The Yankees Of Japan

At my apartment there’s a group of guys that hang out at the bottom of the stairwell.  japanese vanThey’ve got died, weirded-up Ziggy Stardust hair, they ride bikes, they smoke and they spit a lot.  They’re the bad guys on the block and they’ve got their little gang together.  When I come down the stairwell with my bags of trash to dump, they bow, apologize and move out of my way.

Is it because I’m ultra-bad?  Not at all.  It’s because even the baddest tough guys in Japan have a little bit of consideration for others.  These guys are ‘yankees’ (ヤンキー).

What Is A Japanese Yankee?

Okay, here’s my description.  Yankees have funny hair, usually either a pompadour or a strangely colored spikey mullet.  They wear sweatpants or cheap-looking trainers.  They ride motorcycles without mufflers, often with speakers blaring crappy music.  They have a rude, disrespectful attitude (remember, that’s not too hard to achieve in Japan), are violent and don’t care about the future.  In other words, they’re your neighborhood thugs.

They roam in packs.  They’re remnants of the bosozoku (暴走族, motorcycle gangs) that once terrorized the country.  I’ve also heard that the yakuza (ヤクザ, Japanese organized crime) pick the most enterprising yankees as their new recruits.

I’m not totally sure what they do other than ride their motorcycles around, smoke cigarettes and try to look cool.  High school yankees wear their school uniforms dissheveled and skip school.  Yankees are violent and like fighting although I’ve never seen a fight.  I usually see them just sitting around talking and sometimes trying to pick up high school girls.

In a country where there is little open rebellion, yankees scare the crap out of people.  Just by riding their noisy bikes around they seem to get everybody in an uproar and generally ruin everyone’s day.

Why They’re Called Yankees

Here’s the answer to the question you’ve probably been wondering all along.  A yankee is a person from the northeastern United States.  How on earth did this name get attached to Japan’s rebellious youth?

Yankee is a derogatory term used for Americans in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America and Asia.  It used to be used in Japan and from what I’ve heard it’s still used in Korea.

Around the 1970’s, groups of young thugs began appearing on the streets of Osaka’s America Village (アメリカ村) area wearing Hawaiian shirts.  Because of their love of American goods, they started to be called yankees.

While most folks dread dealing with yankees, to me their just suburban punks.  They’re probably really nice kids deep down underneath all the hair bleach and cheap-looking bling.


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