One Month of Food Journaling

Since I moved to Japan a month ago, I’ve been keeping a food journal.

It started out as an experiment ; I bought a cheap set of color pencils from Tokyo Hands (under $10) and a $8 notebook from Ito-Ya and wanted to see how long I could keep up with it.

Mostly, I wanted a more collected way to keep track of the new things I’d be able to try (rather than a scattering of unorganized photos), and I also liked the idea of practicing drawing. Secretly, I wanted an excuse to visit all the stationery stores in Tokyo and get new art supplies.

I think I was also getting kind of burnt out from all the work involved with maintaining Tasty Snacking, a snack review project I’ve had for 7 years now.

I don’t journal every day, but I sometimes do multiple days of journaling in one night to make sure I don’t miss any meals. It takes about an hour each night, and it’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be!

The Zequenz Notebook

Zequenz notebooks are from Bangkok and only seem to be available at Ito-Ya in their special Color Line (which comes in a variety of vivid colors). What stood out to me about the notebook is its very soft matte cover, much softer than a Moleskine, and its ability to fold and bend easily (they call it a roll-up notebook). I also liked their unobtrusive dot pattern. (I have seen the 360-roll-up Zequenz notebook at Tokyo Hands, but they only have the grid and ruled notebooks rather than the dot version, and they’re in standard black and red colors rather than the full The Color line.)

Zequenz Notebooks — my new favorite!

Color Pencils

I decided to use color pencils for the food journal project since I didn’t want to duplicate any art supplies I had at home (mostly markers), and I figured they would be the least expensive media I could choose (and one of the less messy options).

The original set of Sakura pencils I purchased I think are meant for kids and come in mostly primary colors.

Sakura color pencils

I quickly found that this color palette wasn’t ideal for trying to represent accurately the color of food (though I still use a lot of the colors every day).

Initial set of drawings with the Sakura color pencil set

During this time, I got a membership to the art store Sekaido in Shinjuku, a multi-story stationery mega mall that’s like a Dick Blick on steroids. It’s not the prettiest art store in Tokyo (for that, Ito-Ya wins), but it’s the best for selection and affordability. I got a membership so I could get discount art supplies (it cost 500¥, or a little under $5, and is good for 2 years).

About 1/3 of the total selection of color pencils at Sekaido…it’s massive

At Sekaido, every brand comes in a rainbow of colors, each marked with a number to match the manufacturer’s color line. That way, you can be super precise with your purchases.

I invested in an Irojiten color pencil set, which is a beautiful brand of Japanese color pencils that are all organized in little book-shaped cases. There are three sets, and each contain three volumes. I got the second set, which contains the volumes Vivid Tone, Deep Tone, and Pale Tone. The set cost $25 with the Sekaido discount, but I’ve seen them for as low as $16 at Yodabashi in Akihabara.

Irojiten Set 2 with vol. 3, 4, and 5


Drawing each day really forced me to look at food differently, and I’m proud of the improvement I see from the start to the end of the notebook. I don’t go back and update pages because I like seeing the improvement over time.

After the first spread, I decided to not use pencil at all. Using pencil makes the whole process take too long, and it makes me less risk adverse. I ink first and then color in.

There’s still a long way to go (I don’t know how to color fried foods still, or vegetables like cabbage which is served a lot here), but I think these things will come more easily with even more practice.

Some things that were surprising to me:

  • At first I had no grey color pencils. I didn’t think there was much grey in food. Then I realized that there is a ton of light grey due to shadows. I also quickly found myself adding spare colors that didn’t exist in the Irojiten or Sakura sets, like skin tones and a cerulean blue that is used a lot in tableware in Japan.
Additional color pencils I ended up buying to round out my palette. Also the Signa pen I use for white marks, Pentel white out pen, and Staedler triplus I use for inking
  • I bought a whiteout pen to draw some whites accents over the color pencil, but I found the Uniball Signa gelpens work even better for this. The flow of ink is more consistent than with white out.
  • You have to press really hard with color pencils to get the full vividness of the color!
Pressing hard with color pencils

At first, I focused mostly on the food. Then, I found it more fun to draw the setting in which it’s placed (so it doesn’t appear to be floating on the page), which led me to start drawing more of the restaurant itself:

Drawing the kitchen (Pizza shop)
Drawing the kitchen (Udon shop)

It took me a month to get through a book, which was 48 pages.

Today, I went out and bought an extended notebook, with 2x the pages, to continue drawing. I also bought a few food stickers to serve as references, since I still find certain foods very difficult to draw, particularly the shading of foods like meat. It’s been no trouble at all to find food stickers at the stationery shops!

Food Stickers
Sticker cheatsheet


There isn’t an end-goal with this project per se; I just want to keep drawing. These are things I want to get better at:

  • Drawing fried foods
  • Shading
  • Drawing people
  • Drawing with perspective
  • Drawing hands
  • Drawing powdered foods (like sugar on desserts)
  • Eating more delicious food!

The Food Journal (Vol 1)

Here is the entire first book:

The pages can also be found in an album here:



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