—— How did you come to be so deeply involved with Japan?
It grew out of a love of Japan... and that love came from my dad. That’s what triggered all of this. It’s an interesting story. He was on a ship going from Manchuria (China) to Japan in about 1932, and it was on this ship that he met Mr. Ise. My dad was a Methodist Minister at the Hollywood First Methodist Church, not far from the Hollywood Bowl. The thing to do at that time was for a Minister to take the members of his parish, if you had the money to do it, to visit the missions in Asia. So my dad was taking his group and they visited China, the Philippines, Manchuria and then Japan. In Japan they were going to visit the famous Japanese Christian called Kagawa, a former Samurai who had been converted to Christianity. Kagawa, who was writer and lecturer and instrumental in starting Japan’s labor movement, was living and working with the people in the slums of Kobe and it was my dad’s desire to go and meet him. Christianity had never been very strong in Japan, and most people then practiced the Shinto or Buddhist faiths, so Kagawa stood out. Well on board that ship my dad met Mr. Ise... and they conversed in English, since Mr. Ise had taught himself to speak English! My dad explained that he was a Christian Minister on his way to find Mr. Kagawa whereupon Mr. Ise expressed, “I’m a Buddhist, but I’ve always been interested in Kagawa ... know about him, but I’ve never visited him, and I’d be happy to take you there.” So that started the friendship between Mr. Ise and my dad and between our families.
—— So this chance meeting on the ship was the birth of your family’s love affair with Japan?
Yes it was. Mr. Ise was a very bright man. He had been an engineer, a graduate of Osaka University, and was one of the founders of the Japanese automobile industry, somewhat like Honda or Toyota. He was an integral part of the Daihatsu Motor Company, which had been one of the largest Japanese automobile companies, before recently selling out to Toyota. After assisting my dad in meeting Kagawa, he later had the opportunity to visit our family in Hollywood CA, on his way to or from visits to engineering meetings throughout the U.S. He was a member of the Rotary Club as well and he’d come to the Rotary conventions and he’d stop by our house. These encounters over the years instilled in all of us an interest and desire to know and understand more about Japan and its fascinating culture. Our two families, the Ise’s in Osaka and ours in California, were constantly communicating back and forth. As a young man I used to visit Japan and he would take me through the Daihatsu factory and there you’d see a Toyota being built and right next to it you’d have a Daihatsu on the same line. I can remember going there and staying with the Ise’s, sleeping on the tatami mats, which was an honored place, and even getting the first bath.
—— How did your family manage to keep in touch with the coming of WWII?
We didn’t... we couldn’t. During WWII there was a communications blackout. No communication in or out was permitted. Nothing was allowed through and even trying to communicate with anyone from the other side cast you in a bad light. Especially, since Mr. Ise was involved in that time with the mobilization and the development of cars and transportation. Eventually, the war ended but over that time my father had been elected a Bishop in the Methodist Church and sent to Denver. Just toward the end of the war I got out of Harvard and was sent to serve in the Panama Canal for a year, and then the war ended. Well Mr. Ise wrote to us at our old address 1818 Outpost Dr. in Hollywood and of course the letter was returned... sent back to Japan. Mr. Ise, however, being a very resourceful man... a determined man, followed through on things in a wonderful way. Knowing my dad was somewhat prominent in Los Angeles, Mr. Ise wrote to the Los Angeles Times and the good’ol Los Angeles Times wrote back! They informed him that Bishop Phillips was no longer in Hollywood, but had moved to Denver and forwarded the address. So then Mr. Ise wrote to Denver, however, Bishops are required to take a trip every four years to visit and understand what the church is doing in other areas. It turns out my folks weren’t in Denver either, they were in India! When my dad’s secretary got the letter from Mr. Ise, she immediately cabled my folks with his message in India. Upon receiving this news they were then able to reroute their trip from India to Yokohama, which led to a tearful reunion at the harbor in Yokohama and the rekindling and their relationship.
—— Do you still keep in touch with the Ise family?
Well Mr. Ise died last year at 95, but his wife is still alive. When he was 92 he visited San Diego for the dedication at AIU (formerly United States International University) where I’m Vice President Emeritus of the Phillips-Ise International Friendship Garden, dedicated to the ideals of international understanding and world peace through education. The garden is located right in back of our Walter Library, and of course he generously contributed to the library to further international education and understanding. Still our family ties continue to this day. His daughter and son-in-law recently came back to San Diego, after Mr. Ise had passed away, to visit the garden. So along with the President of the University and myself we walked over to the dedication plaque and we could sense she had something she wanted to do... and as she approach the pedestal she pulled out something from her purse, an envelope, that she had carried from Japan, with ashes which she then dutifully scraped into the ground.
—— How did you come to be the Honorary Consul General to Japan in San Diego?
There was a gentleman, Mr. James Wiesler, with Bank of America, who was then Honorary Consul General, but he was retiring and wanted to spend more time doing other things. Without my knowing anything about it, he suggested my name to the Japanese Consul General from Los Angeles Mr. Nodo. So one day I got a call from L.A., from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Consul General, and they wanted to meet me and have lunch. So they came down, Mr. Wiesler was there too, and we had lunch and they said, “Would you be interested in accepting the position of Honorary Consul General representing Japan for the area?” Well I was stunned and said, “Well I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I do have a deep love for Japan.” I didn’t even know what an Honorary Consul General did! So I began to tell them about my relationship with Mr. Ise and they interrupted, “We already know about Mr. Ise.” They had already done their homework and so they explained the position and the process began. The Japanese Consulate here then had to contact Japan and then of course you have to receive clearance from the U.S. State Dept. A year later it was official and in 1995, I was appointed for five years and then in 2000 I was re-nominated for another five years. There are about 20 Honorary Consuls in the US and I think 28 full Consuls. Certain areas, with more than a million in population, have not only a full Consul but an Honorary Consul as well. I’m under the Consul General’s Office in Los Angeles... I call him my boss. They take care of all of the paperwork, visas and the like, and I’m called upon to represent the Japanese at various official and unofficial functions. Two of the high points of my life were meeting their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan and then to receive an award from them... called “The Recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun Gold Rays of Rosette” an award given by the Emperor across the U.S. It was quite an honor.
—— You take part in so many groups throughout San Diego, can you tell us a little bit about some of them?
Well I’m called upon to be at many functions and I do as much as I possibly can. I’m a member of the Urasenke Foundation here in SD and they elected me to be a member of their committee to go and visit the Grand Tea Master for a conference. Although I’m still involved, I recently resigned from the Chairmanship of the Yokohama Sister City Organization, a wonderful group, mainly because I had too many things to do. Right now I’m Chairman of the Board of the Japanese Friendship Garden and that’s a strong interest of mine. I went on the World Trade Mission to Japan a couple of years ago with Dr. Inoue of the Japanese American Society of SD and Tijuana. I was also chosen to go to the Kyoto Laureates Symposium, which was celebrated here in San Diego this past year at the University of San Diego. Today in a few moments I’ll be going down to Minato Gakuen, for their school graduation. There are so many fine groups from the Buddhist Temple, the JAHSSD, the JACL, all of the many Christian Japanese Churches, and I attend when I can.
—— What made you come to San Diego after having been in LA for so long?
Well like my dad, I served as Methodist Minister as well for umpteen years on Wilshire Blvd., at the Wilshire United Methodist Church. I was there for nineteen years and then my wife passed away and that’s when I decided to make a change and come to SD. At the time an old friend of the family was the president of United States International University and he said, “You’ve got degrees from USC and Harvard, why don’t you come down here and be my vice-president?” And that’ s how I moved down here.
—— What are your personal interests?
One of the things I got from my dad was a love and interest in the philosophy of religion. That’s a basic interest of mine and that was also my teaching profession. I started off for law school, then Harvard, and then WWII came and I changed my focus to the philosophy of religion and that’s been very rewarding. I’m a big fan of Huston Smith, the author of “The World’s Religions” he’s a great. I was on the board of the Philosophical Research Society at USC and I used to speak on their behalf and Huston Smith did as well and his stories are fabulous, just fabulous.
—— Any closing thoughts on your storied career and what the future holds for us?
I had no idea my life would be filled with so many things, but I’m grateful that it has. How I’d like to be remembered is for my love of Japan and my interest in artistic works, as opposed to political works. I didn’t even know what a Consul General was before all of this, but I take my role to heart. Being officially retired from the university now, I don’t have to do the committee work anymore... I can do what I want to do... what I feel passionate about and what I’ve always believed in is building lasting friendships and relationships. We’re involved in some tough times now, the world has become smaller and that has led to more conflicts, but it can also lead to us growing closer together. In order for that to happen we need to be “tomodachi”, real friends, and continue to build bridges among all of us, young and old, of all races. We may not agree on music, but we need to reach an understanding on the things that matter. We’ve got to do it together. We must learn to open our arms and our hearts to each other. That has to be the way of the future. It’s the way of love.
(07-01-2003 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)