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Shibuya Ward starts ‘anti-graffiti’ task force

TOKYO (TR) – With the state of emergency resulting in fewer pedestrians in the capital’s shopping districts, there has been an increase in incidents of graffiti.

The trendy Harajuku area of Shibuya Ward is no exception. A stroll through Takeshita-dori reveals big, bulbous lettering of a variety of colors, painted on the shutters of one shop after another.

Yasuhiro Tsuchida, of the Harajuku Takeshita Street Shop Association, wants the vandalism to stop. “The longer the shutters are down, the more noticeable the graffiti becomes,” he said. “Some [vandals] return to spray again.”

Such incidents have been a problem in Shibuya for years. But the pandemic has forced the hand of the ward, which will be fighting back with an “anti-graffiti” task force, reports Fuji News Network (May 12).

Vandals have targeted shops along Takeshita-dori for graffiti (Twitter)

Armed with spray cans

According to Tokyo Metropolitan Police, there were 639 reported cases of property damage due to graffiti in 2020. Of those cases, 64 perpetrators were arrested.

In Shibuya Ward, there is an average of 120 such incidents reported to police each year. But state of emergency measures have caused a drop in pedestrian traffic, resulting in more vandals, armed with spray cans, roaming at night.

The ward hopes the Graffiti Countermeasure Project will combat the trend. Planned for three years, the project has an annual budget is 110 million yen.

Through the project, launched on Monday, citizens can submit requests. To get things rolling, about 10 workers scrubbed graffiti from the walls of a kindergarten near Takeshita-dori that same day.

Kazuhisa Morita, the manager of the environmental improvement division of the ward, believes in swift action. “Erase as soon as it is written,” he demands. “I want to erase the state of mind — everything.”

Takeshita-dori has been the target of vandals during the coronavirus pandemic (Twitter)

“Safety and security”

In addition to spoiling the cityscape, graffiti, if left unattended, can result in safety concerns and lead to other crimes, the ward believes.

The damage can also be financially significant. The approximate cost to clean one shutter is about 50,000 yen.

“There are some people who say,’Shibuya is a place where it is fine to spray graffiti,’ and I feel that the number of such people is increasing,” says Morita. “By removing graffiti, a sense of safety and security can be achieved.”

Shop shutters along Takeshita-dori in Shibuya Ward are targets of vandals (Twitter)

“Broken windows theory”

The problem is a nationwide issue. Thus far, 13 municipalities, including Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture, have created ordinances that ban graffiti.

For Tokyo, Toshima Ward was the first to target such vandals. In 2020, it established an ordinance that imposes a fine of 100,000 yen for violators.

When asked which approach is better — erasure of graffiti or imposition of a fine — lawyer Hiroko Sumita said both are important.

“There is the broken windows theory, which means that even one small crime can lead to more and more [crimes],” Sumita says. “So I strongly agree with erasing [the graffiti]. As well, if security camera footage can result in an arrest, I think recouping the cleanup cost [is appropriate].”