The Tribes of Midnight
Photo of Kaisei Town by Sandra Isaka
Kaisei Town, Kanagawa
Hiroyuki Sakamoto talks with Suzukisan: "You should come out with us on Friday nightSakamotosan, we have a lot of fun! We cruise around on our 'bikes' (motorcycles), drinkbeer and meet girls. Hope to see ya!"
Hiroyuki ponders this invitation. Everyone has told him the bosozoku or Japanese bike gangs are dangerous and a dead end road to oblivion. Not the kind of thing a Japanese mother wishes for her youngsters. Suzukisan seems so nice however, and Friday nights have been pretty boring of late. Hiroyuki doesn't have many friends, and the thought of spending another Friday nightstudying for high school entrance exams doesn't enthuse him.
On Friday night, Hiroyuki approaches the local bosozoku gang hanging out in front of Daiyuzan Station. One of the gang members is hassling the frustrated O'bento ladies, and preventing her from closing the shutter to her shop. A tall American accosts him and he relents, but marks the American in his head as a potential target for assault at a later more convenient date and place; preferably when he will be outnumbered ten to one he smiles inwardly. The American knows he could be a target, he has lived in Japan long enough to know that, and his Japanesegirlfriend had the unfortunate experience of being rammed by one of the bikers one night. As she tried to dial for the police to report the accident, her cell phone was ripped from her hand and thrown into a rice field."We will kill you if you report this accident. We have your licence plate number, we can find you." This incident still angersthe California native, so it gives him satisfaction to scold this repulsive bosozoku. They wouldn't dareattack me he thinks. He hopes. He finds it a little difficult to sleep that night. Maybe another beer will help.
Hiroyuki is welcomed on Friday night. All of the members ask him about himself and are very kind and caring about him."Do you want to sit on my bike, it's the latest Honda?" one asks him. The prettiest girl in the gang comes up and tells him he is "kakoi," -cute. He hasn't had this much fun in a long time. Not only that, these peoplelisten to him. Before the night is over he is asked if he wants to join. He unhesitatingly says, "yes."He thinks people have the wrong impression about the bosozoku. They must not know about them like he does--never having spent any time with them like he has. They seem a far cry from the gang that baseballbatted a 24 year old Buddhist monk to death only months before; leaving his fiance and parents to ask why? Why my son? Why my fiance? Why didn't the police do anything to prevent this tragedy? Why don't they act? The same gang attacked a local businessman and father, beating him until hebegged, "yamete," --stop. Some of the members still gloat about this crime in front of the cigarette machine, embellishing the story with whiny imitations of the salaryman's protestations.
Could these really be the same people Hiroyuki asked himself? And if theyare really so bad, why do the police let them continue to drive around? They can't be so bad he decides.
The next Friday comes in slow anticipation and Hiroyuki is formally welcomed into the gang at the party that night. The night starts off well but after they go to the riverside things turn ugly. Hiroyuki is told that to be a member of the gang you have to be tough, so he will have to fight every member of the gang to prove hisworth. Not ever having had a fight in his life Hiroyuki is badly beaten up. He is told he can never leave the gang. "Don't even think about it!" chimes one member. "You try to quit or you tell anyone we beat you upand your mother and sister will be next. We know who they are, and where they live. Here are their photos if you doubt us." Hiroyuki is horrified, but he cannot quit. He can't get beaten like this again, and he can'tbring the same thing onto his family. So in typical Japanese style he "gamans"--perseveres.
Slowly he is initiated into committing crimes. Stealing from convenience stores, houses in the neighbourhood, and bullying students at school for money. While he continues to attend junior high school, his cell phone rings during class time, and his local leader tells him to be at the next "meeting." His frazzled junior high schoolEnglish teacher is too scared to raise a word in protest, knowing Hiroyuki's gang connections. He also knows about the teacher who was mysteriously pushed down the stairs in Yokohama a few years ago. Just asmysteriously it never made the papers. It would be too much bad press for the schools in Yokohama the rumour goes. The beating of a pregnant teacher in Matsuda, just an urban rumour, or a horrifying fact?His friend, a teacher in the next town swears it's true. He doesn't want to ponder it.It is just too scary when he has to face these members everyday in his classes. The schools in New York don't seem so different afterall he decides.
Another American, we'll call him Dave, goes to the local police station with his Japanese wife.
They complain that the bosozoku make noise every night on their street, people are beaten, and we have children he worries. The policeman is somewhat sympathetic but patiently explains this is not America.He has children too and his street is noisy as well, but if he makes a mistake while trying to arrest gang members, he could lose his job. "In Fujisawa a good policeman lost his job. He was trying to arrest the bosozoku and one of the gang members drove his motorcycle into a fence. He was injured. The policeman was fired. The citizens protested, they signeda petition in support of the hapless policeman saying they were proud of what he had done, trying to end theassault on their ears. It was to no avail, the man has a family and he is out of work. It is difficult to find a jobin this economy right Davesan?" Dave has to agree but cannot fathom this country sometimes.
Why can a bike gang member get away with driving dangerously, not stopping for the police and creating noise pollution?Why is the policeman punished? It should be that as long as the police use reasonable methods of catchingcriminals, the police will not be punished if a criminal is injured fleeing a crime. If the rules prevent the police fromacting, why aren't the rules changed giving the police more power? Surely the people want their sleep to bemore restful and their neighbourhoods safer? Why don't people get involved? His long suffering wife listensto his frustration, knowing he is right, but unable to do anything but listen.
The Japanese people are patient. But somewhere someone decides he has had enough. His wife screams,"No, don't go out there," but he shakes her off. If the police won't handle it he will. He walks out into thestreet in his pajamas, he would look comical if the situation weren't so serious. "Pipe down!" he yells tothe bike gang assaulting his and the whole neighbourhood's ears for blocks around. The bikers circle andsurround him. His crying wife watches from their bedroom window as he is attacked by a 17 year old.The attacking high school student knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he also knows that under Japaneselaw, you will not be severely punished for killing someone when you are 17--some time spent at a reform school perhapsis all he would receive, even if he is caught. He will also rise in the ranks of his bike gang.
Another father lies dead on the street in front of his home. Another family is left asking why. Another policeman,feeling guilty, sits in his koban (police box) wishing he could do more but knowing he can't. I have a family to feed hedecides, I can't risk losing this job. Besides the law doesn't punish these punks anyway he knows.A Suzuki blares down the street, waking babies and overworked salarymen. The tribes of midnight, marktheir territory, and speed off into the dawn.
by Kevin Burns
"Okamoto's fiancee arrived outside the convenience store where they had agreed to meet at just after 10:30 p.m. Five minutes later Okamoto called her on her mobile phone. "I'll be there any minute," he said. Fifteen minutes later he had yet to arrive. In the meantime, a blur of bosozoku bikes had raced by. Used to seeing them around, she gave them little thought, and headed back to her nearby apartment to wait.
A siren's wail started her running; first to the convenience store, then towards the spot where an ambulance had stopped 100 metres away. Alongside it, she saw a body face down. Its legs and torso were in the gutter, its head in the road. As she got closer, she saw blood, a deep indentation in the back of the skull and a crater above the left eye. "Priest dies in beating," the Kanagawa Shimbun, a local daily, declared in a headline the next day. "--Velisarios Kattoulas, Far Eastern Economic Review
"...bike gangs like the one that killed Okamoto remain the most visible sign of the breakdown in law and order in Yokohama. When bosozoku first took to the streets in the mid 1960s, they were relatively tame. However, as Japan's birth rate declined and bosozoku grew smaller, they began to defend with violence turf that they had once guarded solely by force of numbers. The National Police Agency says serious crime by bosozoku has more than doubled since 1996, and now accounts for a stunning 80% of all serious crime committed by juveniles. Moreover, yakuza organized-crime syndicates increasingly target bosozoku as buyers for the amphetamines and other drugs that are now their biggest source of income. " --Velisarios Kattoulas, Far Eastern Economic Review