by Miryam Muller in

This mural, which sits in the first floor of the new Tokyo Skytree, is an enormous 130-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall drawing of the city, created by 11 artists and 5 computer animators from teamLab, who spent a year and a half completing the project. It’s a combination of inkjet printing and 13 embedded monitors, a still portrait and seamless animation in one.


“The mural is so detailed nobody really knows exactly what is in it,” admits Art Director Adam Booth. “There are lots of hidden objects in the mural. In Japan, emoticons are used like crazy. If you look carefully you will find some of these emoticons in the road markings.”

But emoticons aren’t the only secrets that artists snuck into the picture. It’s loaded with all sorts of tongue-in-cheek cultural tropes, like giant sushi and electronics that snake through alleys between buildings. The closer you look, the more you’ll realize how many details lurk amidst the details.

“As inspiration for the mural we looked to Japanese Edo Ukiyoe prints and a number of paintings on sliding screens ‘Rakuchurakugaizu,’ (views in and around Kyoto) that show Kyoto from the air and are extremely detailed,” Booth writes. “They show people taking part in festivals, dancing, drinking, quarreling, they show geisha and people on the market stalls--they even depict the dogs and cats chasing mice or stealing fish of the market. In short, they depict the life of the Japanese people as if you were looking down from the clouds.”

These artistic precedents are also known for their very flat look, so teamLab drew Tokyo without a central focal point providing perspective to the piece. Individual components were actually drawn by hand, then combined digitally and colored on computers. “By combining the hand drawn process and digital, that is, reproducing the Ukiyoe techniques of Edo period printing using present day technology, this mural extends from Edo to the future Tokyo, stretching the limits of human endeavor, to present a huge amount of information in an art work,” writes Director Toshiyuki Inoko. It’s history, reimagined by technology from the future.