San Jose Japantown Monument to Issei Vandalized

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Rafu Staff Report

SAN JOSE — The vandalism of a monument in San Jose Japantown has raised concern and anger in the local community.

The vandalism to the momument was discovered on Monday morning. The graffiti has since been removed. (Photo by Susan Hayase)

A large stone on 5th and Jackson streets, dedicated to the Issei pioneers more than a decade ago, was spray-painted with the letters “DEKO” and “JBF.” Jasmine Rast, owner of Roy’s Station Coffee & Teas, located kitty-corner to the monument, said her family discovered the graffiti on the morning of Feb. 8. The graffiti has since been removed.

Rast and her sister Tamiko, president of the Japantown Business Association, gathered security footage in the hope of identifying the perpetrator. One video recorded around 1:30 a.m. showed a person on a bicycle hiding and then vandalizing the monument.

Rast told The San Jose Mercury News that while she doesn’t believe the crime was racially motivated, it is a frustrating development on top of an uptick in petty crimes in Japantown, with thieves breaking into at least six businesses.

“I think everyone’s emotions are very raw right now,” Rast said. “All of the businesses are suffering due to COVID and everyone is trying to do the best we can to keep our heads above water and make a living. This is just one more thing we have to deal with.”

Pam Yoshida and Ryan Kawamoto, co-presidents of the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose (www.japantownsanjose.org) — the steward of Japantown’s monuments — released the following statement:

“While the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose is heartbroken by the vandalism of one of our most treasured monuments in the center of our community, we are also reminded of the powerful symbolism of the monument. While the stone was defaced, the monument itself stands firm.

The Issei monument was installed more than a decade ago at 5th and Jackson streets.

“The Issei Pioneer stone is an 11,000-pound granite rock from Inujima Island, which was a gift from San Jose’s sister-city exchange with Okayama, Japan, the third-oldest sister-city exchange in the United States. The monument’s strength and durability are a permanent tribute to the courage and perseverance of the Issei pioneers who settled in San Jose’s Japantown.

“Just last year, the adjacent Nikkei Lantern, a monument that is a pillar of light also in the center of San Jose Japantown, went out, and with generous funding and support from the community and Palmer Electric, we were able to relight the lantern before this new year with the hope of disseminating a message of resilience that even in our darkest times, as a community, we will persevere for a better future.

“The recent vandalism, while tragic, reminds us all of this hopeful message that much like how the defaced monument stands tall, our community’s resilience and spirit will persevere.”

In a follow-up post, the JCCSJ said, “The Pioneer Stone felt your love the past two days! From being defaced by a lone tagger on a bike in the dark early morning, to being cleaned without fanfare, again in the dark: we are so happy that people care!

“It is a symbol of your heritage: the struggles and sacrifices by the first immigrants is shown in the strength and resilience of this stone. It journeyed from Japan, was defaced and still stands strong with your love! Thank you!”

Roy’s Station Coffee & Teas also expressed gratitude for the community’s response.

A third monument on 5th and Jackson is “Issei Voices,” a 36-foot horizontal granite monument that echoes the words and phrases of the Issei pioneers who instilled deep, binding values and traditions in their children, the Nisei. On the top of the monument is a timeline of milestones in Japanese American history.

Other monuments in Japantown include Ikoi no Ba, five resting areas that allow visitors to relax and reflect on Japanese American history and culture; and the Civil Liberties Monument, which has counterparts in San Francisco and Los Angeles Japantowns. Each of the monument’s three sides has a scene reflecting history common to all three Japantowns.

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