Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Tokyo Sketchbook Part 1

Over the summer in Tokyo I filled a sketchbook with pen drawings. I always sketch a lot when I'm in Japan, but it was particularly so on this trip, perhaps I was driven by the shear joy of being back in the city, it was as if something had been unlocked.

Some of these drawings were the kind of fantasy ideas and escapist shenanigans I regularly doodle. One or two were observed sketches inside restaurants...

Gonpachi Soba-ya, Azamino, Yokohama. 3rd Aug
But a very large number were observed drawings of people on trains, especially the Denentoshi line, which runs from Chuo-Rinkan through the northern Yokohama suburbs, across the Tama river into Shibuya, from where it continues through the middle of Tokyo as the Hanzomon line.



It's a long, snaking line and very busy, on the evening trains out of Tokyo to the suburbs its very difficult to find a seat nowadays, even outside the peak times. Compared to a few years ago the passenger dip between the rush hour and the late trains has become much shallower, there's very little difference between 7pm and 9pm. Waiting for a later train might be fractionally less crowded, but it still doesn't mean you'll be able to sit down.



Thus, many of my sketching chances were on journeys into town at midday, often on the slower local trains.

 Whenever opportunity allowed, I'd commandeer a seat and discretely draw those around me in my small pocket sketchbook. Curiously, despite standing out like a sore thumb as the only non-Japanese on the carriage, few people ever noticed that I was drawing, and I'm pretty certain none of the subjects were ever aware.







I think this is because many commuters simply shut off when they're on the train, they close their eyes in either real or feigned sleep, or fix their gaze on smart phones.



People effectively wrap themselves in their own worlds, oblivious to the rest of what goes on in the carriage. It's a gift of the Japanese commuter to be able to do this, perhaps due to the nature of Tokyo itself - in the neon drenched street of the urban centres so much is going on around, the noise, the flashing kanban, most people develop a selective awareness of the environment around them - they filter out the unwanted "noise" of the city, and thus preserve their sanity.

There is an art to survival in the metropolis - people concern themselves with details that interest them and are able to largely ignore the rest, train journeys can be meditative affairs, and if you want to escape entirely technology provides you with music, game apps or a read.


So I'm able to blithely sketch away on Tokyo trains undisturbed in a way I'd find difficult in the UK, not least because my train journeys in the UK are much rarer, with seat layouts that make it difficult to draw other passengers. Tokyo trains, with seats facing opposite, are the perfect life drawing class.


Another thing I noticed during this trip though, compared to former years - the poses are largely the same. In the past people would read books, talk, or whatever. Now, almost everyone who gets a seat on Tokyo trains does exactly the same thing - they sit, bag on knee, smart phone in hand, headphones in ears, and close their eyes.




My task is to unlock their thoughts and character through a lightning sketch, before they move or are blocked from view. It's one of the exciting things about sketching people on trains, the knowledge that you might only have a few fleeting minutes of opportunity.



2 comments:

jaguarish said...

Enjoyable insights, musings and sketches. Thank you for this small glimpse into Tokyo life!

artisjokken said...

wonderful sketches, love the drawings. Nice post as well. And ....as jaguarish said... :)