Japanese Graffiti

Graffiti or rakugaki is the term for any basic public markings, whether big or small. It is usually associated with gangs, which were done mainly to “mark their territories.” It has also been heavily connected with the hip-hop culture, a genre which eventually made its way to Japan in the late 1980s.


Photo by freebeets via Flickr Creative Commons

The film “Wild Style,” has been a big influence on the popularity of graffiti and hip-hop on the Japanese culture. However, because of its association with gangs and other groups, more people are questioning whether graffiti is art or vandalism.

Graffiti dates back to ancient times. Cave paintings and pictographs have been discovered by historians, and has been part of civilization. Ancient graffiti depicts declarations of emotions, literature and political ideas. Early forms even offer insight to lifestyles and languages from different cultures. Today, graffiti is just one of the four elements that made up hip-hop culture. City subways in the west were the main areas where graffiti are displayed, and as years go by, graffiti artists even incorporated cartoon characters and scenery into their work.

graffiti 3

In Japan however, hip-hop music and break dancing came in before graffiti broke through. The genre was welcomed by the Japanese youth positively, which was then followed by the opening of the first all hip-hop club in 1986. In between, graffiti managed to hold its own among artists, and started to get attention in the late 90s.

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Photo by flyintiger via Flickr Creative Commons

Japanese graffiti artists have created their versions, incorporating calligraphy, kanji and anime and manga characters into their works. Compared with western styles, Japanese graffiti are more intricate especially in the writing aspect. Characters that are very common in Japanese graffiti are Sumo wrestlers, Samurai warriors and Geisha women, because these characters played huge parts in their rich culture and civilization.

Some people may look at graffiti as modern art or expression, but there are also some people who think graffiti is vandalism. I am personally torn to be honest. Because I think graffiti is a powerful way of expressing talent, creativity, culture, social and political views. However, I think it can also be unpleasant especially if it’s not well-made and if its contents are obscene and offensive.

What do you think? Is graffiti art or vandalism? Where else in Japan have you seen artistic and intricate graffiti?

Author of this article

Evee Rayne Summers

Evee [ee-vee] is an ALT living in Tokyo with his two other Filipino cousins. She loves to write, read books and take photos. When not at work, she usually spends her time watching movies, playing guitar and reading. She loves art and a little anime, comic books and Harry Potter.

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  • leslie nguyen says:

    I guess for me, the main point is that graffiti art continues to exist whether it be art or vandalism in the eyes of other people. I would say that it is a bit of both, but it honestly depends on the person.


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