Monthly Archives: April 2013

Cold Shoulders and Pocket Tissues

I have newfound sympathy for the tissue dispensers of Japan.

Ok that sounds a bit odd so here’s the explanation for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to wander the streets of Japan.

The humble flyer or pamphlet may be king in your part of the world but here in Japan the pocket pack of tissues reigns supreme. It’s unsurprising really in a nation so concerned with allergies, the flu and even the slightest case of the sniffles that they will don a mask without a moment’s hesitation that tissues would become the predominant force of street level advertising. Wander down any street in a major city, or in fact along any route with guaranteed foot traffic, say the front of a train station or the path leading to a university and you’re sure to encounter someone trying to hand you pocket tissues emblazoned with advertising.

In the past I’ve smiled, shook a hand, told them, “I’m ok thanks.”

Never again.

Last weekend in Tokyo after doing some pre-wedding dance rehearsals, not my wedding, right by the entrance in Yoyogi Park I figured I’d managed my quota for mild embarrassment for the day.

Nope.

One of the dancers that day is the man behind Sayonara Speed Tribes. We have a mutual friend and having met while playing poker, using pistachio nut shells in lieu of chips, we evidently know each other well enough for myself and the soon to be betrothed buddy of ours to be roped into handing out flyers/postcards for the screening of the documentary that night in Shimokitazawa.

So outside Yoyogi, quite possibly illegally, we set to the task of dispensing with a stack of around thirty postcards each, alternating between basic Japanese and English when we saw non-Japanese faces we tried to flog every last one of them.

Bousouzoku dokumentari de gozaimussssssssss.

Biker gangs in Japan documentary!

So how’d it go?

Well, it may have been a lovely spring day but boy did it feel frosty.

We were snidely laughed at by young Japanese men who thought it hilarious that a foreigner was handing out flyers and/or speaking Japanese.

We were flat out ignored by many people who simply refused to acknowledge our mere existence.

The young men did that too; it was quite the double act.

We were even dodged like the possessor of some virulent disease, the pedestrian taking an almost comically wide berth as they evaded our attention afraid we might breath advertising on them.

It was a nice reminder of why I often enjoy small city life so much. It’s not just being a little further south that makes where I live a bit warmer.

On the other hand though, some people did stop. Some even spoke. It wasn’t unrelenting cold shoulders and that made all the difference. Ten people in a row flat out ignoring you really is made all the easier by just one person paying the slightest bit of notice to you. Saying something, even if it’s saying, “no thanks” or just smiling and shaking their head makes an otherwise thankless task so much easier.

So if you took a flyer off me on Saturday, thank you!

And if you saw me dancing in the park… then let’s just pretend I was trying to give you a flyer.

Sayonara Speed Tribes on DVD.

Sayonara Speed Tribes on DVD.

Find out more about the movie and buy the dvd here.

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Sayonara Speed Tribes

Bosozoku

Bosozoku.

I can remember the first time I uttered the word in public. My class of elderly ladies giggled. My useless textbook had translated the term unbelievably loosely as teenager. It was frankly, a shit translation.

Sayonara Speed Tribes does a far better job of conveying what the word means; what it is coming to mean.

Literally the term bou-sou-zoku (暴走族) translates as violent-speed-tribe. It was a handy term coined by Japanese newspapers during the heyday of the biker gangs that emerged in post war Japan to describe the loitering youths, the joyrides on motorbikes and the violent clashes that occurred when these groups crossed paths.

By the 70s these groups, like all subcultures tend to become, were highly ritualized and ironically as subcultures always seem to do reproduced much of what they claimed to be abandoning and rejecting.

These bosozoku wore the uniforms of kamikaze pilots, ran their gangs in shades of samurai honour and enforced the sense of senpai and kohai that remains a dominant thread in Japanese life. They even retired from service, slipping either into the normal life of salary man or the criminal world of the Yakuza.

To me, the whole thing bears a disturbing if occasionally comical resemblance to a high school club. The uniforms, the training, the ritual, the respect for one’s elders and the necessity of carrying on the torch for them when they leave are all hallmarks of the life they apparently reject.

But things are changing.

Modern police tactics and the passing of time have led to a steep decline in bosozoku numbers and a move from violent outcry of youth and rebellion to pick and mix cultural identity.

It’s at this point where Sayonara Speed Tribes picks up the story.

Sayonara Speed Tribes follows the path of someone who stands with a foot in both worlds.

That someone is Hazuki, a legend within the bosozoku world. He is also a man left stranded by how quickly that world has changed, by how much he himself is desperate to change.

Fascinatingly, Hazuki lets filmmaker Jamie Morris into his life and allows him to see the changes he’s trying to make, the life he’s fighting so hard to build as at the age of forty he attempts to leave the world of bosozoku and Yakuza behind in order to follow his childhood dream into the kickboxing ring and beyond.

It’s an at times funny and moving documentary as Hazuki proves to be the perfect thread to follow between the past and the present realities of these groups. A charming figure, it’s hard not to root for him, not to hope that he’ll find the happiness and respect he craves.

Yet, Hazuki bears all the markings of his tribes, the tattoos and the scars of violence. In trying to leave his youthful world behind he still cannot shed the signs of his past life and rebuild.

For all that struggle though, I recommend you watch him try.

To learn more about the fine folk behind this documentary visit Figure8 Productions.