Regular followers to my blog know that I love street art, and wherever I go I always have my eyes (and camera) peeled for interesting street art, especially in the cities that I visit. And Tokyo, of course, is no exception.
Pretty much anywhere you go in Tokyo you’ll see some seriously creative examples of street art, like the long mural on Takeshita Street in Harajuku, above, or the playful mid-size mural seen in Shinjuku, below.
Now, one might expect a lot from such a cleverly creative city like Tokyo, but in contrast to the sprawling murals I see regularly here in San Francisco, the street art in Tokyo skews decidedly smaller, if not a bit more subversive. They are often darker in tone and theme, although you also see many examples of Tokyo cutesy.
The Japanese are very much into stickers and you see them plastered on light poles, billboards, vending boxes and machines, sidewalks, seemingly any empty space.
Stark in both design and imagery, usually colored in bold black, white or red, some are making a statement, some are selling things, some are notices for parties, while some may be the work of industrious art or design students, such as the sensitive, finely rendered piece found in Harajuku below.
And, of course, many had something to say about society and social matters, like the two below.
Still, interesting murals were easy to find, and even though they too were smaller in scale, they were no less impressive:
A dragon in Shinjuku.
A mysterious lady in Akihabara.
Whatever this is in Shinkuku.
Interestingly enough, some of the more interesting examples of street art might not be considered “traditional” street art at all, and I found most of them in the old school area of Asakusa, home of some of Japan’s most sacred sites.
As you can see in the photo above, as well as the three to follow, in Asakusa the artwork is revealed after businesses have closed, as the protective front grates are often alive with colorful murals, presumably depicting life in Asakusa during the Meiji period.
And while I said earlier that street art is on the smaller, more guerrilla run and gun variety with the smaller stickers, I still found a few examples of large wall murals, like the impressive piece in Kichijoji seen below:
And this dark, intricate Harajuku mural:
If you’re looking for great street art in Tokyo, and you can only visit one section of the city to find it, then make a path directly for Harajuku. With its large, vibrant artistic community it’s no surprise that some of Tokyo’s more creative street art is found here. Still, you’ll have no trouble finding interesting, sometimes challenging work all around the city, particularly in areas like Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa, and Shibuya.
And, as is often the way in Tokyo, you’re sure to find the most interesting street art in the city’s many backstreets and alleys. Veering from the main streets can be rewarding, so don’t be afraid to go exploring.
In case you want to see more, here’s a gallery of street art I’ve found in my visits to Tokyo. The city’s street art may not be as prolific as places like San Francisco, Barcelona or Berlin, but what’s there is choice! Happy hunting!