February 6, 2019
Dear Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko KOIKE
On January 16th 2019, as has been widely reported in the media, the government of Tokyo removed a graffiti image of a rat putting up an umbrella found on a tide gate near Hinode station in Tokyo, placing it into storage. The following day, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike posted a picture of herself standing next to this artwork on social medial, along with the following comment: “We found a painting of a cute rat in Tokyo, which seems to be the work of Banksy! Maybe it’s a gift for Tokyo. The rat’s carrying a bag.”
Judging from the picture provided by the government of Tokyo, the artwork is, as the Tokyo Governor pointed out, remarkably similar to the work of Banksy, an anonymous street artist from UK. He is known for expressing his ideas through graffiti on walls and buildings; as a result, most of his works are illegal. The artwork found in Tokyo features no signature with which to identify the writer. Considering the nature of his activities in the past, it would be nearly impossible for him to officially admit that the artwork in question is his work from 16 years ago.
In his official art book Wall & Piece, however, there is a picture of a work that is very similar to the painting found in Tokyo with the caption “Tokyo 2003”. Significantly, there is a record of him visiting Japan around this period. Furthermore, in his movie “Exit through the gift shop.”, the artist introduces a picture of his artwork that has many of the same features to the work in question. Considering all of these factors together, it’s highly likely that the work found in Tokyo was painted by Banksy.
The discovery and removal of the work in Tokyo was widely covered by the media due to the international renown of Banksy: it has attracted the attention of not only residents in Tokyo, but a lot of people in Japan. According to the media coverage, people are more or less unconcerned with the authenticity of the artwork: rather, it is clear that they want to enjoy the artwork at the same site where it was painted.
As the media only started to report on the work after its removal, few people were actually able to see it. This means that the decision of the Tokyo government to remove the work goes against both the artist’s intention as well as violates the right of the public to enjoy it. As of February 6, 2019, there has been no official announcement made by the government of Tokyo about the reasons for the removal, or how it plans to handle the work.
We are deeply concerned with the way in which this work was removed: it represents a unilateral decision made behind closed doors by the government of Tokyo, one that effectively ignored specialists of street art as well as the local citizens.
The government of Tokyo has the exclusive right to administer and protect all public properties. From this perspective, the removal of the artwork might be a natural response to the violation of these property rights. Street art, on the other hand, embodies “freedom of expression”, one of the most important values for a democratic country. The news of the removal has sparked debate both nationally and internationally; it might serve as a precedent to increasing restrictions on both artists and all others residing in Japan.
Graffiti is, in most cases, a violation of property rights. It’s basically illegal and not encouraged in general. At the same time, it is important to recognize for the protection of “freedom of expression”. Historically, it is widely known that some of the most valuable aspects of urban culture in the late 20th century, such as hip hop, skateboards and graffiti, were born from street culture. Many cities in developed countries have been carefully negotiating the line between “infringement of the property rights” and “the freedom of expression” to create a rich urban culture. As a result, more and more street art, including works made by Banksy, is used as a resource for tourism or symbols for making attractive cities. This is how street art can give back to the public.
Unlike art displayed in museums and galleries, street art is vital, alive. Banksy has created his work on streets in cities all over the world. As a result, anyone, from adults to children, or experts to ordinary people, can appreciate them for free in this public space. In the UK and many European countries, many communities protect works by Banksy that they find via a transparent acrylic board, rather than remove them.
How should the government of Tokyo handle the artwork of Banksy? This is a great opportunity for testing the social maturity of Tokyo as a global city before the Olympics and Paraloympics are held next year. The government’s decision on this issue is about more than just the artwork of an internationally renowned artist: It reflects the power cities have to create, develop and transmit culture.
Therefore, we request for there to be open discussions held between authorities and the public to determine the appropriate way to handle the artwork in question, which was found on a tide gate near Hinode station in Tokyo and removed by the government of Tokyo on January 16th in 2019.
Hiroshi EGAITSU （DJ）
Naoki IIJIMA (DISC SHOP ZERO）
Tadashi IWAMOTO（Architect, Mizube Research Institute co.ltd founder,CEO）
Enrico Isamu Ō YAMA （Artist）
Kyosuke SAKAKURA（Associate Professor, Tokyo City University）
Kosai SEKINE (Film director)
Kotobuki SHIRIAGARI (Cartoonist)
Toko SUZUKI (Writer)
Naohiro UKAWA （contemporary“current”artist、DOMMUNE CEO、Professor of Kyoto University of Art and Design）
Toru MATSUSHITA (Artist)
Tasuku MIZUNO (Lawyer)
Yoshitaka MOURI (Professor, Tokyo University of the Arts)
Taro YABE (Cartoonist、Comic duo”Karateka”)
Translated by: Jeremy Woolsey, Chieko Tamakawa, Toko Suzuki