SAN JOSE JAPANTOWN LANDMARK – Concept Statement by CMG  
 


Introduction

The creation of the landmark is in essence, an act of remembrance and celebration.  The landmark is not intended to recognize a singular individual, event, or era, but rather to acknowledge many threads of history, community life, and identity; In short, to capture and represent the ‘spirit of the community’.   

Memory and how to represent the objects of memory are crucial to the landmark design.  At the heart of our work, is the act of bringing memory into the realm of visuality, where memory enters the arena of public memory.  In doing so, we express our aspirations for the future sustenance, and cultivation of the community.

With this in mind, the landmark design proposal is composed of a series of sculptural elements arranged around the intersection to convey the spirit of the community and several threads in the diverse fabric of Japanese American experience. Together, the elements create a dialogue across the intersection and create a place where numerous topics and ideas are represented.  These include, cultural heritage, Japanese American history, ancestors and generations, values, and identity.  Concepts such as ga-man, on, giri, enyro, are also an integral part of the landmark design concept. 

 

A variety of representational techniques from literal and figurative, to more abstract and expressive approaches are used to convey these ideas.   Together, these techniques create a landmark that is sculptural, meaningful, and accessible.  The ‘open form’ of the individual elements and the overall arrangement is based on the Japanese concept of ma, ‘the space between’.  In poetic terms the space between is a metaphor for what is shared and treasured, or the idea of community.  The concept also applies to the formal quality of the elements and their arrangement at the intersection.  The ‘open form’and varying scale of the elements allows visitors to engage the landmark in a variety of ways, with multiple senses.  

 

Guiding Design Principles (adapted from Michael Benedickt)

There are four design principles guiding the design of the landmark

Presence:  “Here presence means something more than merely being perceptible; something rather, analogous to the “ presence” attributed to certain people – stage presence in an actor, for instance – or to “ presence of mind.”  Implied is a certain tautness, attentiveness, assertiveness.”  ….Being here and now.

Significance:  If presence is largely a perceptual matter, significance is a matter of understanding and meaning.  Landmarks with significance are important to someone, in addition to being symbolic of something.  Significance is about how the landmark comes to be and continues to be a part of the lives of the people who dream it, build it, and hopefully treasure it. 

Materiality:  Materiality is concerned with the integrity of how the landmark is made. The landmark should use materials honestly and focus on their genuinely unique properties.  The concept of wabi sabi, the idea of organic richness, temporality and change is applied in the principle of materiality.

Emptiness:  The work “emptiness” has a set of connotations not intended here, that feeling of loss or loneliness, and so forth.  What is meant by emptiness here is rather more like silence, clarity, and transparency.  Emptiness may resound without sound, and make open what is complete.  As the Zen haiku has it: 

departing geese do

  not intend their reflection

                                                in the lake below
Description of the Elements

Symbol of Japanese Heritage and Japan

Recognizing the heritage and origins of a diverse JA community.

Wall of Values

Cultures and communities are constantly evolving in a dynamic cycle of tradition and change.  The values, traditions, and ways of a culture are deep and binding expressions of identity.  Values and traditions may be repressed or suppressed, but they cannot be extinguished, in fact history has shown that they persist through the worst forms of discrimination, repression, and injustice.  This persistence is an indication of their depth, and the hope, that in an open and multicultural society, they will continue to evolve and flourish.  In my view this is particularly true of Japanese Americans, and is uniquely represented by the many JA parables, and sayings, many of which, have there origin in Japan, but have been inflected and modified by the JA experience. 

The “Wall of Values” draws on these unique linguistic and cultural traditions to represent the heritage and values that the Issei brought to America and how the community has evolved through time.   I feel that these saying’s, like many facets of JA culture have a concise and poetic quality that captures the ‘spirit of the community’. 

The wall forms a physical and visual connection between the symbol of Japanese heritage and the Issei stone, marking the adventure, courage and determination exhibited by pioneering immigrants in their journey to a foreign land.  Images and/or peepholes will be incorporated in the wall element at child’s height, with images of Issei grandmothers, and historical images of Japantown.

Issei Stone – Community touchstone

This 4’ – 6’ tall, rough granite stone symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the Issei.  The stone also serves as a community touch stone.  It will be treated to reveal the natural quality of the stone with subtle modifications to reveal and invite the human touch

Gateway of Perseverance and Hope

If there is one concept or value that is a common thread through the whole of the Japanese American experience it seems to be the idea of perseverance, which, as I understand it, is rooted in the Japanese concept of gaman, “to persevere, to endure pain and suffering with dignity”.  The Japanese American story is one of persistent adversity and struggle.   However, perseverance alone is not what distinguishes the JA story.   The Issei like all immigrants came to America with hopes and dreams of a new and better life.  In overcoming adversity, Japanese Americans combined the traditional value of gaman with the optimism and hope of American ideals such as equality, justice, and liberty.   

It could be said that, without the dreams that hope brings, perseverance is fruitless.

And thus we look upon the Issei stone through the gateway of perseverance and hope.

The Issei were the first to pass through the gateway, but every generation is challenged by the forces of the present and it’s own place in history.  Each JA generation represents a unique phase in the life of the community. 

The gateway of perseverance and hope is the sculptural focus of the landmark and represents the soaring optimism, hope, and perseverance of the community.  As a simple elegant, and iconic form it will be the primary ‘placemaker’.  The scale and form are intended to create a sense of wonder and engagement, and perhaps a bit of a wow factor. 

Nikkei sculptures:

In addition to the Issei stone, which marks immigration to America, and the struggles of building family and community, the landmark includes three other sculptural elements representing different phases of the JA experience.  These sculptural elements roughly correspond with the Nisei, Sansei, and Yonsei – future generations. 

Nisei Sculpture:  Guardians of Dignity and Honor

This piece represents the war period and relocation, and specifically honors the Nisei generation.   The sculpture symbolizes:

·         The injustice and indignity of relocation:  EO 9066

·         The splitting and uprooting of the community. 

·         The split between the Nisei who chose to defend honor and dignity by resisting the draft (No No boys) and those who chose to confirm JA loyalty and honor by joining the war effort, 442nd, 100th, MIS. 

·         Those who resisted relocation and those who began the fight for constitutional rights by establishing democratic institutions in Camp. 

·         The loss and suffering – ‘the hollow of relocation’

·         Confinement – a space for one person

 

Sansei Sculpture:  Bridge to the Past – Voice of the Future

This piece represents the gradual post war rebuilding of the community and the redress movement as well as the voice of the Sansei generation

·         Civil rights - Asian American solidarity

·         Pluralism and assertion of Cultural identity: challenge to the melting pot

·         Questioning the events of the past.

·         Rebuilding community – education, and success!

Yonsei Sculpture:  Light of the Future and Generations to come

·         Dispersion – Preserving identity and cultural values.

·         Technology