By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
At the former location of The Kashu Mainichi, a monument was dedicated on Aug. 1 to the newspaper’s publisher and civil rights activist Sei Fujii in recognition of his many efforts to improve the lives of Japanese Americans.
As shoppers walked by and a large crowd gathered, Rev. Noriaki Ito of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple offered a blessing for the eight-foot-tall galvanized steel lantern, located on Second Street at the southern boundary of Japanese Village Plaza.
The lantern, designed by Miles Endo of Studio Endo, is a modern interpretation of a traditional Japanese lantern found in Fujii’s birthplace in the city of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
“It’s inspired by traditional lanterns, but we decided to create a contemporary version for the next generation,” Endo said. “We intend for this lantern to be here for a very long time.”
Fujii, who graduated from USC with a law degree in 1911, was unable to become a lawyer because he was not citizen, but he used his legal skills for the betterment of Japanese Americans.
In 1928, Fujii and attorney J. Marion Wright won the U.S. Supreme Court Case that allowed Japanese doctors to construct the Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles.
Fujii and Wright challenged the Alien Land Act, which barred Japanese and other “aliens” not eligible for citizenship from owning property in California. In 1952, the California Supreme Court ruled that the California Alien Land Law was unconstitutional.
The Little Tokyo Historical Society raised more than $30,000 for the memorial lantern. LTHS also produced the short film “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” which featured Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii. Tashima, director Jeffrey Gee Chinn and executive producer F. Carole Fujita were among attendees at the dedication, along with members of Sei Fujii’s family, including his daughter Ruth Toshiko Matsuo Brandt.
Brandt recalled the long hours her father would work at The Kashu and expressed gratitude that his accomplishments were finally being recognized.
“It brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad, it’s an honor that he longed deserved,” she said.
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo