welcomed back and rallies continued to be held in the years after the riot.  In fact, the town held a 1997 50th anniversary rally to commemorate the event, and plans are already underway for the 70th anniversary in 2017. 

Meanwhile in Japan...

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Hiroshima survivors (1946)
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On August 15, 1945, nine days after the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a second on the city of Nagasaki on August 9, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender on the radio (the Gyokuon-hōsō).

The announcement was the Emperor's first ever radio broadcast and the first time most citizens of Japan ever heard their sovereign's voice.

This date marked the end of World War II and the beginning of a long hard road to recovery for a bombed out, shattered and war weary Japan.

General Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), met with Japanese officials in Manila on August 19, 1945 to outline his plans for the occupation.

On August 28, 150 U.S. personnel flew to Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture.

They were followed by USS Missouri, whose accompanying vessels landed the 4th Marine Division on the southern coast of Kanagawa.  Other Allied personnel followed.

MacArthur arrived in Tokyo on August 30, and immediately decreed several laws, among them were the following:

  • No Allied personnel were to assault Japanese people.  (A law often flouted by the Occupation Forces, though this is rarely recorded in history books.  As it is been well noted "History is written by the victors".)

    For more information on this subject see the following articles:
    Rape During the Allied Occupation of Japan
    The Yumiko-chan Incident

  • No Allied personnel were to eat the scarce Japanese food.  (Another law that was often ignored by the Occupation Forces.)

    MacArthur's first priority was to set up a food distribution network;  following the collapse of the ruling government and the wholesale destruction of most major cities by Allied bombing, virtually everyone in Japan was starving.  Even with these measures, literally millions of people were still on the brink of starvation for several years after the surrender.  As Kawai Kazuo stated, "Democracy can not be taught to a starving people."

  • Allied Occupation authorities imposed wide-ranging censorship on the Japanese media.

    The censorship hardened and grew over the months from its initial goal of suppressing Militaristic and ultra-Nationalistic ideas into also suppressing anything that was "'leftist' or even remotely critical of American policies".  This included bans on covering sensitive social issues and serious crimes such as rapes, assaults and murders committed by members of the Allied Occupation Forces. 
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Even though it was heavily censored by US Occupation Forces, this
1946 Partial Newsreel graphically depicts the deprivation and starvation
that the Japanese people endured during the early post war years.
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Post-war Japan was chaotic.  The air raids on Japan's urban centers had left millions displaced and caused severe food shortages, a situation made worse by bad harvests and the demands of the war.
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From LIFE magazine...
This photograph was captioned 'May 1946: Starving child holding out an empty rice bowl'
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Repatriation of Japanese living in other parts of Asia only aggravated the problems in Japan as these displaced people put more strain on already scarce resources.  Over 5.1 million Japanese returned to Japan in the fifteen months following October 1, 1945. 

Alcohol and drug abuse became major problems.   Deep exhaustion, declining morale and despair was so widespread that it was termed the "kyodatsu condition" (虚脱状態 kyodatsujoutai, literally "state of lethargy").

Inflation was rampant and many people turned to the black market for even the most basic goods. 

The phrase "shikata ga nai", or "nothing can be done about it," was commonly used to encapsulate the Japanese public's resignation to the harsh conditions endured while under Occupation. 

It was into this climate that Japanese servicemen returned home.

Just as in America, in Japan, many veterans had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life.  Not only were many young Japanese men seeking a substitute for wartime camaraderie and an escape from horrific memories and experiences as their Allied counterparts were, they had the added weight to bear of defeat and the Military Occupation of their Homeland by United States and British Commonwealth Forces... Japan's first experience of occupation by a foreign power.

And so the precursors to the Bōsōzoku came into being.  Known as Kaminari zoku (雷族, "Thunder Tribe") due to the deafening roar of their motorcycles when riding in groups.

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Kaminari zoku (雷族, "Thunder Tribe") bikers in Osaka - circa 1958

Many, if not most, Kaminari zoku members were apparently returned servicemen (often surviving Kamikaze pilots) who came from the lower socio-economic classes (the hardest hit by the Post-War shortages and deprivations) and used their motorcycle gang activities as a way to express anger and hostility not only towards the Occupation Forces and the harsh conditions many Japanese endured while under Allied Occupation, but also disaffection and dissatisfaction with 'mainstream' Japanese society. 

Considered to be part of the so-called Kasutori Culture of early Post-War Japan, the Kaminari zoku sought escapism, entertainment and riotous behaviour revolving around, what in the West would be called, "Moonshine" liquor, which was imbibed, produced and sold on the black market by Kaminari zoku members.

As such, while many Japanese openly frowned on the activities of members of the Kaminari zoku gangs, many found it advantageous to have a "friend of a friend" who was involved in a group.

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A restored wartime Rikuo motorcycle.
The prefered steed of the Kaminari zoku
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Somewhat ironically, the cheap War Surplus Rikuo motorcycles many Kaminari zoku rode were actually Harley-Davidson's built under licence in Japan from the early 1930s and throughout the Second World War.

Understandably, Harley-Davidson have never publicized this Japanese connection because the Japanese were greatly helped in developing wartime mass-production techniques by the introduction of their factory into Japan.

The Kaminari zoku seem to have faded into history in the late 60s and early 70s, as members either began to find a niche for themselves in the 'New' Japan, or, those who had grown a taste for criminal activity and the black market, "graduated" from the rabble rousing and petty crime of the Kaminari zoku and became low ranking members and foot soldiers of local Yakuza gangs.

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A Bōsōzoku (暴走族, literally "reckless [or 'violent'] speed[ing] tribe") biker
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A new breed of Japanese biker was coming to the fore as the 70s progressed... the Bōsōzoku (暴走族, literally "reckless [or 'violent'] speed[ing] tribe"), as they were dubbed in the popular press at the time.

In contrast to the Kaminari zoku, which were born out of a time of severe hardship and deprivation for nearly everyone in Japan, the Bōsōzoku were born out of a time of national prosperity.

But, that, as they say in the classics, is another story....



RELATED ARTICLES:
YANKI and BOSOZOKU: ORIGINS AND HISTORY
ROKABIRII: THE SOUND OF JAPANESE TEEN REBELLION FOR OVER 60 YEARS


SEE ALSO:
ZOKU (Tribe)





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