/

Woman held in Osaka for allegedly turning traffic signs into street art

by

Staff Writer

A woman arrested in Osaka on Wednesday on suspicion of defacing traffic signs with artsy, humorous stickers has admitted to vandalism, police said.

“I did it as a form of artistic expression but now I deeply regret it,” police quoted 43-year-old Mami Urakawa as saying.

Urakawa’s apparent accomplice, French national Clet Abraham, who describes himself as a street artist, was not detained. Within hours of Urakawa’s arrest, her photo appeared on Abraham’s social media accounts.

In a comment posted on Wednesday evening, Abraham suggested that Urakawa was his partner both in crime and life. Both claim to be residents of Florence, Italy.

“Arrested by Osaka police Clet’s girlfriend,” he declared in a post on Facebook. “In Japan it’s a crime to have a relationship with a street artist,” he added.

Urakawa is suspected of breaking the road traffic law by altering several road signs in Chayamachi, in Osaka’s Kita Ward, at around 1 a.m. on Jan. 3.

Apparent surveillance footage obtained and broadcast by Japanese media appears to show two individuals climbing a post to reach the sign. Police are thought to have identified Urakawa from the video.

Abraham earlier told his Facebook followers he was in Japan over the New Year’s holidays. Osaka police have not confirmed the second suspect’s identity but say the investigation is ongoing.

“If police ask me whether I did it, I would say ‘Yes,’ ” the Fuji News Network television channel quoted the culprit as saying, although it stopped short of naming the individual as Abraham. He told the network that he had tampered with 90 signs in Japan on the grounds that they are symbols of authority that he seeks to challenge through art.

FNN showed examples of the sticker graffiti, including images of a sign that had been altered to look like an arrow piercing a heart, and one that showed a bar being eaten by Pacman, the video game character. Other designs seemed more whimsical.

A spokesman for the Osaka Prefectural Police told The Japan Times the street sign in question was an arrow indicating a one-way street, and that altering it would have put drivers at risk of an accident. The sticker made the tip of the arrow appear warped.

Media reports say there have been 32 reported instances of road signs obscured by stickers in Osaka and about 30 in Kyoto Prefecture. There have been no reports of the signs disrupting traffic.

Abraham has gained fame and notoriety for his Keith Haring-esque sticker street art. The longtime resident of Italy is reported to have brought his guerilla graphics to cities across Europe, changing road signs in the middle of the night.

One sign he altered in Europe showed Jesus Christ crucified on a dead-end sign.

His mischief has landed him in trouble, the British newspaper the Daily Mail reported two years ago, citing reports that on at least one occasion he was fined.

  • Charlie Sommers

    The altered signs seem to still convey the message they were originally intended to convey. I rather like them.

  • doc_atom

    street and traffic postings are signs of authority? I am all for challenging authority through art, but this fool isn’t “challenging authority”…if anything, he is challenging order. That pretty much makes him a cartoon villain, albeit a kind of lame one.

    the stickers *are* pretty, though.

  • xperroni

    “A spokesman for the Osaka Prefectural Police told The Japan Times the
    street sign in question was an arrow indicating a one-way street, and
    that altering it would have put drivers at risk of an accident. The
    sticker made the tip of the arrow appear warped.”

    You’d have to
    be quite the ASD case to be confused by a change to the tip of a traffic
    sign arrow – in which case you’d never find yourself behind a steering
    wheel in the first place.

    The police, of course, knows this. So
    whatever reason they have to follow on this case, it is not due to any
    damage (actual or risked) the stickers might cause.

    • brazim

      You forgot that the grand majority of the police in Japan.spent their educational years with their ears pinned to tatami mats. Most are idiots at best and would be the first to get confused and lost.

  • nailikretsum

    I like the art, but hey, these are signs for public traffic safety. Where do you draw the line how much you can alter these until they become hard to decipher?

    She could just as well have made photos of the signs and post photoshopped version of them on FB, you don’t have to stay analogue these days ;-)

  • J.P. Bunny

    I really do like these signs, but the artists should have made replicas that could be shown in a gallery or such. No matter how pretty/amusing the creations, they are defacing legal traffic signs. As stated elsewhere, where do you draw the line?

  • 151E

    I’ve seen many such playful signs across Spain, none of which obscure the meaning, but simply add some interest. However, score one for Japan’s humourless bureaucracy.

  • Jason Taverner

    Phew! Thank god the ever vigilant Japanese police put short shrift to such subversive activities. Thankfully, in order to perform such extraordinary acts of civic responsibility, they apparently they had a few spare moments in between checking bicycle registrations.

  • Jason Taverner

    “Apparent surveillance footage obtained and broadcast by Japanese media
    appears to show two individuals climbing a post to reach the sign”
    1. Apparent?
    2. How did the Japanese media “obtain” said video? Hint: no prizes for guessing.
    3. Anyone existing in an urban Japanese environment these days should fully expect to be captured on video at all times. Welcome to 1984, Japan style.