How to Draw a Japanese Pagoda

Updated June 15, 2017

Japanese pagodas are one of the most recognisable features of the country's landscape. Built usually as temples or shrines throughout the country, one of the oldest, the pagoda of Toji, still stands in Kyoto, Japan. Pagodas are most commonly constructed of wood, like many traditional Japanese structures, which makes them easily threatened by fires. Though numerous pagodas still decorate the cities and villages of Japan, many more have been lost to the elements over the years. Artists often enjoy drawing these structures.

Study the angles of a Japanese pagoda. Notice that the stories form a repeating pattern, but with a distinct variation---each gets smaller than the one it sits upon. Each level of a pagoda is a "box" with a cantilevered roof overhanging the sides.

Decide how many levels you want to include in your pagoda. Start at the base, drawing the sides of the first "house" with the straight edge. Leave a blank space for the roof and add the horizontal bottom line for the next level "house."

Place the straight edge vertically alongside the base level "house." Make a light pencil mark away from the straight edge just a bit (maybe 1/8 inch) smaller than the sides of the base level. Repeat this on the second vertical side of the base house. These marks form the width for the sides of the second tier house. Finish the sides of the second tier house and again leave a space for its roof.

Continue drawing increasingly smaller "houses" until you reach your desired number (most actual pagodas have five or six levels). Go back to the base and fill in a lightly sketched triangle for each of the roofs. The top level is the only one that will complete the triangle apex, but it gives a guide for adding the roof details.

Return to the base level roof. First, erase the peak of the triangle and draw the sides up until they connect to the bottom of the level two house at the corners. Next, add a slight outward curve to the base corners of the triangle. Repeat this step with each roof. At the top, add the corner curves but leave the triangle apex intact. Add a pole and ball to the top of the triangle similar to the pagoda you are using as a model.

Clean up the lines, details and corners, working one level at a time. Each level should look very much like the previous level, but smaller. Add windows to the "houses" and other architectural details. Erase any stray lines. Add colour to your drawing according to your model. Pagodas typically have red roofs on black, dark green or darker toned buildings.


Sketch lightly at first and make darker, more forceful lines as you develop the picture.


Start your drawing at the very bottom of your paper so you have room to grow upward---just like the building being constructed---and don't have to chop off the top of the drawing.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Gum eraser
  • Paper
  • Straight edge
  • Pagoda picture
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