The galvanized steel monument honors the life and legacy of the community newspaper publisher and civil rights activist.
By P.C. Staff
A monument honoring newspaper publisher and civil rights activist Sei Fujii was dedicated in Little Tokyo on Aug. 1 at the former site of “The Kashu Mainichi” to pay homage to Fujii’s lifelong efforts to better further the lives of Japanese Americans.
Fujii, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1903, graduated from USC Law School in 1911, but was not able to become an attorney because he was not an American citizen. However, he worked alongside classmate J. Marion Wright, a civil rights attorney, and together they appealed and won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1928 to allow Japanese physicians in Los Angeles to construct one of the first Japanese hospitals in the country.
Fujii and Wright also challenged the Alien Land Act, which prevented Japanese and other “aliens” ineligible for citizenship from owning land in California. In Fujii v. California, the duo was able to appeal the challenge to the California Supreme Court. The California Alien Land Law was ruled unconstitutional in 1952.
Fujii also became publisher of the “Kashu Mainichi,” a daily Japanese newspaper. During his work there, he worked to inform and unite the growing immigrant community within Little Tokyo.
In 1954, Fujii finally became a U.S. citizen. He passed away from a heart attack at age 72, only 51 days after being granted citizenship.
The 8-foot-tall galvanized steel lantern, located on Second Street at the entrance to the Japanese Village Plaza, was designed by Miles Endo of Studio Endo and is an interpretation of a lantern located in Fujii’s birthplace in the city of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The Little Tokyo Historical Society helped raise more than $30,000 to bring about the lantern’s completion. The LTHS also produced the award-winning 2012 short film “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” which starred Chris Tashima as Fujii and was directed by Jeffrey Gee Chin, both of whom were in attendance at the ceremony.
“Sei Fujii contributed greatly to the lives we live today,” said Chin.
Also present were Fujii’s daughter, Ruth Toshiko Matsuo Brandt, and her daughter, Lucia, both of whom were grateful that Fujii’s legacy to improve the lives of others would forever be remembered.