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University professor speculates ‘foreign gang’ behind rash of subway graffiti

Hibiya Line train was found to have been vandalized on Monday
Hibiya Line train was found to have been vandalized on Monday (Fuji News Network)

TOKYO (TR) – Over the past week, subway operator Tokyo Metro has discovered that three of its trains have been vandalized with graffiti.

Based on the style of the tagging — large, bulbous lettering in a variety of colors — a professor at Tokyo City University tells Nikkan Sports (Jan. 19) that the perpetrators are likely from overseas.

“I think it is a foreign gang composed of three or four experienced persons,” said Shigeo Kobayashi, a professor of environmental psychology who has examined graffiti. “I have never heard of cases where Japanese people have scrawled such graffiti.”

In the latest case, Tokyo Metro personnel preparing to start services for the day early Thursday noticed at Nakano Station that the exterior of one car of a Tozai Line train had been painted with green and purple writing measuring 7 meters wide and 1 meter tall.

Similar markings were found on a Chiyoda Line train at Yoyogi Uehara Station in Shibuya Ward on January 13. Two days later, personnel found two Hibiya Line cars to have been vandalized at Nakameguro Station in Meguro Ward.

In explaining a possible motive for the perpetrators, Kobayashi said, “It is a simple matter of self-satisfaction and garnering attention.”

Tokyo Metro has filed reports claiming property damage with Tokyo Metropolitan Police in the first two cases. A third report is expected to be filed in due course.

“Damage in Japan has been increasing over the past 10 years or so”

Kobayashi believes that the group could have stopped in Japan for short period, possibly 10 days, for the purpose of tagging. “There are several such ‘tagging teams’ centered mainly in Europe, and damage in Japan has been increasing over the past 10 years or so,” the professor said.

Kobayashi also speculates that the group received help domestically, either by other foreigners already residing in Japan or Japanese nationals. “A person on the ground already will be able to convey an escape path based on whether [an area] is being monitored by security cameras,” he said.

Lax security

The professor also pointed out that lax security is an issue. Due to terrorism risks in Europe, subway operators there have implemented tight security measures in and around its networks, which is not the case in Japan, he said.

Tokyo Metro is evaluating the situation. “We will examine these incidents and consider countermeasures,” the operator told Nikkan Sports.

Note: This article previously misstated that Kobayashi is a professor at the University of Tokyo.