Shiro Oni Studio: Artist in Residency Program

Our program introduces artists to the Japanese countryside. We offer private studios, opportunities to work with the surrounding community, workshops, exhibition spaces, comfortable accommodations, and a central location that allows guests to get around town without the need of a car.


1. Individual Work

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.

2. Exchange of Ideas

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.

Studios located in the center of town foster a spirit of exchange between artists and also with the surrounding community.

3. Connecting Rural Japan to the Rest of the World

While most foreigners visit Japan's urban areas, the popularity of those destinations overshadow the larger rural landscape. Visitors staying in the countryside have the opportunity really know the people living there. 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.

Program Outline


Residency Requirements:

Age 25 and older
Can communicate in English or Japanese
Attend meetings
Participate in Open Studio exhibition
Donate a piece of art to the residency (chosen by artist)

Studio Spaces

The program reclaims unused and abandoned buildings in the town center, remodeling them into studios.
We provide each artist with their own studio space. Since the spaces are made from remodeled buildings, the layout, lighting and size of each studio varies. Artists can choose their own space on a first come, first serve basis.
See the 'Studios' section below for information about each studio space.


In 2016 the residency is divided into 6 and 7 week groups. Long-term residents develop a deeper connection to the area, the local people and produce the strongest work. Additionally, artists that arrive and work along roughly the same timeline share the same developmental arc. Therefore we prefer to take artists that can make a commitment for a month or longer.


Since the residency is divided into groups, artists are charged a flat participation fee for each section.
There is no weekly or daily charge.
The fee covers staff support, a private bedroom, studio space, access to the wood shop tools and equipment, flyer printing expenses and any civic center rental fees.

2016 participation fee is 115500 yen


Shrio Oni Studio gives artists an opportunity to collaborate and learn outside the studio. We introduce artists to Japanese rural culture, building personal relationships that benefit both artists and area locals.

Social Practice artists benefit from Shiro Oni Studio's collaborations with town officials and local organizations. We are interested in proposals for community projects such as organizing workshops with area schools, community centers, or hospitals.


Shiro Oni Studio offers various exhibition opportunities.
Installation artists are invited to make proposals for use of abandoned buildings in the old town center or the surrounding open countryside.

Artists can exhibit their work in any of the residency buildings; Kotoriya, Kinuya, or the Shiro Oni Studios. Artists can exhibit in unused buildings in town or in Onishi’s civic center (designed by Kazuyo Sejima).


There are three buildings guests may stay at.
All buildings are a few minutes away from one another by bicycle. Each building has a kitchen, shower and washing machine.
Shiro Oni Studio will provide a private bedroom, a bicycle, and help artists find their way around town.

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2016 Shiro Oni Studio Schedule

4 groups of approximately 10 artists will stay in Onishi in 2016. Artists will exhibit their work at the end of their stay.


SPRING : 5/2 - 6/13

The spring session is a quiet time of year in Onishi. Artists will have time to concentrate on their work and discover the Japanese countryside. Shiro Oni Studio staff will organize workshops based on artists' interests.

Exhibition: 6/11- 6/12

The residency will culminate with a group exhibition on the last weekend. Artists can show their work in their studios, the Kinuya building or at Onishi's civic center.

On June 11 there will be a farewell party for the visiting artists at the Kinuya building.



The town of Onishi holds a summer music festival every July (on the 16th and 17th in 2016). The Festival is one of the most exciting times of year, with former residents coming from around the country to participate. While not required, artists in group 2 are encouraged to participate in the nightly taiko drum practices at the local community center and to help pull the shrine during the festival.

Click here for a link to video of the 2015 Onishi music festival. Our shrine has the "あ” symbol.

Exhibition: 7/30 - 7/31

The residency will culminate with a group exhibition on the last weekend. Artists can show their work in their studios or at the Kinuya building.

On July 30 there will be a farewell party for the visiting artists at the Kinuya building.



2016 will mark the 3rd annual Kanna Fall Art Festival. The Kanna Fall Art Festival brings together Shiro Oni Studio artists with craftsman and artists from the Kanna area. In 2015 the week-long festival had work from 40 artists from 20 countries on display as well as musical performances at the former Fujisaki sake brewery, at the Shiro Oni artist studios, and at Atorie Shino. Guests enjoyed live music, food, drink, interactive art, the Japanese tea ceremony, and outdoor activities including tree climbing and two-person log sawing.

We're looking forward to seeing the festival continue to grow in 2016.

Exhibition: 9/17- 9/25

Exhibition spaces will depend on spaces available for the festival. In 2015 artists exhibited their work at the former Fujisaki sake brewery.
We are still in discussions about the exhibition space for this year's festival.

On September 25 there will be a farewell party for the visiting artists.


ANAGAMA FIRING: 10/3 - 11/14

The last group of 2016 will fire Chiaki Horikoshi's "Chiakigama" wood-fired anagama kiln. It takes several days to load an anagama, meticulously packing wadding between every adjoining surface. The kiln then requires 4 days of 24 hour stoking, burning through several cords of wood.
The kiln is located across the river from Onishi on a nearby mountain in Kamiizumi town, Saitama prefecture. The kiln is 10 minutes from the nearest building, in the middle of a cedar forest.
During the firing artists will stay in a small cabin next to the kiln.

Exhibition: 11/12- 11/13

The residency will culminate with a group exhibition on the last weekend. Artists can show their work in their studios, the Kinuya building or at Onishi's civic center.

On November 12 there will be a farewell party for the visiting artists at the Kinuya building.

Artist Studios

Shiro Oni Studios are made up of 7 buildings in the middle of the town of Onishi, all just a few minutes walk apart.

Private Studio

Shiro Oni Studio

The building was remodeled in 2009 to be the central hub of Shiro Oni's network of studios. Several truckloads of cheap lumber, paneling and drywall were removed to reveal the original tsuchi kabe, or earth and plaster walls. The walls were then restored to their original condition using a type of plaster called Shikkui.

There are 4 studios in the Shiro Oni Studios.

Artists have 24 hour access to the studios.

Private Studio


The name 'Kotoriya' means 'small bird shop' in Japanese. The building has had a long history over the last 80 years. Kotoriya was also used as a motorcycle shop, and a fish market.

There are 4 studios in the Kotoriya.

The building is a 30 second walk away from a 7-11.
Artists have 24 hour access to the studios.



All artists have access to the wood shop.
The shop has a table saw,sliding compound miter saw and a drill press. There are also hand drills, a planer, jig saw, sanders, circular saw, a grinder and a biscuit joiner.



Ceramic artists can fire either the kerosene kiln at the studios or take part in on one of the scheduled anagama firings.

The anagama is on a nearby mountain. Artists move and cut wood, load the kiln, and stay in a cabin on the mountain during the firing. Shiro Oni Studio director Kjell Hahn has a decade of experience firing anagama kilns.

Ceramic artists using the kerosene kiln must be able to fire themselves.

We have 4 electric wheels, 10 banding wheels and a pug mill.

Materials can be ordered through a catalog at cost.

Community Building


The main structure, Kinuya, connects Onishi to its past as part of the silk road. In the early twentieth century most area farmers were involved in silk production. For decades, the 100 year-old building served as a collection point for local silk on its way to be processed in factories.

In the second half of the twentieth century the market for Japanese silk moved overseas and the town of Onishi began to lose its cultural identity. Much of the Onishi population moved to larger cities, as did the original Kinuya owners.

Shiro Oni Studio uses the building as a gathering place and central hub to the surrounding buildings. We use Kinuya as an office, an exhibition space, a cafe during festivals and a place for concerts and parties.

Writers, musicians, or conceptual artists working in 'clean' media can use the rooms upstairs as a studio.

About Shiro Oni Studio

Town History

The town of Onishi (population 5,800) 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.’ In fact, the town owes its name to the stone trade. Onishi means 'Ogre Stone' in Japanese and the colorful stones are everywhere. Sanbaseki often larger than a car, can be seen piled 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.

Meaning of 'Shiro Oni'

“Shiro Oni’ literally translated means, “white ogre.” Oni are common in Japanese folklore, depicted more as misunderstood outsiders than something to fear. Different color Oni have distinct personalities and characteristics and the stories about them bear a similarity to greek mythology. As there is no traditional “white oni,” “Shiro Oni” has an ambiguity built into it, allowing the term to incorporate a broad range of ideas. Its a symbol of the unknown, but also a symbol that is free to define itself.

Founding of Shiro Oni

American artist Kjell Hahn founded the Shiro Oni Studio in as an exhibition space and studio in 2009. In 2013, he assembled a group of community-minded artists, Tokyoites, and Onishi locals with the goal of expanding the Shiro Oni Studio to be part of an artist in residency program. With the donation of the Kinuya building, the group then founded NPO Art Net Kinuya, an organization that looks to find new purposes for underused, historically important buildings in the area surrounding Onishi.


Gunma, Fujioka, Onishi 562