Away from the congested urban life of Japan and surrounded by mountains in the small town of Onishi (ogre stone) in Gunma prefecture, artists can work free from outside distractions. Shiro Oni Studio’s first priority is to provide each artist with individual studio space to focus on their work.


Shiro Oni Studio was founded with the belief that while artists produce much of their work individually, the development of ideas going into that work benefits from a strong social network.


The town of Onishi is typical of the larger economic and population aeging problems Japan faces. Artists staying at Shiro Oni Studio will be bringing diversity and cultural exchange to an area of Japan too often overlooked.


Kjell Hahn

American artist Kjell Hahn founded the residency in 2013. In 12 years the residency has hosted over 250 artists from 30 countries and has been featured in publications such as Vogue magazine, Soto Koto magazine, NHK television and Asahi, Jomo and Yomiuri newspapers. In 2021, he received an award for his international cultural exchange efforts from the governor of Gunma Prefecture.

The art residency works with NPO Art Net Kinuya bringing together artists, Tokyoites, and Onishi locals with the goal of finding new purposes for underused, historically important buildings in the area surrounding Onishi

Article in Mainichi Newspaper about Kjell Hahn.


The Silk Road

The town of Onishi (population 4,900) was once an important collection point along the silk road. The sericulture (silk) farmers from the surrounding mountains would come to the valley town and sell their raw silk to merchants.

Shiro Oni Studio’s Kinuya building was central in this trade and sold silk on its way north for almost a century. With the modernization of Japan’s economy, labor-intensive sericulture faded, and silk is no longer produced.

While the silk trade has moved overseas, another industry of the town still continues. Onishi quarries red and green gardening stones called ‘Sanbaseki,’ after the river they come from, ‘Sanbagawa.’ The stones, often larger than a car, can be seen in parking lots and along roads throughout town.

Today, with the loss of population and industry in the mountainous countryside, the same geography that once channeled traders through the area cuts Onishi off from the outside world. Many of the buildings in the center of town have already been demolished, and the remaining structures are often used for storage or simply abandoned. Shiro Oni Studio ultimately aims to help reverse this by bringing outgoing, community-minded artists to the area.