Tag found in 36 places, foreign tourist claims it was art

A 23-year-old Australian national was arrested in Japan on Tuesday, when he was caught red-handed scrawling graffiti on a sign in the city of Kyoto.

According to reports, local police were tipped off to the crime following a phone call from an eyewitness, who reported that a foreigner was graffitiing on the bank of the Kamogawa River in Hiyoshicho, in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, on the night of 21 May.

Police rushed to the scene within minutes, where they found the suspect scrawling the word “Ghost” in black ink on a sign next to the riverbank. They arrested him on suspicion of property damage at approximately 9:30 p.m.

The suspect has reportedly confessed to the crime, saying “it was art”.

Higashiyama police say the suspect was a tourist who had arrived in Japan on 10 May. The same “Ghost” graffiti had first been spotted on the wall of a property on 19 May, and since then it has been seen at a total of 36 places in the vicinity, including on signs and vending machines.

Police are currently investigating these additional instances of vandalism in relation to the case.

This incident is the latest in a string of graffiti crimes committed by Australian nationals in Japan. Just last month, a 27-year-old man was arrested in Tokyo for vandalising a subway train at a rail yard in 2018, and last year two 19-year-olds were arrested for spray-painting on buildings in Shibuya.

The Japanese judicial system is very different to overseas, and people who are arrested in Japan can expect a lengthy stay in a police detention centre. Under Japanese law, a suspect can be detained for 23 days without charge.

According to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo:

Even if charged and given a suspended sentence, or if a deportation order is made, an Australian arrested in Japan could expect up to 2-3 months detention. This can have a dramatic effect on current and future employment, family relationships and financial circumstances.

Japanese police do not allow consular officers to visit outside of normal public visiting hours. Visits are not permitted on public holidays or weekends.

So if you or anyone you know is thinking of coming to Japan to scrawl graffiti as art on the streets of Japan, you’ll need to think again. Charges of property damage come with a maximum jail term of three years, and language barriers and cultural differences make dealing with the law a whole different ball game when you’re a foreigner outside of your home country.

Sources: TV Asahi, Nikkei, Australian Embassy Tokyo
Featured image: Twitter/@oonamcgee
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