Help Paint Little Tokyo's Mural
by Nancy Kikuchi

Little Tokyo Mural Design
Come be a part of Little Tokyo history!

It’s been two years in the making, but we are ready to begin painting a mural for the Japanese Village Plaza parking structure wall. For those of you who are familiar with Little Tokyo, the northern half of the JVP parking structure wall, located at the southwest corner of First and Central, has been a 35 foot high, 75 foot long, white, blank canvas at the eastern entrance to our community.

I first noticed how empty that wall looked when I started taking the Vignes Street exit off the 101 Freeway South, after my exit was closed off immediately after 9/11. I would drive westward on First Street and it always seemed like such a waste that the wall didn’t say something like, “Welcome to Little Tokyo”, at the least.

I started talking to the property owner in 2002 about applying for a grant from the City of Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Matching Fund (under the Board of Public Works Operation Clean Sweep) to help cover the cost of this mural. We applied in Spring of 2003 and was told we got the grant. The muralist (Tony Osumi, who also designed the mural on the Aloha Market in Centinela, under the same city program) immediately started scheduling community-wide meetings to get input for the design. We held four meetings specifically to discuss design ideas and two more meetings were held for the purpose of creating a vision for Little Tokyo. During this process, I was thrilled to find out that part of the State’s Prop 40 funds would go towards matching the city grant that we received.

Here is a draft rendering of the mural. It includes many memories of Little Tokyo, and is a compilation of ideas brought forth in those 6 community meetings. In the design, look for a produce stand from the 1900's, a Nisei couple dancing (from the 40's), the Nisei Week Queen in her convertible (from the 50's), a little girl pounding - not mochi - but a guard tower from one of the relocation camps, there’s also an image from the activist days of the 1970’s, and from the Day of Remembrance. There's Mt. Fuji in the background (as requested by some Issei), and the Nisei Week parade of characters includes a girl playing basketball, martial arts rep, a Sansei with a t-shirt and jeans and sunglasses dancing, a woman in traditional kimono, and a Latino restaurant worker. There's Charlie Parker playing the sax (in one of his CD jackets, he mentions having lived in Little Tokyo during our community's Bronzeville Days during WWII), and the picture of Nick Nagatani carrying the Issei gentleman down the trailer steps of a community health clinic. There’s a taiko group included and cherry blossoms sprinkled throughout. There are three mystical dancing figures whose sleeves imitate the “wave” motion (to satisfy another Issei request for the famous woodblock print of the Hokusai wave).

Along the top and bottom borders of the mural are the 4 visions that came out of the two meetings held by the community. Along the right and left borders, there will be Japanese text written that reads, “Little Tokyo wa wareware no kokoro no furusato desu”. (Roughly translated, that means “Little Tokyo is the ‘home sweet home’ of our hearts”).

The mural will be painted on 20 different wooden panels, each being 4’ by 8’. Volunteers are being sought to help paint the mural. Individuals, as well as high school, college and community service groups are welcome!

Public painting will be held every Saturday and Sunday from September 25th to October 10th, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. More paint days may be scheduled, as needed. Each day we paint, we plan to have a shift change every 2 or 3 hours because of limited space on these panels. We would appreciate all volunteers, especially groups, to call or e-mail for available time slots to come and paint. No experience or skill required. According to Tony, “if you can brush your teeth, you can paint our mural”.

The owner of JVP has graciously offered to provide refreshments to all volunteers. As for parking, as of this writing, I’m still trying to arrange parking for the volunteers.

One last word: there really aren't too many opportunities to help revitalize Little Tokyo. So I urge everyone to take this rare chance and be a part of creating this mural. Bring your children and have them participate, as well. When completed, this mural will be 16 feet high and 40 feet long, located at the eastern gateway into Little Tokyo and will be a part of this community for many years to come.

Be a part of making a “new” Little Tokyo history.

Please call or e-mail me at 213-473-1658 or nkikuchi[at]LTSC[dot]org for more information. Thank you!

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Updated: 10/11/04