Mural art project brings blaze of color to construction site near Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Walls covered with richly colored paintings including kimono-clad men and women, robots and skyscrapers are seen at a construction site in Kawasaki on March 24.

Walking near Kawasaki Station after an interview the other day, I came across some impressive walls surrounding the construction site for the main building of Kawasaki City Hall.

The 3-meter-high walls, a combined 56 meters long, were covered with richly colored paintings ranging from kimono-clad men and women to robots, from mom-and-pop candy stores to skyscrapers.

It’s not graffiti but mural art authorized by the city. Five contemporary artists active in Japan and abroad have depicted the city, art and youth culture in the style of a picture scroll. The images in the mural stretch from the Edo period (1603-1867) to the present and into the future.

Kawasaki, which is promoting urban development utilizing street culture, commissioned the artists to create the mural. The walls have become a landmark, with people stopping to see the artwork.

There are more opportunities recently to see such artistic walls at construction sites. They appear to be spreading, thanks to the color they bring to dull construction sites and their help in preventing graffiti.

Last year, the Japan Construction Cooperative Combination held a competition for students to design construction site walls, to help improve the image of the sites and the construction industry. Seventy-six groups of students, ranging from high school students to graduate students, competed in the contest.

Construction site walls have also been used as a place for artists with disabilities to exhibit their works. Heralbony, a welfare-related service provider in Morioka, has offered the works of disabled artists to be used at more than 20 construction sites throughout the nation since 2018. Part of the proceeds it receives from the construction companies are paid to the creators and the facilities they are connected with.

According to a 2018 survey by the Japan Traffic Culture Association, 45% of respondents said that public art improves the image of spaces and facilities, and 35% said the art helps revitalize local communities.

With a little ingenuity, an inorganic, intimidating wall can be transformed into a place for interaction, conversation and understanding. Here’s hoping such public art galleries will spread further.