Drawing Tokyo

December 8, 2014

Short essay by Luis Mendo.


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Drawing Tokyo. © Luis Mendo.

I found my first Tokyo apartment by making an image search on Flickr. This Australian guy—the artist Richard Byers, who ended up becoming a great friend—had put up photos of his tiny place in Kagurazaka that would become my home during my three-month sabbatical. Following his advice, I navigated the streets with a book called Tokyo Atlas and a compass. A compass. Many friends would laugh at me, but in the pre-mobile internet times those two things helped me to find my house easily. Nowadays you just ask Google Maps and he will get you there without having to read one Kanji.

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Richard’s (and my) view from the Kagurazaka apartment. © Luis Mendo.

One of my favorite things about Tokyo is that in many neighborhoods you will still find a hand-drawn map of the area, filled with names of shops, families, and buildings. Just to help people find things. The streets have no names, which is a given challenge for many. But once you learn how it works, you will probably find your way easier in this apparent maze. If not, look at the beautiful hand-drawn maps and enjoy.

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Hand drawn Hiroo street map. © Luis Mendo.

There’s a huge difference between walking the streets, looking around, and actually stopping at places to draw them. My friend Adrian Hogan (who I met in Instagram) knows this, and he got me into drawing those places. If you draw something, you get the chance to actually see it and remember it forever. More than that. They will become part of your life. Not only the image will stick on your long-term memory, but also the sounds, the smells, the light, and the warmth of the sun (did you know that Tokyo has at least one sunny day in any given week of the year?).

Drawing will save you, it will teach you to appreciate and enjoy this enormous monster metropolis that you will never ever master, no matter how long you walk its streets. Any of the twelve cities (kus) that make Tokyo are much bigger than my hometown.

Drawing and Tokyo have been two constants in my life for the last five years. By drawing lines I learned to navigate the city, to make myself understood when someone doesn’t speak English, to make friends, and to enjoy life everyday. My next dream is to get more and more people to draw. Together with Adrian Hogan and Eiko Nagase we started a spin off of the PauseTalk meetups, called PauseDraw. We get together and just draw and have a good time.

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PauseDraw session last December. © Luis Mendo.

When curating and designing this issue of the journal, I chose artists that see the city as a beautiful object that needed to be registered and needed to be frozen in time—but including their feelings and interpretation. I hope I have made the right choices and that you will also enjoy both Tokyo and drawing.