Japanese underground racing is a subject of mystery and controversy. The country’s subversive car culture has caused some tragic deaths, but the movement’s honor and ethics are something even Tokyo’s police respect. One of the most famous underground racing clubs in Japan was the Midnight Club, and although they closed in 1999, they remain one of the most respected car clubs ever.
Racing has seen a decline in Japan as new technology such as traffic cameras and license plate scanners have become more sophisticated by the Japanese police. Sanctions for illegal car modifications have also increased, and the Japanese police have more legal leeway to search for them. Despite the best efforts of the police, Japanese underground racing remains a fascinating subculture full of fascinating facts worth learning about.
10 If you fake a club membership, your car will be destroyed
While vandalism has declined, falsifying underground racing club memberships is an invitation to trouble. During the height of their popularity, the Midnight Club secretly used coded bumper stickers to identify each other. When copycats heard about this, some had stickers made and pasted on their cars, probably to earn street value or to impress girls.
These poser cars were often found so vandalized that they were no longer drivable, sometimes enraged Midnight Club members set the cars on fire.
9 If your car can’t hit 160 mph, don’t worry!
One of the conditions to join the Midnight Club was that your car had to be able to reach 160 MPH. Not a single car in the club came below this threshold. Today, that precedent continues, and even if it didn’t, it would still be idiotic to try and compete with a slower car, as most cars on the track can easily exceed 160 MPH.
8 There is mutual respect between them and the police
Japanese police and racers show a degree of mutual respect for a variety of reasons. The Midnight Club was particularly respected because the group did not engage in illegal activities outside of racing.
While movies like The Fast and The Furious Paint racers like these hardened criminals engaged in smuggling and nefarious operations, Japanese racing clubs are not arms of the Yakuza.
7 The midnight club had a code of ethics
Another reason there is mutual respect between police and racers is that racing clubs have a strict moral and ethical code, and those standards apply to all members. The Midnight Club can be thanked once again for setting this precedent.
Although they violated the country’s traffic and vehicle modification laws, members were not allowed to participate in other criminal activities, especially anything that could attract the attention of a race. Any member found violating it was immediately suspended, while the Midnight Club no longer exists, existing clubs still adhere to these strict moral codes.
6 Retired racers continue to evade the police
The Midnight Club was disbanded in 1999 after a horrific accident that killed and injured 7 people in Tokyo. While the accident wasn’t necessarily the racers’ fault (see below), police have nevertheless attempted to locate members. The group’s strict secrecy has allowed them to keep their official membership unknown, and even the leaders of the Midnight Club unknown to the police to this day.
Anonymous sources, however, have told journalists that many retired racers lead normal lives as law-abiding citizens, and that many have opened repair shops or gone to work for companies like Honda or Toyota.
5 Police have been cracking down since the 1990s
After an infamous accident at the Midnight Club in 1999, the Japanese police began to work hard against racers. The crackdown increased after the Fast and The Furious franchise began to rekindle a worldwide interest in street racing. Tokyo’s highways are now equipped with license plate scanners, cameras, speedometers and the government has increased penalties for illegal modifications.
However, some racers are equally tech-savvy. Some place their license plates on a hidden spring system that makes their numbers unreadable to the cameras when the car is in motion.
4 Talking trash is for Americans, not for Japanese
While Hollywood movies have created this image in the minds of racers smacking before hitting the track, trash talk in Japan just isn’t a thing.
The Japanese strictly believe in showing honor and mutual respect for an opponent in a match. For Japanese racers, the cars do the talking.
3 The Kanjozoku dominates racing in Osaka
In Osaka, Japan, the Kanjozoku has become the main secret racing competition. Although their membership numbers are unknown, they are now one of the prime targets of the Osaka traffic police. But they remain elusive as they only race at night and rarely on the city streets.
Most people don’t realize this, but races in Japan usually take place outside the city in more rural, less populated areas. This reduces the chance that innocent bystanders will be involved in an accident. Japanese underground racers may be criminals, but they are not negligent monsters.
2 Like ships and boats, the car must have a name
Some say it’s bad luck to ride an unnamed boat, and that tradition seems to be the same for the racers of Osaka and Tokyo. Cars seen in races usually have some sort of nickname.
The Midnight Club’s most famous car was known as The Blackbird, a highly modified Porsche 911 Turbo. To this day, the driver and owner of The Blackbird is unknown.
1 Street racers have beef with Bōsōzoku (motorcycle) gangs
As previously mentioned, the Midnight Club crash that ended the group’s existence was technically not the club’s fault. It was actually caused by a group of bōsōzokus (motorcyclists). Bōsōzokus gangs are in stark contrast to racing clubs in Japan as they engage in criminal activity. One of the reasons the police respect racers is because racers are seen as moral and ethical, while bōsōzoku gangs are seen as violent hooligans.
This prejudice only increased thanks to the Midnight Club crash. Reportedly, a group of bōsōzokus were told that a race was taking place nearby and they decided to harass the racers. As a result, several bōsōzoku riders and racers died or were fatally injured, causing the Midnight Club to disband. Japanese racers have never forgiven the bōsōzokus for this minor one, and to this day, bōsōzoku gangs remain one of the least respected criminal classes in Japan.
Bosuzoku gangs of biker girls are just as tough as their male counterparts and equally feared.
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