The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of many — but for a trio of South American artists stuck in a rural Japanese city, it has fostered lifelong friendships and even turned them into local celebrities.

Last month, Teresa Currea, Clara Campos and Oriana Marin graced the cover of a monthly magazine published by the city of Kofu, in Yamanashi Prefecture. They also frequently give interviews to local media. Heads sometimes turn their way in excited recognition as they walk into local eateries.

Their unexpected celebrity status has been spawned by an art project they undertook this past fall as a gesture of gratitude for the hospitality of neighbors in Kofu, who they say tided them over during the most difficult period of their time in Japan.