Behind the flashing lights and its constant bustling rhythm, Tokyo has an undeniable, almost mystic charm that takes a special talent to appreciate. One person who’s gifted with the ability to appreciate the day-to-day charms of Tokyo on another level is Japanese illustrator Akane Malbeni.
Self-described as an artist who “finds stranger things in ordinary apartments”, her work dares you to look at everyday things with a sense of mystery. We got to talk to her about her work and how she creates art that tells the stories of fantasy-filled scenes happening right in the heart of Japan.
“I really love our radiant city of Tokyo,” Akane shares. Originally from Okinawa, she moved to Tokyo for university and has been using sceneries of the Japanese metropolis as her muse since then. “It masks a multitude of fantasies and myths under the facade of advancing technology.”
Contrary to what you might expect, Akane doesn’t look at the bright, shiny distractions in Tokyo when she picks up a pen to draw. Instead, she’s most inspired by the ordinary, and the “bland, old apartment buildings” scattered across the city.
“Tokyo has huge housing complexes called danchi (団地),” she explains. “I love drawing those places because they feel like ruins in the present era. They contain both the reality of everyday life and the mystery of time past.”
Danchis trace their history to 1950s Japan. This was a time of economic growth for Japan, and it saw workers flocking en masse to the more urban parts of the country. However, at the time, cities didn’t have enough structures in place to accommodate everybody.
This left the Japanese government with a housing problem, and building blocky apartment buildings that were several stories high was the solution they saw to address the issue. This gave way to a surge in construction of these apartment complexes starting in the 1960s.
However, about a decade later, the Japanese government declared the housing crisis over and residents of danchis gradually started moving out and moving on. Some of the complexes ended up being demolished over the years, but in crowded cities like Tokyo in particular, you can still spot them in certain areas where they’re being used for cheap housing to this day.
Akane’s work often features the straightforward characteristics of not just danchi, but other things that are very “ordinary Tokyo” as well. Some of the illustrations that best exemplify this include one with an apartment balcony at the background of a “post-apocalyptic sea bathing” scene, or one with a utility pole set as the stage for a girl and her crow friends.
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