Japan took to the Internet to share memes, get cheesed off over politics and chew over the big question: how old is this rat sketch, anyway?

Minato Ward in the city of Tokyo has collectively smelled a rat. But not just any rat – this rat is a piece of graffiti street art that was found on a flood gate near Hinode Station, and bears a suspicious resemblance to a known work by British graffiti sensation Banksy.

▼ This photograph appears on Banksy’s official website

▼ A comparison of the website artwork with the art found in Tokyo

The city of Tokyo has opened an investigation into whether or not the piece is a genuine Banksy work, with attention from newspapers and politicians fanning the flames of the fire. The most notable example of this is former Minister of Defence, Yuriko Koike, who now serves as the governor of Tokyo: she took a picture in front of the floodgate and tweeted it.

“There is a cute rat picture in our city that could be one of Banksy’s works! Could it be a gift to Tokyo? It looks as though it’s holding a bag.”

A different kind of floodgate opened immediately afterwards, because this is the Internet, and no one passes up an image with this kind of meme potential.

“I found a Banksy in town, too! Please verify its authenticity.”

“Could this be a Banksy?”

“Ms. Yuriko Koike! I found another cute, possible Banksy piece. You’d better preserve this one, too.”

Attitudes towards Koike’s photo opportunity are mixed, as several see it as implicitly condoning graffiti (as long as the artist is prestigious enough). To be fair, anti-graffiti ordinances do exist in Tokyo

And the fact it wasn’t taken care of earlier could even be seen as further evidence that the city of Tokyo isn’t in a hurry to wash away graffiti. The floodgate (and more importantly, the rat picture) has since been removed and put into storage so that it can be preserved, but you can easily see it on Google’s Street View in 2018…

And by checking previous photographs of this portion in Street View, you can see it as far back as 2013.

But actually, the rat might be even older than that… Banksy connoisseurs tracked down the picture in a published anthology of his works, Wall and Peace, where the work is labelled “Tokyo 2003”.

Which would mean this jolly rat and its cute little umbrella would have been puttering around Hinode Station for a decade and a half, only degraded by the elements. As the city of Tokyo has hastened to remove other graffiti (and other, erm, “art”) over the years, the fact they missed this curious but striking drawing is especially strange.

Comments under the initial tweet from Koike were largely concerned with the idea that more copycat Banksy art might crop up throughout the city, imploring Koike to explain why this particular graffiti deserved preservation, and even more memes, but comments on the art – and its possible artist- were sprinkled throughout.

“That’s what the rats in Tsukiji market look like.”
“It really is a cute picture.”
“I’m Banksy.”
“Y’know, the real joy of street art has burned out. By putting the artwork in storage in some warehouse somewhere, it doesn’t matter if it’s a real Banksy or a fake anymore because no one can see it. The important thing with street art is that it can be appreciated by the masses.”

Only time will tell if this rat is a verified masterpiece or just vermin waiting to be flushed away, but with all the excitement stirred up over graffiti in the process you might want to find another outlet for any anti-social art urges. How about taking a trip to Kyoto to scrawl a wish on a temple wall?

Source: Twitter/@ecoyuri
Top image: Google Maps
Insert images: Google Maps (1, 2)
Related: Banksy