Colorful Watercolor Paintings Immortalize Tokyo’s Historical Storefronts

tokyo watercolor sketches

Yamane meat shop (Nippori) /Tsuruya Tailors, now retro variety shop (Jimbocho)

After moving from Kobe to Tokyo three years ago, Polish animator Mateusz Urbanowicz was struck by the number of historical buildings that survive in Japan's capital. So, he did what any real artist would, and set out to capture Tokyo's storefronts in beautiful watercolor paintings.

While Urbanowicz's day job has him working for a Tokyo animation studio, he also works on his own, private art projects, often in watercolor.  His exploration of Tokyo led him to neighborhoods where natural disasters and war had left the historical architecture intact. It was a stark contrast from his experience in Kobe.

“When I moved to Tokyo, more than three years ago I was really surprised that upon my walks, I encountered so many shops still in business in really old buildings,” shares the artist. “Differently to Kobe, where the earthquake wiped out a lot of these old downtown houses and shops, in Tokyo, they still survive.”

After photographing his favorite storefronts in neighborhoods such as Yanaka, Jimbocho, and Nippori, he set out to capture their essence on paper with his series Tokyo Storefronts. Urbanowicz, known at Mattō in his adopted homeland, first sketched each building in pencil, going over the lines with ink before filling in with delicate washes of color.

He's helpfully labeled each storefront with the neighborhood and name of the business. As a result, visitors to Tokyo can make a hunt out of finding these historical gems. And for watercolor enthusiasts wondering how he achieves such spectacular work, Urbanowicz has a series of watercolor tutorials on his YouTube channel for the entire series. He also has a helpful guide to his art tools and paints on his website.

For those looking to add a piece of Tokyo to your wall, the full series is also available for purchase as prints.

tokyo watercolor sketches

Noike sushi restaurant (Yanaka)

tokyo storefront illustrations

Isetatsu woodblock print store (Yanaka) / Ootoya meat shop (Koujimachi)

tokyo watercolor illustrations

Nakashimaya sake shop (Mejiro) / Kitchen Kuku restaurant (Kichijoji)

tokyo storefront illustrations

Kobayashi hair salon (Sanbanchyo)

tokyo watercolor illustrations

Chinese restaurant (Takadanobaba) / Miyake bicycle shop (Kagurazaka and Kichijoji)

This detailed tutorial shows how the artist created his incredible watercolor paintings.

Mateusz Urbanowicz: Website | Society6 | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
h/t: [Spoon & Tamago]

All images via Mateusz Urbanowicz.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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