“Free Gaza” is spray-painted on the monument at Second Street and Central Avenue in Little Tokyo. The stone is inscribed with the poem “The Sea Shines” by Bunichi Kagawa, an Issei literary leader and Tule Lake incarceree. (YUKIKAZU NAGASHIMA/Rafu Shimpo)


It wasn’t the first time Hirokazu Kosaka found himself scrubbing graffiti off the Bunichi Kagawa monument at Second Street and Central Avenue, but this time the chore was just a little bit sadder for the master artist-in-residence at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center.

“I tried everything I could think of to remove the graffiti. I even tried paint thinner, but it didn’t work,” lamented Kosaka, who for the past 18 years has cleaned up the trash and removed tagging from around the monument whenever he could.

Sometime last weekend, a group of about 100 pro-Palestine demonstrators marched through Little Tokyo protesting the Israeli-Hamas war. Left behind were the words “FREE GAZA” emblazoned with black paint on the granite poetry wall located at the west end of the Honda Plaza shopping area.

The marker bears a poem by Bunichi Kagawa, Issei leader of the Japanese literary movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Kagawa is believed to have written the poem in 1941 while incarcerated at Tule Lake, where he organized a literature group, **Tessaku** (Iron Fence), known for publishing a magazine containing works by Issei poets and authors prominent in that era.

During World War II, Tule Lake became a maximum-security segregation camp where over 18,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned.

Yukikazu Nagashima was The Rafu Shimpo’s Japanese section editor in 2005 when the monument was installed. “It is the only Japanese poetry on a monument in the United States,” he says.

According to Nagashima, a committee of 14 backed by four sponsor organizations, including The Rafu, was formed to raise money with the goal of paying tribute to the early Issei immigrants. Among the committee leaders were Haruo Yamashiro, Rafu contributing writer Masao Yamashiro, and Rafu’s Japanese section editor-in-chief Kiyoshi Yano.

The original plan called for installing the monument at JACCC, but there was no room, states Nagashima. “Mr. Honda (developer Bob Masami Honda) understood the importance of it and agreed to allow the monument to be built (on the plaza).”

The plaza was dedicated to Honda’s parents, Matsujiro and Chiyo, in 1980.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” stated Victor Honda, a member of the family that owns and manages the plaza. “People have no respect for other people’s property.” The Hondas are cooperating with the LAPD and filing a police report.

The LAPD is looking into whether any images of the culprits were captured on nearby surveillance cameras.

The LAPD registered 111 anti-Jewish hate crimes through Oct. 28 of this year, according to Compstat data, up 27.6% from the same period last year. For the same period there were 25 anti-Asian hate crimes in 2023, compared to 33 in 2022.

According to Compstat data, there were six reported Anti-Arab hate crimes through Oct. 28, compared to five in 2022 and four anti-Islamic (Muslim) hate crimes in both 2022 and 2023.

During an Oct. 24 meeting of the L.A. Police Commission, LAPD Chief Michel Moore drew attention to the rise in hate crimes since Oct. 7.

Hate crimes have surged 40%, with 49 hate crimes reported in that two-week period, versus 35 in the same period last year. That’s an increase of 14 additional hate crimes,” Moore said.

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