Miles Endo’s commissioned work to create a public monument for the late civil rights activist Sei Fujii, was unveiled Aug. 1 in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo District. Endo’s work was commissioned by the Little Tokyo Historical Society. Fujii also served as publisher of the Kashu Mainichi, a Japanese American newspaper that served Southern California from 1931 to 1968.
The 8-foot tall monument was inspired by lanterns found in Fujii’s home area of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in Japan. The artwork is located at the Second Street entrance to the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
Sei Fujii immigrated to the United States in 1903 from Yamaguchi. He graduated from the University of Southern California School of Law in 1911, knowing that, as a foreigner, he was not allowed to practice law in America. However, working with fellow student and colleague, J. Marion Wright Fujii, he helped to overturn the 1913 California Alien Land Law in 1952. The law prohibited aliens “ineligible for citizenship” from owning or leasing land for long terms in California. The law targeted the Japanese, but also affected Chinese, Indian and Korean farmers working in California at the time.
Fujii also helped to establish the Japanese Hospital in East L.A. in the 1920s at a time when Japanese people had little access to medical services and to finding employment in the medical field. Fujii was granted U.S. citizenship in 1954. He died 51 days later after dedicating his entire adult life to civil rights in America.
The art piece was designed by Miles Endo, a 2006 Punahou graduate and 2011 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the son of Hawai‘i taiko master Kenny Endo and taiko artist Chizuko Endo. An industrial designer, Endo is the owner and founder of Studio Endo in Providence, R.I. He has designed for a growing list of private clients and companies. Endo also makes custom taiko drums. He began studying taiko at the age of 4, performing with the Taiko Center of the Pacific, Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble and Gendo Taiko, a collegiate taiko group based at Brown University.