Do Your Graffiti on an Ema Tablet

Sunday, 17 Jun, 2018

An idiot 19-year-old tourist from America was caught vandalizing store front shutters in Shibuya. Apparently…

… this kid wanted to “make his mark” in Japan. What a wanker.

It’s not the first time a person, Japanese or foreign, has decided to destroy property by vandalizing - spray painting, scratching or carving graffiti, or sticking stickers. A lot of cultural sites have been defaced, by these unbelievably selfish locals and tourists. The “crying bamboo forest” where people have been carving their names in bamboo trees in Kyoto’s Arayashiyama, or people defacing the famous red torii gates at Fushimi Inari are two examples. Some graffiti is admittedly humorous as well, like the example of a Japanese woman who altered street signs in a funny way. Still, it could be dangerous for drivers, for obvious reasons, so I’m still against it.

There are a series of laws that cover the sort of vandalism that graffiti is, from a misdemeanor to a serious crime with up to 5 years in prison and large fines, not to mention having to pay for repairs. Vandals should just stay the hell away from Japan, but if you do come and get arrested for your vandalism, you’ll quickly find out that there’s no “due process” in Japan. Seriously: Google it.

There’s a lot of graffiti in certain parts of Tokyo and Yokohama, which I’ve seen first hand, and apparently in other cities like Osaka or Kyoto. There are tagger gangs, like “246” in Tokyo and Yokohama, who go around tagging everything in certain areas. Maybe certain street art is well done, but mostly to me, it just looks dirty, and I would be royally pissed if some kid was painting my store front. I think cities should designate graffiti-ok zones, and tell people they can tag to their hearts’ content, giving them an outlet. Among the expected 40 million tourists during 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics, there’s going to be people who think it’s ok to vandalize. Make a kind of “DMZ” and let people tag away. Maybe even sell the paint, to make a little profit on it.

The Tendenan (ๅ˜ไผๅบต) temple in Kyoto, aka “Rakugaki-dera”, has a graffiti zone where they encourage visitors to write on the wall. It’s smart. They paint over the wall every so often, and it lets people get that stuff out of their system. There’s even a tradition of putting stickers on shrine gates, called “senjafuda”, so maybe those stickers look like something random to visitors, so they kind of “join in” in their own way. Who knows.

A personal example: kids like to draw, so when ours were little, we bought chalk and let them and their friends go to town on the concrete retaining wall at our house. It washes off, so no problem. But our message to them was clear: “only here can you do this; don’t deface your school or anything around the neighborhood”.

It’s beyond me, how someone justifies painting on someone’s building or store front, so my recommendation is to use the outlet for writing what you want, at most shrines in Japan: the votive “ema” tablet.

Buy an ema, write your wishes or whatever, hang it up and Instagram that thing. Nobody has to pay for your idiocy, the shrine you’re at gets a little SNS attention and maybe, you get some good karma from the gods at that shrine.


Photo - Votive Ema Tablet in Kamakura, by Rick Cogley
Photo: Votive Ema Tablet in Kamakura, by Rick Cogley