Kanjo. It’s a term we’ve heard a lot about over the past couple of years. Why only now though? I mean there were guys racing Osaka’s loop line since the days when most of us were in diapers. For better or worse, the spread of Kanjo culture is another thing we can chock up to the internet. Often misunderstood, it’s an underground world that was once unheard of beyond the racers themselves and the cops that try to catch them – and now the term gets thrown around all over the place.
Who exactly are the Kanjozoku? Well that depends who you ask. I’ve had the opportunity to peek in on this elusive world during couple of occasions, and I was there with Brandon this winter as he gathered footage for the Kanjozoku film. In my career as an automotive photojournalist I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff – but there’s nothing like the Kanjo. And I don’t mean that in a glamorous way. During my travels I’ve seen lots of racing, both legal and illegal. But after my most recent Kanjo experience, I feel the term “street racing” does not even begin to describe what happens on the Osaka loop in the wee hours in the morning.
Yes it involves modified vehicles reaching dangerous rates of speed on public highways, and yes it involves cars taking corners in a way you usually only see at racing circuits – but this isn’t street racing. It’s a dangerous game that’s played out between the cops and small band of outlaws that have rebelled against societal norms. It’s a dark and mysterious scene that flys directly in the face of Japan’s traditionally harmonious and highly structured society.
During the heyday of Kanjo scene some years ago, the whole thing was much more competitive. Members of the city’s various teams battled for respect both on and off the highway. Tribal scuffles could get bloody – as is often depicted in Naniwa Tomoare, the comic book based the on world of Kanjozoku. These days the pool of active Kanjo racers is much smaller, and the guys who still run the loop seem to do it for their own personal reasons more than anything. Many old rivalries between old teams have faded away in the spirit of keeping the scene alive. If anything, it seems the tribes have united in one battle against the police.