Senzo (Ancestor)

Background information

1981, Jerry Matsukuma, 20' x 9', Japanese Village Plaza, 350 E. First Street
The mural contains the following dedication from the artist:

"America is a continuing story of a breaking from the past - the departure from old homes to build a new life.
The late 19th century boats bringing Japanese immigrants to the United States carried a cargo of ambition, industry and energy. These Nikkei built the roads into the Sierras, transformed wastelands intoa major Californian industry - agriculture - and contributed to the Growth of the cities. They enriched the life, commerce and culture of this new land.
But in 1942, they again packed their luggage for another break. World War II cut into the building of the Japanese-American community with the barbed wire edge of American internment camps. Undaunted, they and their children continued the struglle to reaffirm the basic ideals of human dignity and freedom.
This wall is dedicated to the pioneering spirit of those early Nikkei whose lives, struglles and achievements make a full and moving picture - both a part of and an interacting element in the large American panorama." February 7, 1981

In the top left photograph taken by Dorthea Lange in 1942, an elderly Issei grandfather and his young Sansei grandchildren marked and labeled as threats to national security, wait for a bus to a concentration camp. Moving clockwise from there are the drab barrack housing at the Manzanar concentration camp framed in the background by the beautiful snow-capped Sierras; a "picture" bride in kimono with her new husband; Issei farm workers; Issei railroad workers; the 1st Street and San Pedro intersection in Little Tokyo in 1910; the performance at Manzanar of the traditional Japanese rice pounding or mochisuki ceremony on New Year's day; and the watch tower at Manzanar.

Matsukuma initially proposed a 4' x 100' foot long ceramic mural honoring the noted Japanese American photographer Toyo Miyatake (1895-1979) with a display of 40 to 50 of his photographs. However, the plan to incorporate photographs taken mainly at the Manzanar concentration camp during World War II was opposed because the work would have emphasized the internment rather than the community's history. Matsukuma then suggested using 10 to 15 photographs depicting the history of Little Tokyo before settling on eight photographs focusing on the experiences of the Issei.

Images for the mural were selected by Matsukuma from approximately 6,000 photographs he reviewed at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, Visual Communications, the Miyatake studio (from which the three taken at Manzanar came), the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, UCLA and several private collections. After enlarging each photograph, Matsukuma transferred them to ceramic tiles with a special silk-screening process he developed, and then applied sepia color to the tile's surface.

Funded in part by a dinner sponsored by the Friends of Little Tokyo Arts in honor of Miyatake, the $18,000 mural was commissioned in 1980 by FOLTA and the Japanese Village Plaza, a 48 shop, 2.4 acre complex developed in 1978 by a partnership of local business people. Additional support came from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Council for the Arts, and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which employed Matsukuma at the time the work was executed. Installed on the First Street wall of Japanese Village Plaza, the mural was dedicated at ceremonies attended by Congressman Norman Y. Mineta.



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

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