“BNE has arrived!” – well that’s what the stickers tell us. What stickers? If you don’t know, then you either don’t live in any one of many big cities around the world where they are now officially everywhere, or you just don’t get out very much.
These BNE stickers have become the centre of a baffling worldwide “who dunnit” involving stickers, and graffiti in an ever increasing number of well known international destinations. Living in Tokyo, we have noticed these stickers are appearing more and more, and more interestingly continue to be replaced even after authorities remove them! They are distinctive and all feature black, block characters, on a white background, and while having a number of variations, all deliver the same message that BNE is here. What is BNE is here to do? That is still anyone’s guess, and apart from his adhesive efforts, there has been little influence on anything other than people’s puzzled faces when BNE is the topic of conversation.
“B-N-E”: the three letters stand for what has become an international mystery. From Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, New York to Prague, and now Tokyo and Osaka, the acronym has been plastered on phone boxes, walls, newspaper dispensers, vending machines, parking meters and street signs. When the culprit becomes tired of stickers, he (we refer to BNE as a he, as he often refers to himself as “King BNE”) switches to spray paint, and even permanent marker. San Francisco has been plagued with the stickers since early 2006, and the mayor, Gavin Newsom is absolutely furious. He has made several news appearances promising to prosecute Mr. BNE to the extent of the law, and has even gone so far as to offer a reward of $2500 USD (almost JPY 30 men) for his capture. One estimate has it that the BNE stickers alone are costing the city of San Francisco $1 million USD a month to keep under control, as a futile effort to remove them continues while the mayor vows to stick at it, and catch the meddling vandal. The obvious, but sad fact is however, that the stickers are many times more costly and time consuming to remove than they are to put in place.
So, what does it all mean? Theories are bouncing around the web, and even have had air time on international news networks. Some ideas for the acronym (despite being lame efforts) are, “Be Nowhere Else”, “Big Nuclear Explosion” and “Breaking ‘n’ Entering”. However, there is still no definitive answer to the puzzle that has police in at least 6 nations running wild goose chases for the vandal that is spreading an unknown message to tens of millions of people around the globe. (BNE is also the 3 letter international location code for Brisbane, Australia. It is also the name for an Israeli music production company called BNE (standing for “Brand New Entertainment”). However it would be extremely disappointing to learn that this code that has stumped us all for over a year now, amounted to nothing more than the Sunshine State’s capital city, or a local music company in the holy land).
San Francisco police first noted the menace in May 2005, but since then, BNE has gone worldwide, and has an overwhelming presence here in Tokyo only in the last 6 months, with stickers now visible in every nook and cranny of each of the major city centers of Tokyo, even extending out to the suburbs. The BNE revolution (as some call it) has drawn so much attention here in Japan, that it has been featured quite regularly in the media also. This is a short clip, from the news, on location in Tokyo. The reporter finds BNE presence in Akihabara, Shinjuku, Shibuya and even Harajuku and Omotesando! (The clip is in Japanese, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it):
We at Stippy.com also conducted an independent BNE sticker hunt in Shibuya on the weekend, and found around 50 separate areas defaced by BNE stickers (see gallery below for the best specimens), and that was only searching for some fifteen minutes. Shibuya must certainly be one of the most highly concentrated BNE areas in Tokyo – it is hard to open your eyes and not see them. The phone booth pictured on left (click to enlarge) was looking particularly worse for wear, with almost every glass panel bearing the repetitive BNE symbology.
American news stations believe BNE is from Japan, due to the fact that the acronym is regularly displayed with the Japanese word 参上 (Sanjyo, meaning “arrived” or “is here”). However, it could simply mean “BNE was here” (as amateur spray paint graffiti vandals often like to let us know), using the Japanese word for the same to deepen the wild theories that so many are brewing, and seems to be working well so far to that end.
Interestingly enough, there was quite a widespread computer virus that infected computer systems around the world soon after BNE started “arriving” that contained the three letters “BNE” in its name (Win32.Rbot.BNE). There are many references on the Internet linking the sticker culprits, and the hackers behind the virus, but as expected, proof of it has not been ascertained.
There is only one explanation for BNE so far that is believable enough for me – that being the “Benet” theory. “Benet”, as he is known, is a “prolific” (the word most often associated with him) graffiti artist from San Francisco. Allegedly, (as in the picture to the right), he writes his name in overdone bubble graffiti letters. The reason he is linked to BNE is that apparently he signs his graffiti with the block letter initials “BNE”. Although, the BNE stickers have become more widely known than his graffiti artwork, and he himself remains elusive to police, despite his popularity among cult graffiti artists. Benet is said to also have visited Tokyo a few times, around the same time when stickers started to appear on the streets here. One comment on a blog I visited recounts the writer having an alleged run in with Benet at Club Milk in Ebisu, where he was hanging out with the likes of several other “celebrities”. When the blogger approached Benet with comments of adoration of his work, Benet ignored him, and was “cold and rude” according to the post.
Whoever BNE is, he has carried out one of the most successful, low budget and viral brand recognition campaigns I have ever seen. What it is exactly that he wants, or is trying to tell us, remains in the dark… at least for now. Of his several different variations of sticker, some feature a halo and the number 1 as to the left, and as yet, these subtle symbols are as baffling to us as the three letters themselves.
We will update you with any more information we get on the BNE enigma, but if you know anything, please share it with us by leaving a comment below! In the meantime, enjoy the BNE Sticker collection below (All of were shot in and around Tokyo). Note the seventh image, which is a perfect example of BNE’s spray painted graffiti art in, showing how BNE often refers to himself as King BNE in his non-sticker adaptations. (Click on images to view larger versions):
Stippy.com BNE Sticker collection!
(Have some more good BNE images taken in Japan? Let us know via the contact page, and we will publish them here!)