Dr. Masakazu Jack Fujimoto and Dr. T. Glenn Webb are among the recipients of the Japanese government’s 2011 Fall Decorations. The conferment ceremony took place on Nov. 15 at the official residence of Consul General Jun Niimi in Los Angeles.
Fujimoto, 83, received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. A longtime leader of the West Los Angeles Japanese American community, he was recognized for his contributions to the advancement of Japanese language studies and the promotion of Japan studies and Japanese culture.
Born in 1928 in National City, San Diego County, Fujimoto came from a farming background and was expected to follow the tradition of oldest son following the patriarch; however, he was released to be the first in his family to pursue a college education. Between his AA degree at Pasadena City College and his BS, MBA and Ph.D. at UCLA, Fujimoto served in the American occupation forces in Japan. His specialty in the Japanese language carried forth in his life.
He taught Japanese language for 12 years at Venice Gakuen, a private community school at the Venice Japanese Community Center. He worked closely with Los Angeles City Schools and Culver City Schools to get credit for Venice Gakuen Japanese language students to meet the language requirements for the University of California institutions.
In 1969, Fujimoto was selected as a dean at Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills. There, he established the Japanese language as an elective for college credit. He also introduced a course in “Man and Humanities in East Asia.”
In 1977, Fujimoto became the first Asian American to become president of a major higher education institution in the mainland U.S. when he was appointed president of Sacramento City College. In 1979, he became president of West Los Angeles College, where he introduced and taught Japanese language as a recognized college elective course. He did the same when he became president at Los Angeles Mission College in the San Fernando Valley.
Today, those courses of study in Japanese continue at these colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District.
While designing the Japanese language curriculum and humanities curriculum, Fujimoto visited various universities as well as the Ministry of Education in Japan to research various teaching methods. For 30 years, he served as advisor to Kobe Women’s University in Kobe.
Since 1986, Fujimoto has been connected with the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle in West Los Angeles. He orchestrated the merger of the institute and its language school, Sawtelle Gakuin, and in 2000 became its founding chairman and president, a position that he held until 2005, when he chaired the 80th anniversary of the institute and gakuin. Today, he serves as senior advisor.
In 2007, he authored a book, “Sawtelle: West Los Angeles’ JapanTown,” a pictorial history of the Sawtelle Japanese community.
Dr. Webb, 75, also received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon for his contribution to Japanese studies and the promotion of understanding between the U.S. and Japan.
Webb was born in Lawton, Okla. in 1935. At the age of 3, he started learning classical piano, which he continued, reaching the highest level of national competition. He studied in New York with Julliard teachers and gave recitals around the country, until the age of 17.
During one of his recitals in New York, he met Daisetsu Suzuki, who first brought Zen Buddhism from Japan to the West. Suzuki’s world view inspired Webb’s interest in Japanese studies and religious studies.
Webb attended Abilene Christian University in Texas, where he met and married his wife, Carol St. John. He graduated with a BA in art and religion in 1957, after which he was a graduate fellow for a year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Supported for the next seven years by U.S. National Defense Foreign Language grants, he studied Japanese language and culture in the Art History and East Asian Studies Program at the University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree.
In 1964, Webb won a Fulbright Scholarship, which allowed him to pursue doctoral work at Kyoto University for two years. There, Dr. Suzuki, whom he had met at 16, became his mentor, along with other prominent Japanese scholars. Webb additionally trained in Buddhist temples to gain a deeper understanding of Buddhist teachings and was even ordained in the Rinzai Zen priesthood.
Along with his wife, he also began studying Urasenke chanoyu, and they both became accredited instructors.
After returning to the U.S., Webb earned a Ph.D. in East Asian studies from the University of Chicago, with his dissertation entitled “Japanese Scholarship on Momoyama Culture.” In 1966, Webb began teaching full-time at the University of Washington’s School of Art and Jackson School of International Studies.
He co-directed the Center for Asian Arts and promoted cultural exchange between the U.S. and Japan. One of his projects was running the Kyoto Program, wherein University of Washington students studied in Kyoto under the foremost figures in Japanese traditional arts.
In 1970, Webb published his first book, “The Arts of Japan: Medieval to Modern,” based on the work of renowned art historian Seiroku Noma. To further students’ study of Zen and chanoyu, he established the Seattle Zen Center, which is still in operation today.
He also worked to incorporate the study of chanoyu into the curriculum of the University of Washington, laying the first foundation of today’s vibrant chanoyu community in Seattle.
In 1987, Dr. and Mrs. Webb moved to Malibu, where he undertook the directorship of the Institute for the Study of Asian Cultures (ISAC) at Pepperdine University. While there, he invited many leaders of Buddhist groups, including the Los Angeles Zen Center and the Jodo and Nichiren temples, to speak at Pepperdine.
He also invited the Bukkyo University in Kyoto to bring its students for visits to Pepperdine’s Malibu campus, promoting cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S.
Even after his retirement in 2004 and his move to Palm Desert, Webb has continued to maintain a strong connection with Bukkyo University in Kyoto and Los Angeles, serving as academic advisor and visiting professor.
Finally, as emeritus professor, Dr. Webb maintains a relationship with Pepperdine University, and both of the Webbs have been actively involved in the Urasenke Tankokai Los Angeles Association since they moved to Southern California. After serving as president for 12 years, Webb is now the association’s honorary president.
But the true legacy of Webb’s career is found in the large number of students he has touched — in both Japan and America — during his 50 years of teaching.