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A renowned symbol of the modern world, Tokyo is a city commonly associated with bright lights, innovative technology and sleek buildings. So when Polish artist Mateusz Urbanowicz first moved to Tokyo, he was taken aback by the number of old, architecturally eclectic storefronts that continued to flourish within the city.

“When I moved to Tokyo, more than 3 years ago I was really surprised that upon my walks I encountered so many shops still in business in really old buildings,” Urbanowicz explains. “Differently to Kobe, where the earthquake wiped out a lot of these old downtown houses and shops, in Tokyo they still survive.”

Inspired by the buildings’ resilience and their unique architectural features, Urbanowicz set out to document the storefronts in a series of watercolor illustrations, capturing the process through making-of videos.

The illustrations show buildings of a wide variety of architectural styles, employing elements ranging from traditional tile roofs to rounded display windows. While many of the details portrayed are true to life, Urbanowicz also takes artistic license to “fill in the gaps in the designs” to create the pleasing compositions.

“I really like buildings that are lived in and cared for for a long time. This is one of the reasons I like Japan and the city buildings so much,” he continues.

“A lot of the old shops and houses were destroyed because of the war or natural disasters, or were replaced with high-rise offices, but there still are some surviving and thriving. I always try to paint them so one can sense the story and human presence in them.”

Isetatsu traditional color woodblock print store from Yanaka district and Ootoya meat shop from Koujimachi district

These Watercolors Capture the Unsung Architecture of Tokyo's Eclectic Storefronts, Isetatsu traditional color woodblock print store from Yanaka district and Ootoya meat shop from Koujimachi district. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

Kobayashi hair salon from Sanbanchyo district

Kobayashi hair salon from Sanbanchyo district. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

Chinese food restaurant from around the Takadanobaba district and Miyake bicycle shop based on shops from Kagurazaka and Kichijyouji

Chinese food restaurant from around the Takadanobaba district and Miyake bicycle shop based on shops from Kagurazaka and Kichijyouji. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

Noike sushi restaurant from Yanaka district

Noike sushi restaurant from Yanaka district. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

Nakashimaya Japanese sake shop from Mejiro district and Kitchen Kuku restaurant from Kichijyouji district

Yamane meat shop from Nippori district and Tsuruya (former) tailors, now retro variety shop from Jinbōchō district. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

Yamane meat shop from Nippori district and Tsuruya (former) tailors, now retro variety shop from Jinbōchō district

Nakashimaya Japanese sake shop from Mejiro district and Kitchen Kuku restaurant from Kichijyouji district. Image © Mateusz Urbanowicz

See more of Urbanowicz’s work on his website, here.

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