A shopping street in suburban Tokyo has been brightening its appearance with whimsical pictures - and even optical illusions - painted on store shutters in a bid to deter graffiti artists and rejuvenate the district.
A group of about 25 artists, mainly university students, is turning dirty, defaced shutters into canvases for eye-catching artwork that local retailers hope will attract potential customers to the Shirasagi shopping street.
About 20 stores dot the 300-meter-long thoroughfare near Saginomiya Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line in Nakano Ward.
But for the past three years, businesses on the street have found their shutters increasingly targeted by graffiti artists.
Some had images spray-painted on them, while others were defaced by text. The perpetrators went after shutters that had been pulled down at night and those of vacant properties.
Whenever the graffiti was cleaned up, it would soon reappear, which developed into a cycle. The problem frustrated Kiyotoshi Shiozawa, chief of the street's shop association. He wondered if putting pictures on the shutters might prevent them from being defaced by graffiti.
Shiozawa turned for help to Shuya Kumagai, a 20-year-old relative who goes to Musashino Art University. Kumagai assembled about 20 schoolmates, and they began painting on the shutters in November 2014.
As news of the endeavour spread by word of mouth, the group was joined by students from Tama Art University and even semiprofessional artists. About 25 people now take part in the shutter project.
Artwork has been completed on 12 shutters, none of which have been marred by graffiti since.
The artists are allowed to sign their work, which includes optical illusions that visually jump out at passersby.
"I hope this comes in handy when the students are looking for work and want to show a portfolio to potential employers," said Shiozawa, 46.
The shopping street association covers the artists' transportation, materials and equipment fees.
Local shop owners have warmly welcomed the colorful additions to the scenery. "Some customers have been telling me that the pictures are beautiful," one retailer said.
The project has been so successful that representatives of a nearby shopping street reportedly approached Shiozawa to say they want to do something similar.
Yu Sakuma, a 20-year-old student at Musashino Art University who has been involved in the undertaking, said the feedback from passersby has been encouraging. "It makes me really happy when someone walking past a shop tells me the street has gotten more vibrant," she said.
Kumagai is determined to enliven the street even further. "I want to help bring some hustle and bustle to this area," he said.
Paintings on a total of 28 shutters, including those of vacant storefronts, are scheduled to be finished this month.
As most of the shutters are rolled back during the day, shop owners hope people who notice the artwork after hours will be inspired to come back and visit when the stores are open.
A major redevelopment project under way near Nakano Station in the ward has been a magnet for shoppers. In contrast, shopping streets in areas such as Shirasagi tend to be mainly frequented by locals.
"I hope this project not only prevents graffiti, but also brings in new customers who come to enjoy the artwork," Shiozawa said.