‘Little America’ Art Adorns Shutters in Fukuoka

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A scenery of New York City and an American flag are depicted on a shutter in the Saitozaki district in Fukuoka.

FUKUOKA — Shutter art that focuses on American culture can be seen along the streets of the Saitozaki district in Higashi Ward, Fukuoka, where the U.S. military base Camp Hakata was located until 1972.

The art initiative was launched by local residents to revitalize the area by featuring the history of its residents’ close ties with the U.S. culture.

Paintings of an American flag, Marilyn Monroe and New York City scenery with the Statue of Liberty adorn shutters in the district. The artwork, mostly reminiscent of American culture, can be found painted on the shutters of 10 shops — including stores selling items from liquor and rice to furniture — near Saitozaki Station on JR Kashii Line.

According to the History of Fukuoka City and other sources, the Fukuoka No. 1 Airfield opened in 1936 and was used as an air base for the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II. After the war, the U.S. military took control of it. Then during the Korean War, it became known as “Brady Air Base” and served as a transport base. And Monroe visited the camp while on her honeymoon to Japan in 1954.

“It brings back memories of me making cocktails for military personnel,” said Hisashi Shinozaki, 83, who worked as a bartender on the base. “It’s great that the area is being showcased.”

The local Shika Society of Commerce and Industry came up with the idea of shutter art and asked students of the Kyushu Sangyo University’s Zokei Junior College of Art and Design in the ward to create the paintings. The students took charge of the designs as part of their academic work, and about 40 people, including alumni volunteers, spent two days completing the artwork in late October.

The shutter artwork can be viewed mainly on Sundays, when the shops are closed with their shutters down.

“I strove to create powerful paintings to entertain people who come to see them,” said Ryota Kuboyama, a 20-year-old sophomore at Zokei Junior College.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Students draw paintings on shutters.

Back when the base was around, there are said to have been about 30 to 40 bars and restaurants for U.S. military personnel in the Saitozaki district, where the entrance to the camp was located. As buildings and other structures used by the U.S. military personnel still remain, the society of commerce and industry issued brochures about Camp Hakata and held a cycling tour featuring the camp-related sites last year.

In 2022, it will be 50 years since the base was closed and its land returned to Japan. The society intends to continue to highlight the history of the area as a means of revitalization through such projects as the shutter artwork.

“Many Japanese people worked on the base in Saitozaki, and there was a ‘Little America’ there,” said Junnosuke Inoue, a 65-year-old chairman of the society, whose father had worked as a cook in an eatery on the base. “I want to revitalize the area by sharing the attractiveness of such local history with other people.”