Urban Sketching On The Streets Of Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for urban sketching – drawing cities and places on location. As any visitor or resident of Tokyo knows, there are countless restaurants, pedestrian crossings, market stalls, train stations, and many more locations that capture the exuberant bustle and traditional culture and everyday beauty of this sprawling metropolis.

Armed with a set of pencils, fineliner pens, eraser and a few notebooks, and inspired by the one and only Florent Chavouet, I set out to capture Tokyo during a few visits over the years.

Food and Drink

Market stalls in Tokyo are always colourful and lovely, in particular the bold signs decorated with kawaii cartoons. Ueno Ameyoko market and Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa re some of my favourites. Here is a Takoyaki stand, selling delicious balls of battered octopus with sweet Takoyaki sauce.

The famous Japanese vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, with 5 million machines across and country (and counting)! That’s one machine for every 23 people. What’s inside ranges from noodles, food, umbrellas, beer, ice cream – you name it! I drew these machines in a quiet backstreet near our Airbnb.

This small corner restaurant is located in Omoide Yokocho alley in Shinjuku, a narrow alley filled with bars and restaurants, popular with tourists. It smelled like yakitori, and was lots of fun to draw the people coming for a late night snack.

On another occasion, Tokyo led me to this ramen bar in Shibuya. It had a vending machine-style ordering system, where customers order and pay using a machine.

One of the most fun dining experiences in Japan is sitting down to a meal of okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake made with vegetables, flour, egg and meat, and grilled on a hotplate. In this sketch, we visited Tsukishima Monja, a street filled with okonomiyaki restaurants, famous for the Tokyo speciality variation, monjayaki.

Back down in the subway stations of Tokyo, I came across this interesting restaurant – a stand up sushi bar for busy people on the go!

stand up sushi restaurant tokyo train station food
Drawing of standing sushi bar in tokyo


Pachinko parlours seem like a peculiarity for tourists. Walking inside one (or just walking past) reveals a world of deafening metal clanging, cigarette smoke, and electronic sound effects as gamblers play Pachinko. It’s a mechanical arcade game that is a bit like a slot machine with small metal balls that rattle through the game. I poked my head inside and took a picture of the chaos, drawing this photo afterwards.

In the suburb of Nakameguro, I came across a light display being set up. It was called the Jewel Dome, where the trees that are over the canals are illuminated with thousands of beautiful lights.

Here, I drew the police officers directing traffic. Lots of people were coming to enjoy the show.

At some point during my wanders through the streets of Tokyo, a fleet of Mario Karts rolled to a stop at a traffic light, complete with costumes of Nintendo characters and other cartoons. It was part of Street Kart, a cool activity where people can hire karts for the road!

Traditional Tokyo

One of my favourite places to sketch was here, at the Imperial Palace of Tokyo. This building is a guard tower near the Imperial palace. I especially loved drawing the different leaf colours that surrounded this scene.

Near Ueno Park, I discovered these Japanese cemeteries in an old part of Tokyo. There were a lot of them all in a row, and each had tombstones alongside tall wooden paddles called Itatoba. This was a very humbling and serene place to visit.

Also near the cemeteries were old wooden houses. Not many survive in Tokyo as a result of heavy bombing in WW2. This beautiful old house was also a local cafe.

Tokyo on the Move

A large part of life in Tokyo is getting around from place to place, and I was thrilled to take the Tokyo subway around the city. Every time I sat opposite a group of people, they were always so interesting. I liked these four men on their way home from work, and their clothing, bags, and hairstyles.

I couldn’t resist drawing a picture of Centre-Gai street in Shibuya. Capturing all the neon lights was a challenge, but I love the frenetic energy of this drawing nevertheless.

Nearby was Shibuya crossing, probably the most famous pedestrian crossing in the world. Thousands of people all crossed at the same time when the lights went green, and just as quickly the next wave accumulated, waiting for their turn.

Over to Akihabara, I spotted this huge Sega sign, an icon of the area people were shuffling about, looking for gadgets, manga, and toys.


Tokyo is an amazing location for urban sketching. With such a wide variety of locations to visit, shops and restaurants to visit, and people to observe, there is always something interesting to capture on paper.

Like this? Check out my post on urban sketching in Paris!


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