Tokyo governor sends clear message never to vandalize…unless you’re the toast of the art world.

During a press conference on 17 April, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike discussed plans for a spray-painted rat found on the bottom corner of a flood gate by Hinato Station. Although not confirmed, it is believed to have been made by the elusive artist Banksy.

Governor Koike said “there have been various hopes coming in,” regarding either hopes for proof of the picture’s authenticity or hopes on what to do with it. She said that the rat will likely be put on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in time for the long Golden Week holidays.

She also added that the government had sent a message to Banksy via social media asking him to verify that he made it, but they have so far received no reply.

Koike had already caught the public’s attention by posing for a photo beside it when the picture was found last January.

Even back then it drew some criticism for its apparent official endorsement of graffiti.

That didn’t seem to faze the governor, however, and she seems to be doubling down on her appreciation for this rainy-day rat. Naturally, people still had a lot to say about it, especially regarding Tokyo’s inability to get a reply from Banksy though DMs.

“Wow snubbed by Banksy. Not a good look.”
“It’s not normal to be showing off a painting as a Banksy without really knowing it’s one.”
“Rather than sending out embarrassing emails to Banksy, maybe they should be worried about the message this is all sending to other ‘artists.'”
“When Banksy saw who the DMs were from he probably didn’t open them so that the little ‘read’ indicator wouldn’t show up on their end.”
“I have some stencils too. I wonder if Koike wants some Banksys around her house.”
“Isn’t the fact that Banksy chose that location important? Moving art from its intended location like this is as bad as scribbling on a painting.”
“I really don’t get why that is a good picture.”

Meanwhile, at the same time Governor Koike is planning to proudly display Banksy’s possible “gift to Tokyo,” Australian Paul Han is sitting in jail on charges of vandalism which could land him in prison for up to three years.

This brings up an odd dilemma for the officials of Tokyo, who are simultaneously throwing the book at a guy for painting on someone else’s property, and celebrating a guy for (probably) painting on someone else’s property. Whether this is right or wrong would seem to boil down to personal opinion.

You could start by looking at whose property was affected. Han painted on cars owned by Tokyo Metro which is technically a private company but also owned mainly by the national and municipal governments. Banksy, on the other hand, is believed to have painted on a flood gate to a station run by Yurikamome Inc. which is also a third sector enterprise, involving mostly public ownership with some private support.

They’re about equal in that regard, but the argument could be made that Han’s graffiti was more intrusive because it was larger and on a moving vehicle that could potentially be seen all over the city. The rat, however, was relatively tucked away.

Really though, it’s probably not a wild assumption to say this contradiction is based on the presumed Banksy rat being generally deemed “a work of art” and Han’s colorful tags being ruled as “a desecration.” And at the core of this is the age-old question of “What is art?”

▼ Sure this is clearly art, but it’s not always so easy to tell…

I’m by no means any kind of authority to answer that question either way, but I will say that had Han painted the rat on the door, I’m pretty sure the governor would not be sending polite emails to him and gushing about his gift to the city, and had Banksy tagged that train… Well, I wonder what would have happened then.

It would be really fascinating to see an official reaction to Banksy painting up the entire side of a train with the most ostentatious tag he could conceive, and then proudly declaring that it was him, just to see what would happen. Being the fan of social experiments that he is, maybe he will someday.

Source: Kyodo News, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: SoraNews24