Karasu-zoku (カラス族?, lit. "crow gang") refers to groups of vagrant participants who try to disrupt the festival. They enter the festival wearing black costumes instead of the formal haneto costumes, leading to the nickname "crow gang" or simply, "crows." The group may also be called "crow haneto," but their appearance and actions are not fitting of the name haneto, and the regional media does not include the word in their descriptions. They are classified as a type of foot-borne bōsōzoku.
The karasu-zoku first appeared at the festival in 1986. Initially, they were not viewed as a serious problem, but their actions became more malicious as bōsōzoku members began to join their ranks. The Japanese media picked up on the group in order to raise awareness, but this tactic backfired as new gang members started to join from all around the country.
Aomori City quickly took steps to ensure the safety of their festival, as it was an important resource to the city as a popular tourist attraction. In 1996, the organizers forcefully grouped the karasu-zoku together into a single area in order to monitor their actions more effectively. However, this only led to an increased level of hysteria among the gang members and was not an effective method of containing their behavior. The gang increased their numbers to over 10,000 by 2000, and their actions escalated to violence against different gang members or even against tourists and the police force, completely destroying the initial aura of the festival.
In 2001, the organizers introduced a system where all of the floats would begin and end their procession at the same time (see Processional route). The same year, the prefecture enacted a law that allowed the police force to act against the vandals before the violence began. As a result, the festivities became more contained, but the number of crow gang members decreased drastically (though some contend that they simply moved off to other locations). However, some participants feel that the increased police surveillance has diminished the festive atmosphere. Regardless, the safety of the Aomori Nebuta has improved considerably due to the efforts of the city, police force, and volunteer workers.
In recent years, some female participants enter the festival without wearing the tasuki (a white cloth strip which ties the kimono sleeves and keeps them out of the way) that is a required part of the haneto costume. These participants are called kurione-zoku (クリオネ族?, lit. "clionidae gang") because their furisode-like appearance resembles that of clionidae.
Read more about this topic: Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
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