Alright everybody, it’s time to talk about the greaser movement in Japan. In order to talk about it, though, we’ve first got to discuss greaser culture in America. You can find out a lot about this kind of thing if you look around for a little bit, but here’s the skinny, daddy-o: Originating in the 50’s and 60’s, cool American cats were running around in groups around their hoods, you dig? They took to the asphalt in hot rods like the ’49 Mercury coup, soupin’ up their rides with chrome headers and flame-tipped exhaust, see? They were loud noisy, had a devil-may-care attitude and a certain sense of style that was uniquely defined among the squares of the day. Where your mainstream cats were rolling around with horn-rimmed glasses and business suits, the greaser crowd stuck to Levi’s, leather jackets, and Converse All-Stars. They rolled up their pant legs and slicked their hair back with pomade (which, because it made their hair look greasy, was the origin of the term ‘greaser’).
These guys, for as long as they were around, were the essence of cool. I mean, come on, Fonzi? That guy was a god among men! He was the personification of hip. He also exported that look of cool all around the world. Ok. Maybe it wasn’t Fonzi. Maybe it was more guys like James Dean, Bob Dylan, and others like that. Regardless, this look came to postwar Japan, not through the American route, but more through the British version. Where Americans were preoccupied with cars, the British greasers were all about motorcycles. Loud, noisy, rebellious motorcycles that helped them conquer the streets of London and resonate with the lower-class. They were often from the docks, working as welders and manufacturers, in bad parts of town where there was a lot of resentment towards authority figures.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say, what does all of this have to do with Japan?Well, I’m getting to that, you just be patient. The Brits may have used the motorcycles, but the Americans brought the culture mainstream. They started racing their hot rods, spinning off all kinds of different things like stock car racing and the like, and these creative guys started drawing pictures on the sides of their cars to set themselves apart. They used interesting characters, flames, skulls, whatever they could to set themselves apart. Certain characters became famous, spawning mini-crazes focused on their image. Think of these phenomena as a much, much smaller version of Hello Kitty.
- So, as we all know, Japan and America have a constant cultural exchange. America, at this time, was exporting this image of a new, cool badboy all around the world and, for some reason, people in Japan just ate it up. Maybe it was the rockabilly music that defined the style, or that skinny-jean-and-leather-jacket look. Maybe it was the devil-may-care attitude of these live-fast-die-young kids. Maybe-I’m-using-too-many-hyphens! Whatever the case, there was something that traveled better than anything else, and that was the hair. That slicked-back look, the pompadour, the ducktail, all of it came over in waves, and Japanese postwar youth, angry at the world and feeling like they were being punished for their parents’ mistakes in WWII, found a style they could adapt
- Enter the bosozoku. The Japanese version of the greaser. They gathered together and attempted to do the same thing the Americans were doing. The thing was, cars were really expensive, as they are now. They couldn’t get a bunch of cars to soup up, so they turned, as the British had, to motorcycles. They terrorized highways and roadways, becoming Japan’s own badboys in the process. Additionally, the greaser style was uniquely suited to be picked up by yakuza. Ostentatious and loud, these gangsters used the greaser style to separate themselves from mainstream culture and define themselves as a subculture. To be a greaser became equated with being a gangster. As we all know, to be on the bad side is to be attractive and cool, once the actual danger becomes a memory. To put it in a more modern context, think of gangsters in America. Scarface has become a sort of idol now, but only because the danger posed by the actual person the character’s based off of is now nonexistent.
- Now, this 50’s, greaser style is going through a revival. It’s getting bigger and bigger and, finally, breaking back into mainstream style. Certain elements never went away. The popped collars, the straight-legged jeans, the leather jackets, these are things that were around, even if they were on the edge of the mainstream. Now, though, you can see it every place. It’s even not too uncommon to see some greasers on the street, walking around like they just came off the set with John Travolta, or like they popped out of a time machine from the fifties.
- In any case, greaser culture is a thing. It came from America, and it’s huge in Japan. I just thought you should know.