Yuki Uebo’s crowded illustrations are inspired by the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life

Tokyo-based illustrator Yuki Uebo creates messy, densely-packed images that reflect the crowded lifestyle of Japan’s capital city.

With practically 14 million people calling Tokyo home, the largest city on the planet is also one of the most densely populated. And it’s this crowded way of living which has inspired local illustrator Yuki Uebo to fill her drawings with as many people as possible while also capturing the unique essence of Japan in the process.

Crammed with people watching a sumo fight, dashing over the famous Shibuya crossing, and sitting for a wedding photo, Yuki’s illustrations have been featured in The Tokyoiter and The Covent Gardener. Her dynamic use of colour and the sense of messiness in her illustrations result from studying at London’s Royal College of Arts and Goldsmiths College.

“Since I was born and raised in Tokyo, the crowds of people you see here are part of my everyday life,” Yuki tells Creative Boom. I use the power I feel in the gathering of people and things as inspiration for my illustrations. These include crowded trains, densely packed flats, busy and colourful streets, small bento boxes full of dishes, and advertisements with lots of text.”

Yuki’s illustrations certainly ring true for anyone who’s ever been to Tokyo. Whether it’s a couple of schoolgirls getting on the train or the sight of office workers doing their daily radio exercise, Yuki’s artwork captures the culture of the city as well as its inhabitants. You can practically hear the bird calls from the subway stations just by looking at them.

“The sight of people and things gathered together in a small space is a common sight in Tokyo, and for me, it is a part of my everyday life,” she adds. “I get pleasure from incorporating this kind of density into my drawings, and it makes the illustrations feel familiar to me.”

Before becoming an illustrator, Yuki studied international politics at Japan’s Aoyamagaukin University. However, after switching to design, she quickly secured work for a digital production company in Tokyo. During this period, she began freelancing as an illustrator, and in 2022, she was crowned an AOI Members Award winner. The secret behind her success? Staying true to her roots.

“The things that inspire me are always in my daily life,” she explains. “Recently, I found family photos taken 70 years ago by my granddad and created illustrations of group photos of Japanese weddings and funerals. I captured the unique moment when everyone faces the same direction and looks into the lens with a slightly nervous expression.

“I think there is a distinctive energy in a group photo with various characters gathered in one place. I tried to carefully express the different expressions and personalities of the people.”

Studying abroad broadened Yuki’s horizons and gave her a fresh perspective on her life in Tokyo. Marrying the two points of view proves to have been a winning combination, as her illustrations hone in on what makes life in the Japanese capital so captivating and capture that for audiences all over the world.

“Japanese stereotypes are also a common subject in my illustrations,” Yuki concludes. “Since I spent several years as a student in the UK, I am interested in Japan from an outsider’s perspective.

“Sometimes, the stereotypical Japanese culture and the actual Japanese culture in my everyday life can be quite different. I playfully mix these fantastic images with my own real-life experiences of Japanese culture.”

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