Tatsuya Fujii and his Nagoya-based Osu Naka-ku crew were sitting with their bikes in the morning light as he tightened the springs, clutch hub and release disc on a crew member’s ’72 Shovelhead. With the final twist of Tatsuya’s wrench, everyone fired up and pushed off towards the Breezy Biker Camp event located just outside Takashima City. It was a straight-shot 123 Kilometers (76.5 Miles) from Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture to the Makino-Kogen recreational park in neighboring Shiga Prefecture. Tatsuya had rebuilt most of the AMF-era Shovels and XLCH Sportster Iron Heads his young crew rode; no more cylinder head oil pooling, chronic overheating, blown gaskets, bad valves and guides, worse wiring and sheared head bolts. He dropped his rebuilt motors into rigid frames or short stance, high Frisco peanut tank frame set-ups he designed and fabricated. “I been working on these old motors for a while,” Tatsuya said. “I understand the problems and know what they want.”

Tatsuya Fujii crew member with his Harley-Davidson FL Panhead built in classic 1950s bob-bob style. [Mike McCabe]
Tatsuya’s Duas Caras Cycles shop claims one of the leading reps in Nagoya because his builds are tight and reliable. Top end torque and horsepower delivered without any of the day-to-day drama. More than fifty-thousand Shovelhead motors were produced between ’66 and ’83 and close to twenty-thousand XLCH “Ironheads” between 1958 and 1974 in the USA.  A healthy percentage drifted across the Pacific to Japan; today, there are rumors that 50% of Harley Knucklehead motors now reside in Japan.

Riders at Breezy Camp Nagoya. [Mike McCabe]
Traffic on the Meishin and Hokuriku Expressways was moderate. The cars were spaced a cookie cutter perfect 1.5 car lengths from each other and moved at a benign 80.467kph (50mph). Most of the cars were identical: small, gas efficient, safe and painted generic factory white. Adult drivers stared ahead as if in a trance. Tatsuya and the pack came up loud and fast: their straight pipes blasted “WAKE-UP!” through the monotony.

Tatsuya Fujii Dus Caras Knucklehead bob-job build. [Mike McCabe]
A crew member named Datch held his handlebars firm, jumped onto his seat and danced. Another member, Yoshiki threw a leg over his Sportster style tank for some side saddle. Ten other riders split lanes and wove a skillful zig-zag between cars in a crazed moto-ballet. The adult car drivers sat stoically as if nothing was happening but their kids broke rank and pressed against the car windows smiling, pointing and waving at the bikers. As they plowed through the parade of uniformity, Tatsuya and his crew posed a question to the kids, and offered a different strategy for living.

Where the young are: a Tatsuya Fujii crew member. [Mike McCabe]
Japan’s general population has a median age close to 49 years old, compared to 38 in The United States.  There are more older than younger people and the aging Japanese society puts pressure on the younger demographic to conform to cultural mores. Tatsuya and his crew displayed tremendous performative audacity on their bikes as they pushed hard against a society that is literally weighted against them.

Tatsuya Fujii crew member Hard Ride and his Shovelhead bob-job with springer front end. [Mike McCabe]
Like all cultures, on the surface Japanese life is characterized by prescribed codes of conduct. However beneath the observable day to day, there is a punishing subtextual orthodoxy that rewards relentless conformity: the approved life path emphasize following the rules. Young people who resist are questioned and doubted by the status quo, and seen as losers and a problem to be solved. Japanese culture uses shame to modify behavior, and people who don’t conform have still internalized Japan’s cultural requirements. Unfortunately, there are few places for them to vent and blow off steam. Since the 1970s, western youth-centric culture has become more accessible to Japanese people. A growing percentage of young, urban Japanese have turned to the stylistic symbols of 1950s-80s rebel youth culture for tangible relief; loud, crazed, Rock and Roll music and fashion, as well as dangerous motorcycles and hot rods.[1]

Hello, England! The Ton-Up Boys have a legacy around the world. [Mike McCabe]
The Nagoya metropolitan area is a mid-sized, deep harbor port of 9.6 Million people (Tokyo has 14 Million) and is located close to both Kyoto and Osaka, in the middle of Honshu. The humid, subtropical climate is perfect for riding year-round.  During the early decades of the 20th Century, Nagoya’s industrial economy expanded and Japan’s aircraft industry was based there. At the final stage of WWII, Nagoya’s industries and much of the city were destroyed by intense aerial bombardment. After the War, Japan was no longer allowed to produce aircraft and shifted production to automobiles and motorcycles. The tone of the city is small-town working class and down to earth in comparison to Tokyo. There is a good chance that a few of Tatsuya’s crew and many of the Breezy Biker Camp attendees support their riding by working on an assembly line.[2]

Shoes off on the camp tarp! [Mike McCabe]
As Tatsuya and his friends drew closer to Mt. Biwa and the Breezy Biker event, impressive, two-wheeled American machines appeared on the expressway. The numbers and depth of the historical inventory was shocking to see, and the bikes looked like a rolling moto-museum. 99.9 percent were cared-for vintage V-Twin Harley-Davidsons; a pair of perfectly preserved DL and RL 45ci Flatheads from the 1930s, two more EL 61ci and FL 74ci Knuckleheads from the 1940s, several FL and FLH 61ci and 74ci Panheads from the ‘40s and ‘50s, many FLH Super Glides and Sportsters, and FX 74ci Shovels from the 1970s.

Patches…many riders stack them neatly to show off multi-year attendance at Breezy Camp. [Mike McCabe]
The Nagoya bike pack blew into the Makino-Kogen Park where a fifty-acre pastoral setting was surrounded by thick natural woods and low mountains. A couple of hundred bikers were already in the process of shaking out their ride, staking claim to a patch of turf, parking their bikes, pitching tents and (as is the custom) removing their boots before finally plopping down on large blue tarps.

Yoshiki on his Shovelhead bob-job visiting a Nagoya neighborhood Shinto shrine. [Mike McCabe]
The gender profile of riders was skewed predictably towards the masculine but there were more than a few women who busted the stereotype of Asian female docility. They stood with or sat on Harleys that ranged from stock Sportsters to chopped customs with aesthetic paint schemes and extended front forks, and statement-makers showing off impressive, sculpted skull tanks.

Stock is ok too! An early post-war Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead, with its owner. [Mike McCabe]
Everyone’s clothing had been well-curated to project the agreed-upon authenticity: the cowboy or trucker hats, club-patched vests and jackets, sunglasses and jewelry were all on point. The Breezy event began in 1994 and attracts an ever-growing family, and many proudly wore leather vests decorated with rows of patches boasting sequential years of unbroken attendance. Vest leather was road-darkened from the elements, taking on the luster of a status symbol. “I come here with my wife for many years, this is like a big family,” A middle aged man said. He smiled warmly, exhaled cigarette smoke, gave the thumbs up and gestured towards the patches decorating his vest. “Everybody knows everybody and we catch up about our life. This kind of place is important. We can relax… No worries… The motorcycles here are good history to look at. These bikes are trying to tell us something.” The man moved closer to his wife and they reclined onto their tarp with friends.

The rebel wardrobe; a theme with infinite variations.  In this case, chaps, bear claws, bandoliers, snakeskin, beads, and fringe.  [Mike McCabe]
Campers nearby tended sizzling hibachi grills and cracked cold beers. Somewhere a CD player blasted Sweet Home Alabama – “Big wheels keep on turnin’. Carry me home to my kin.” A gentle breeze carried wafts of spicy, grilled sea-fare across the park. The sun was high over the field, making the chrome and custom paint sparkle. As the song described, for a couple of days, life with these kinfolk was sweet and the park was home.

Datch in Osu Naka ku district, gearing up for the ride to Breezy on his Yamaha XS650 custom. [Mike McCabe]
[1] During the 1950’s and ‘60s in America and England, an increasingly corporate work culture propagandized behavioral norms as the economy boomed.  But cracks developed at the edges of the ballooning youth demographic. In the immediate post-war era, working-class jobs had high-paying union wages that rivaled white collar corporate jobs. Well-paid working class jobs meant new symbols of individual achievement, and new kinds of fun. The danger, grease, sweat and grit of manufacturing work carried over from work to play, and greasy machines like motorcycles became material examples of success. A working-class youth lifestyle emerged in both America and England that thrived on danger and risk. Chopped-down Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles in the States, and Ton-Up Brit bikes in the UK were freedom machines for working-class youth. Today, it would make much more sense for Tatsuya and his friends to ride affordable, reliable and efficient Hondas, Yamahas sand Suzukis, but no… Instead they got their cues from history, paid the freight on Ebay to ship a used Harley to Japan and dove into rebel style.

Triumph T140 custom and a cool T-bucket hot rod too! [Mike McCabe]
[2] The Toyota Motor company is headquartered in Toyota City that is a suburb of Nagoya. It is the largest automobile maker in the world.  99% of Toyota’s domestic manufacturing in Japan is centered in Nagoya and employs 66 thousand workers at 12 manufacturing facilities.



Michael McCabe is a New York City tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of New York City Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York City Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York City. For New York City Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground custom motorcycle and car garages in the City, as rapid gentrification put their culture under tremendous pressure. He interviewed and photographed New York City customizers about their personal histories and creative sensibilities.
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