The main streets of Ginza are ritzy and vibrant; lining them are department stores with storied histories, and flagship storefronts for leading fashion brands. The buildings here stand like sentinels of wealth—symbols of a rich, extravagant location, and one of the one of the most expensive streets in the world.
But when I asked illustrator Andrew Browne what interested him about the place, it was the contrast—it was the way this historic, rich, and extravagant locale hid behind it a different kind of life, and a different kind of lifestyle.
“The reason behind it,” he said, “is, there’s Ginza, which I like, but it’s very ritzy, it’s very clean, and [there are] lots of people in suits. It’s very sort of commercial and business oriented. But then just a few blocks away you come to Yurakucho which has some very old sort of post-war izakayas and bars. It’s quite dirty actually, and I just love that difference; that juxtaposition.”
We walked the nighttime streets, and headed for Yurakucho. Around us, groups of tourists and locals alike enjoyed a night out on the town.
Andrew continued, “And to me that kind of embodies a lot of what Tokyo is: you have this new, commercial aspect of life, but then you also have this old, dirty rundown part of the city. And that new-plus-old, that idea is very interesting to me, where you can walk around a city, and you can go from luxury brands to old temples or old houses, rundown buildings, etcetera.”
We stopped at the Yurakucho Concourse, at a restaurant under the JR train lines. Movie posters from decades past covered the walls. The sounds of rowdy chatter and clinking beer glasses echoed out into the street with the smell of Japanese napolitan pasta.
Andrew found a spot by the wall, and he started sketching.
“My main style,” he said, “is drawing in ballpoint pen. And using very thin lines with ballpoint pen to create lots of layers and to create lots of detail.”
Andrew’s recent work, done by the name of Monomizer, is a collection of hyper detailed illustrations that blend American and Japanese pop-culture with idols and Buddha statues. There’s something of a blurring of the lines in it—between past and present—that feels very much a part of the Ginza, and Tokyo experience.
“The thing that I really enjoy about it,” he said, “is that the process is so meditative. One drawing will take a week or so to finish. And that entails going over the same areas over and over again in different layers, and really trying to capture light and that sort of thing. And the process just of my hands on the pen and the paper… I really enjoy it. It’s kind of where I’m the happiest, honestly.”
I watched Andrew sketch, and I thought about the places we’d walked and the things we’d seen. I got the sense he’d found a spot containing the very essence of what he wanted to express – a slice of the past, hiding beneath one of the most modern and efficient public transportation systems in the world.
New and old, clean and dirty, rich and poor—all of it was a picture of Tokyo.