Seriously, kids these days, right?
One of the favorite pastimes of middle-aged and elderly Japanese is complaining about the yutori sedai, or “loose generations.” Sort of a softer, gentler version of America’s Generation X, the yutori sedai really started getting society’s attention in the 1990s, when some parents and educators began to think twice about pushing children so hard to succeed and excel that they had no energy left over for individual expression or personal enjoyment.
So while Japan remains an extremely studios, industrious, and earnest country by the standards of many other nations, to a lot of older Japanese, kids these days have grown soft. Critics of the yutori sedai can often be heard grumbling about young people’s inability to completely dedicate themselves to their jobs, which often manifests in such previously unthinkable ways as not eagerly and enthusiastically accepting orders to do unpaid overtime or failing to follow proper protocol when pouring their boss’ beer at the company drinking sessions that follow said overtime.
And now, as further proof of their inability to apply themselves, fewer young people in Japan are joining biker gangs, at least in Hyogo Prefecture. For several years, the Hyogo Prefectural Police have been keeping statistics about bosozoku, a term used in Japan to describe rowdy youths that blatantly and conspicuously break traffic laws by ignoring red lights, weaving across the center lane, speeding, and general reckless vehicular activity, usually while riding motorcycles or scooters. When they’re really out to raise hell, it’s long been a tradition for bosozoku to wear “special attack uniforms,” long-coated outfits with the gang’s name and slogans emblazoned on the back.
This distinct fashion legacy, and the image that the gangs operate on some hierarchy of manly respect, at one time made the bosozoku fertile ground for manga and movie writers. However, in recent years their numbers have been steadily declining. In 2001, the Hyogo Police counted 98 bosozoku gangs with five or more members, the highest tally on record. Groups of such size have declined in number every year since, and earlier this year, Hyogo was down to just one quorum of bosozoku, a group in Kobe with six members.
In April of this year, though, two of those members sold their bikes, and have been involved in no on-road incidents since. As such, as of the last count in June, Hyogo doesn’t have a single biker gang that can muster more than four outlaws. There’s also been a huge drop-off in the number of youths stopped for reckless driving, something Hyogo’s police had to do just 199 times in the first half of 2016, compared to 1,758 in the same period of 2001.
While some of this positive change is likely related to public education programs, investigators pointed to another factor. “Modern youths hate hierarchical relationships,” explained researchers, and so they’re not interested in joining bosozoku groups. A correlation seems logical, since biker gangs aren’t really known for their democratic decision-making or giving new recruits a sizeable role in shaping organizational norms.
However, it’s not all law-abiding rosiness in Hyogo. While large, organized bosozoku gangs seem to have become a thing of the past, the police say that, to an extent, their place has been taken by smaller, less formal gatherings of delinquents. And while full-fledged reckless driving citations are down, the number of times citizens called the police emergency number to report noise disturbances or road blockages caused by young riders rose to 4,700 complaints last year, as opposed to 4,500 in those categories five years prior.
In other words, at the same time as an increasing number of young Japanese workers are shunning old-guard salaryman positions for more flexible work with smaller companies, it looks like would-be biker thugs might be having similar ideas.