By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
“Home Is Little Tokyo,” the colorful mural at Japanese Village Plaza on Central Avenue that welcomes visitors to the historic Japanese American neighborhood, was defaced with graffiti by taggers on early Sunday morning, sparking anger and outrage.
“I’m so upset,” said Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do Confectionery. “To go over someone else’s artwork is a taboo thing. They are low life, low class.”
The mural, completed in 2005, was the culmination of three years work by a team led by muralists Tony Osumi, Sergio Diaz and Jorge Diaz, and project managers Nancy Kikuchi and Takao Suzuki. More than 500 people helped to paint the mural, which features scenes of Japanese American life and history, including images of redress, the Asian American movement and mochitsuki.
Large black panels currently cover the areas damaged by the taggers. Kito explained that the mural has an anti-grafitti coating and that a crew is scheduled to come on Tuesday to assess the damage and work on restoration.
He praised Angela DeGroot, JVP manager, for taking quick action.
“I want to thank Angela from JVP for taking the initiative to cover it up for us — for the community’s sake — so we don’t have to see it. She’s a part of the community too,” Kito said.
Kito said a security guard from JVP caught the taggers in the act and one of them threatened to shoot. This is the first time the mural has been hit, although Little Tokyo has seen an uptick in graffiti incidents in recent years as the area becomes a popular destination.
“The mural is an expression of Little Tokyo’s spirit and values, worked on by hundreds of volunteers over 13 years ago. This is the first time it’s been vandalized and it’s a disrespect to the entire community,” Suzuki said.
Poignantly, the mural also stands as a testament to two of its creators who passed away after its completion: Nancy Kikuchi, who died in 2014 at 52 years old, and Sergio Diaz, who died last December at 48 years old.
Osumi shared memories of painting the mural at Sergio’s home in Van Nuys, with music playing and Kikuchi bringing provisions of El Pollo Loco chicken. Kikuchi is depicted among the taiko drummers on the mural. Osumi said that Sergio also included an image of his young daughter.
“When there are so few images of Asian Americans, it represents our hopes and dreams like the building the rec center and Nancy Kikuchi’s image,” Osumi said. “This is not a blank wall, it’s 130 years of history and struggle. When it gets needlessly covered up, it’s painful.”
Osumi said he hopes the perpetrators are caught and made to do community service. He also pointed to the need for more after-school and arts programs for youth.
“Mural abatement costs the city millions that could be used for arts programs for kids,” he said.