Taggers leaving their marks on Tokyo's walls
At first glance, the graffiti looks like letters of the alphabet, but it spells out a word with no meaning. At least, no meaning for most. The graffiti is a tag, an individualistic form of public art imported from the United States that's spreading throughout the Tokyo area, much to the chagrin of many.
This graffiti was left on a wall in Tokyo.
Tags originated with street gangs in the United States. Tags are graffiti in public places that appears meaningless to most people, but proponents apparently know who has written what.
Some graffiti artists in the West have been recognized as masters of modern art. The use of meaningless words in the graffiti is similar to the way Japanese biker gangs select extremely difficult kanji characters for their names.
National Police Agency statistics show that reported cases of willful destruction of property, which includes instances of graffiti, have skyrocketed over the past few years, growing from about 46,000 in 1998 to 196,000 last year. Some graffiti tags have been found on trains in the capital area, with JR and Keihin Railway trains in Kanagawa Prefecture hit particularly hard with seven attacks in one month.
"Tags are like our form of business cards," a 22-year-old "tagger" tells the Mainichi. "It's awesome when other people recognize your tag."
This tagger, who asked not to be named, has been caught by the police while spraying graffiti, but has never been charged. He claims to have left over 10,000 "tags," claiming they are the same as a signature, with each individual supposed to always use the same definitive tag. He says graffiti artists know who is responsible for tags.
Not everybody's happy with the taggers.
"It's supposed to be a form of self-expression, but selfishness is more like it," social commentator Tetsuro Murofushi tells the Mainichi. "Writers and musicians spend their own money to find space where they can get some privacy to express themselves. Taggers should be punished and taught the difference between private and public space."
Indeed, the costs of tagging are already mounting. It takes 20 people working for two hours to clean carriages that have been "tagged."
"We used 20 liters of paint thinner. If you count labor costs, it's about 500,000 yen to clean up," a railway worker says. "I don't care if they're tags or whatever. They're meaningless and upsetting."
Psychiatrist Hideki Wada can understand where taggers are coming from, but argues that it's probably not the right choice.
"Unlike children in the past, today's kids can't be reassured of their worth by those around them even if they do ordinary things. Tags are a way that kids can be recognized and satisfy their self-esteem," he says. "Adults should take a broad-minded outlook and perhaps need to find another way that kids can satisfy their self esteem." (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Oct. 8, 2003)