"Why can't they nab them?" That was the headline in Nikkan Gendai (Jan 19), reporting on three incidents of graffiti on Tokyo subway cars over the past several days. Garish scrawls were found on cars on three lines, including at Yoyogi Uehara Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line (Jan 13) and Nakameguro Station on the Hibiya Line (Jan 15).
In the case of the latter, the two cars were defaced by spray paint that covered an area one meter high and 14 meters in length.
The tagging took place while the trains were parked at night, and Tokyo Metro filed a complaint with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
"The graffiti has already been removed and the trains are back in service," a subway spokesperson is quoted as saying. "We don't make public the costs for removal."
The vandalism problem has been ongoing. Last year, along with the Tokyo Metro, taggers hit the Yokohama Municipal Subway, Sotetsu Line, JR West Japan, the Kobe Municipal Subway and others.
"The cost of removal from the cars depends to some extent on the affected area," said a railway employee. "But personnel charges take up the lion's share. Combined, in some cases it can run as much as around 500,000 yen. While hard to tolerate, we don't really want this covered by the media as we're concerned it will inspire copycats. So the railways may be grinding their teeth in frustration, but they discourage coverage."
Another annoying aspect of these acts of vandalism is that one hardly ever reads about the arrests of offenders.
"Ten years ago, there was a case when people sneaked into the Osaka subway station and vandalized a train," recalls a source inside the police department. "It turned out that they were two foreigners in their 20s, a Hungarian and a Slovakian. They were intercepted and arrested at the airport while attempting to leave Japan.
"Apparently there are groups of delinquents in the U.S. and Europe who come to Japan as tourists. They come here for about a month, and get their kicks by defacing trains; then they leave, making it especially hard to deal with. In foreign countries it's common for defaced trains to keep running, but Japanese are fastidious about such eyesores."
Penalties for vandalism in Japan include imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 300,000 yen, along with demands for monetary compensation to cover damages.
These are not something to be shrugged off as harmless pranks, Nikkan Gendai comments gravely.© Japan Today