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Graffiti the Japanese Way

Page history last edited by Heather Driver 13 years, 8 months ago

Graffiti, or rakugaki, is the typical term applied to any basic public markings, whether it’s the small writing on bathroom stalls or the huge pictures done on city buildings. Usually associated with gangs, graffiti is typically done by non-gang members. Gang related graffiti only qualifies for 10% of the pieces out there and this is mainly to mark territory. Hip-Hop culture and graffiti are heavily intertwined. Hip-hop eventually made its way to Japan, where graffiti also found its way overseas. With the help of the film “Wildstyle,” graffiti and hip-hop had an impact on the Japanese culture. Afterwards Japanese graffiti artists and Japanese culture merged to create unique works of art that constructed a new identity in the Japanese culture.



History of Graffiti

Graffiti dates back to ancient times including Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and before the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii. It is even mentioned in the bible (Daniel. 5:1-31.). Cave paintings and pictographs can be considered graffiti. Graffiti is a basic part of civilization. Ancient graffiti depicts declarations of love, poetry, advertisements for prostitution, and political ideas. Early forms of graffiti offer insight into the education levels these ancient cities were at. It also lets us know about lifestyles and languages from cultures whose existence has demised.

Modern graffiti arose when hip-hop was on the rise. Graffiti is one of four elements that made up hip-hop culture. Originally Philadelphia was the center for artists to spread their name around, but it quickly moved to New York. The city subways were the main areas being targeted because an artist wanted their work to spread throughout the city and subways carried their logo through many areas. They used the terms tags, bombs, pieces, and throw-ups to describe the work according to the amount of time spent on the piece of work. By 1974, cartoon characters and scenery were being incorporated into their work. Artists would have competitions of who could do the most throw-ups in an area, which led to the mid-1970s being called the “bombing” era. Soon artists were given gallery openings that drew attention from the public.




Coming to Japan-Rakugaki Emerges

The rise of hip-hop culture in the early 1980s, created media sensations. Movies like “Wild Style” and documentaries about hip-hop were becoming popular. When they reached Japan, the people embraced it. They thought it was cool and something new. Hip-hop music and break dancing caught on way before graffiti broke through. 1986, the first all hip-hop club opened up. Soon J-rap came along due to the success of artists in the years 1994 and 1995. Graffiti managed to become popular throughout the years and in 2005 a contemporary museum called X-COLOR opened and it was dedicated to showcasing graffiti artists’ work. The exhibition included photographs and videos depicting the history of this culture. They also showed graffiti in relation to other street cultures. 


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Combing with Japanese Culture

“For anyone that has visited Tokyo, it's no secret that Japanese graffiti artists, while of course influenced by the New York scene, have created a beast all of their own with the popular influences of calligraphy, kanji, and anime and magna characters,” (Anderson). Compared to western graffiti styles, the Japanese graffiti pieces are much more intricate especially in the writing aspect. Anime and manga influences can be found in any piece of work. It is natural for pop-culture to be included in a graffiti piece. There is a mixture of kanji and Japanese alphabets used to create stylized ideograms. Sumo wrestlers, Samurai warriors, and Geisha women become part of the art to represent the influence of their own culture. Paint wars, where crews paint insults back and forth until one quits or gets caught by the police, are common in the culture. The same in many cultures, if the artist is illegally vandalizing an area, they can spend a night to a month in prison. The artists usually aren’t in too much danger as like they would have to deal with in place like New York and L.A.




Major Artists












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Locating Graffiti In Japan


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Two well know legal places to paint are the Yokohama Wall of Fame, at the Sakuragicho Station, which is a 3 kilometer wall that is covered entirely in graffiti. Another is called “The Ghetto,” which is located in Shinjuku. Typically graffiti remains in underground areas. Bridges, tunnels, and farm walls that happen to be away from mainstream areas are hot spots. The Yamanote line is the best place to check out graffiti if you want to find it quickly. Train lines consist of throw ups that are large and not as elaborate as other pieces. In major cities, like Tokyo or Osaka, you can find commissioned work but not as much as other places. If graffiti is located near high class shopping centers will be taken down rather quickly. 


Link: Japanese Graffiti



Anderson, Ariston. http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/graffiti-japan.php









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