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Aichi biker gangs up but downsized

The number of rowdy motorcycle gangs, or “bosozoku,” rose in Aichi Prefecture for the third straight year last year, to about 2,800, the worst in the country, according to the National Police Agency.

While biker gangs with up to 100 members are disappearing, smaller groups whose members swarm around on motorbikes have been on the rise.

Biker gangs rose 33 percent from January to May from the same period last year.

According to the Aichi Prefectural Police, biker gangs surged to around 22,300 in 2002 but plunged to about 1,900 in 2006 after a crackdown was instituted under the revised Road Traffic Law that went into effect in 2004, enabling police to arrest motorcyclists for riding recklessly in groups, even if they are not victimizing anybody.

However, from 2007 the number rose for three consecutive years. Last year, Aichi police received more than 10,000 emergency calls from local residents for the first time in six years, the most in the country.

“There is a notable rise in the number of small groups who gather for fun. Most ride minibikes, not large, modified motorcycles,” a prefectural police official said. The affordability of scooters is considered to be a factor in the surge, he said.

The Aichi police said 42 of the motorcycle gangs had about 380 members in the prefecture as of the end of April.

A typical biker gang used to have about 50 members, riding motorcycles modified to be extremely loud. They followed certain disciplines, with senior leaders, known as “socho” or “shineitaicho,” who donned special “tokko fuku” outfits to signify their authority.

However, recent groups have about 20 members. Some can be seen hanging around convenience stores at midnight. In some cases, bikers who get to know each other via the Internet meet up for one-time rides. Afraid of being caught, they rarely wear gang colors.

“I think young people today have a much stronger desire not to be bound by a strict group hierarchy, so they just drive around when they feel like it,” said a senior Aichi police officer in the antigang unit.

Aichi police intensified their crackdown last month and conducted sweeps at convenience store hangouts, arresting about 40 bikers on suspicion of illegally modifying mufflers or hiding license plates. This month, it will produce about 18,000 posters in cooperation with the prefecture to promote its antibiker campaign.

In neighboring Mie and Gifu prefectures, biker gangs have been on the decline. Mie only handled five cases involving 30 bikes from January to April, down from 13 cases in the same period last year. As in Aichi, smaller packs on scooters were seen. Recently, younger people, including junior high school students, are joining in the rides, sometimes as passengers.

Gifu handled 17 such cases from January to April, down from 21 in the same period last year.

“In Gifu, lower winter temperatures might be why” gang riding is on the decrease, a prefectural police official said.

The top five ‘bosozoku’ prefectures

Following is a police tally of motorcycles involved in lawbreaking group rides and police calls made by annoyed residents in 2009.

Number of motorcycles

1. Aichi 2,830

2. Tokyo 2,495

3. Osaka 1,746

4. Ibaraki 1,728

5. Fukuoka 1,306

Number of police calls

1. Aichi 10,709

2. Fukuoka 10,044

3. Osaka 7,158

4. Okinawa 3,254

5. Chiba 3,189

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published in the evening edition on July 3.