Tokyo On The Go: Street Art

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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, especially in the cities that I visit. And Tokyo, of course, is no exception.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And, of course, many had something to say about society and social matters, like the two below.

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Still, interesting murals were easy to find, and even though they too were smaller in scale, they were no less impressive:

IMG_2661A dragon in Shinjuku.

IMG_3225A mysterious lady in Akihabara.

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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.

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And while I said earlier that street art is on the smaller, more guerilla 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:

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And this dark, intricate Harajuku mural:

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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 it’s 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.

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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!

About Stephen Kelly Creative

Hi, I'm Stephen Kelly, a writer, editor, photographer and graphic designer living in beautiful San Francisco, CA, USA. Amongst the things I love are writing, photography, movies, music, fitness, travel, Batman, all things Australian, food and fun, all of which I hope to reflect in this here blog. Welcome aboard ... now let's get busy!
This entry was posted in Japan, Let's Go Japan!, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Creative, Stephen Kelly Photography, Street Art, Tokyo, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tokyo On The Go: Street Art

  1. Anonymous says:

    So interesting…Japan has some beautiful street art…thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks Steve.

  2. As always, your post is both interesting and provocative. If you worked with an old-fashioned standard camera, I’d say you could fund a small art colony yourself on what you spend on film, but since your own photo on this page shows you with a cellular device….Anyway, thanks!

  3. viveka says:

    I just wonder where street art … was … didn’t see any during my visit in the spring. Very interesting. I love the long wall with the figures and the houses …. a very happy. Your images are very good …

  4. pattimoed says:

    I can see why you like the street art there. It is so varied and creative. I love the “riff” on Uncle Sam and the 2 hearts in love.

  5. pommepal says:

    Quite intriguing what street artists create.

  6. Love this post, love Tokyo and I love street art

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