Whether you are sharing drinks at an izakaya – a Japanese bar – or going to nightclubs like Shibuya, experiencing Japanese nightlife is something not easy to forget. But in the shadow of the night, a group of gearboxes could also prepare to take to the streets and race their machines, just part of the auto scene in Japan. Street racers, or hashiriya in Japanese, have a long history. Just have to check out the infamous Mid Night Club and its street races.
The Kanjozoku Street Racers are another street racing group known for burning down a section of one of Osaka’s expressways. Of course, street races at night vie for the attention of the authorities. So these road racers are trying to protect their anonymity. Let’s take a closer look at the Kanjozoku Street Racers.
Japan, Mid Night Club and Street Racing
Street races in Japan lit up the night streets in the 1980s and 1990s. The police crackdown meant that such races are no longer as common. The high-speed, or Kôsoku, battles were fought in places like the popular Shuto Expressway in Tokyo.
The same battles are the inspiration for video games such as the Japanese game Wangan Midnight, a manga-inspired racing game. Wangan is a place where races were held. The Mid Night Club was a street racing group that rode the Wangan. The Mid Night Club became the most notorious street race, known for their cars like the Blackbird, a modified Porsche 911 Turbo owned by one of the group’s members.
Kanjozoku – What is it?
Kanjozoku means “Kanjo tribe” in Japanese. The Kanjo was where street races were held, a part of Osaka’s Hanshin Expressway that orbits itself, making it an ideal racing circuit.
With such activities on the police radar, these Kanjo street races are shrouded in secrecy and legend. But what happens on the streets under cover of night is of course not always generally known.
Where everything began
Go back to the eighties when the kanjo craze was a hit. The Honda Civic is becoming the engine of choice for many. Even popular culture has taken possession of the legend of these street racers like Naniwa Tomare, a manga (Japanese comic book).
In the eighties, they would have been inspired not only by the Honda Civics of Group A racing, but also by Japanese professional drivers such as Osamu Nakako and Hideki Odaka. But their circuit was not like the Suzuka circuit. At the end of the eighties, Suzuka became part of the Formula 1 calendar.
The Kanjo Loop
The Kanjo Loop is 4.77 miles long. It runs on an elevated portion of the expressway right in the heart of Osaka, where it is a regular route during the day for drivers commuting to work or home and doing their daily activities. but at night it turns into a racetrack that attracts police attention.
The Kanjo Loop has been a popular spot for road racers in the past, which is said to have been used as a circuit in the 1970s. Compared to the Wangan, which is straighter and has more space on the road than the Kanjo, the tighter turns of this loop require these drivers to need cars with better handling.
Cars of the night
The obsession with the Honda Civic among these road racers comes as no surprise as it is one of the most popular cars for road racing. With its racing pedigree, it’s no secret that this car can move.
Your cars will have race-ready tires, but the exterior isn’t necessarily pristine. This is not a competition for the most beautiful Civic, but a street war between racing drivers. Window nets are useful, not so much for security, as for not being detected.
On the streets – in film and popular culture
The “Drift King”, alias Keiichi Tsuchiya, not only had a strong influence on Japanese drifting, but also a legend in racing. Keiichi appeared in a series of films, titled “Shuto Kousoku Trial,” about illegal street racing and cautioned street racers to leave it if they wanted to race professionally. The films are reportedly banned in Japanese cinemas.
The Kanjo loop is one of the settings. In the first part of the film, the road racers compete head-to-head on the Kanjo loop, while the dangers of road racing are also discussed in the plot. Films like this one show how street races have taken on their own appeal, seen in film and pop culture, and how places like the Kanjo Loop have gained their own status as landmarks.
Police in Japan
Police crackdown on illegal street racing has certainly constrained these nighttime street racers. The police have them on their radar, especially back when it was a real problem for the authorities.
But these road racers may have been put off, but their love of road racing certainly never waned. They only got more secretive about their activities.
Secrecy is a must
Due to the type of street races they have participated in in the past and police brutality in the past, Kanjozoku street racers try to maintain their anonymity, whether by wearing hockey masks or doing something to hide their identity.
Hakonori means in Japanese that someone in the car leans out the window. Something these road racers are known for. But of course their faces are covered when they mock other drivers.
It’s not difficult to see how a Kanjo racing culture was created. These road racers are connected not only by the Kanjo loop in which they race and the road race itself, but also by their cars, the risk of getting caught, and their friendships under the guise of anonymity.
Perhaps this whole idea of the Kanjo ‘tribe’, the ‘Kanjozoku’ has something to do with such a culture and such an identity. Manga like Naniwa Tomoare certainly helps build a legend around these road racers.
Keeping Kanjozoku Alive
The rivalry between the gangs doesn’t seem to be as great as it was back then. Perhaps because the number of active road racers has decreased compared to before. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Kanjo lives on. But it must be said that the dangers of illegal street racing also persist.
Of course, what happens at night is often invisible. So we rely on stories about the Kanjozoku road racers to paint our picture. These stories can be from movies, manga, or from people who have witnessed Kanjo street races firsthand. Nonetheless, these road racers still have a veil of evanescence and the unknown.
Sources: Garrett, Mike. Stories from the Kanjo. Retrieved from thekanjozoku.com.
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