The monument contains the following dedication:
"Through self-education, strenuous labor and dedication he succeeded in restoring the barren farm land of his family. He taught agricultural techniques, business management, and mutual aid to the people of Japan. Hotoku (honor and reverence for parents) was the basis of the spiritual movement founded by Sontuko. The statue is dedicated to the Issei pioneers."
Part farmer, part philosopher and part government administrator, Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) advocated diligence, cooperation, deference to authority and thrift as ways of improving Japan's rural economy at the end of the feudal Tokugawa era. He revitalized agriculture by establishing credit associations to finance roads, aqueducts and housing, and he taught farmers to apply new methods of irrigation and to use better fertilizers. Between 1830 and 1843, Ninomiya and his disciples established the hotoku movement to promote morality, industry and economy.
The government attempted to maintain a rural social structure by encouraging hotoku after the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. During the 1930s, Ninomiya's teachings were reinterpreted as supportive of Japan's aggressive military expansion. Small statues, based on an iconographic portrayal of Ninomiya at about age 14 learning to read while carrying a load of firewood on his back, were placed in elementary schools throughout Japan. Though initially installed as reminders to children of the ideal of combining work with study, these statues became associated with the pre-war period and many were destroyed by the American Occupational forces after World War II. Located in front of the Mitsui Manufacturers Bank, the bronze memorial to Ninomiya (which should be titled Ninomiya Sontuko in recognition of the sage's official name, rather than Kinjiro, which was both his boyhood and his popular name) replicates the design but greatly enlarges the size of the pre-World War II statues. Albert Taira, the Nisei developer of the bank building, proposed the statue to Obayashi, the contractor for the project, to symbolize the Issei's hard work and self-sacrifice when establishing roots in America. Obayashi commissioned the work from a Japanese foundry that in turn hired the artist to increase the size of the monument.
Installation of the work was controversial. According to the contract with the Community Redevelopment Agency, the developers of the building were required to fullfill a percent for art requirement by commissioning an original work of public art. The issue as to whether it was an original because of its size or simply a replica of the pre-war statues was submitted to the Los Angeles County Art Museum for an opinion. After the museum concluded it was a replica, the developer commissioned an original work, Origami Horse by Natalie Kroll, for placement in the lobby, and the Agency consented to Ninomiya remaining in front of the bank.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, November 1997.
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