Issei No Yume (Issei Dream)

Background information

Tony Sheets, 1987. 9' x 3'-4'. 222 South Central Avenue
The late Bob Honda, the Nisei developer of the adjacent 167 unit condominium complex, Little Tokyo Villas, commissioned this memorial as "an expression of thanks to the Issei, who in following their dreams of life in America, created the foundation for all that we know as Little Tokyo today. Their dream and their courage is the foundation on which our lives and this community is built."

Japanese immigrants are depicted in relief poised between Japan and America, facing outward from a deck of a ship on their journey to the United States. A large numeral "3" hangs on the railing, representing the ship's number and symbolizing the immigrants' impersonal but temporary identity during their voyage. Instead of depicting individuals, who often came for temporary work, the work portrays families intent on permanently settling in the new land. Representing the past and the promise of the future, this intergenerational imagery also presents the Issei as the progenitors of the cohesive Japanese American family. The portrait of the family standing next to the "3" is based on photographs of Honda's family taken when he was a baby. Portraits of the parents of Honda's partners in the Little Tokyo Villas project are also included in the composition.

The contrasting styles of clothes speak of the transition between Japan and America. Tony Sheets based his design of the traditional women's clothes on drawings Honda's daughter, Janet, found in catalogues from Japanese department stores. The men's clothes replicate styles Sheets found in 1920's photographs.

Reinforcing the visual theme of the work, Honda's poem inscribed on the reverse of the plinth reads in translation:

Our forefathers,
the Issei
Leaving their Motherland to American
Full of hope in their future
Issei No Yume was cast from 3/8" bronze into approximately 150 pieces and then welded together by the fabricator, Mark Mileron. Located near the entrance of the condominium, the sculpture is elevated by a slate pedestal that merges in color and material with the sidewalk.


The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, December 1997.

Back to Little Tokyo.