Phil Okuma first began volunteering at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, RoHoEn, 15 years ago, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Tom Okuma. During his first six months as a volunteer, Phil raked leaves, swept and cleaned alongside uncle Tom. Phil thinks this was his uncle’s way of teaching him the importance of the Japanese concept of cleanliness and purity.

Phil’s uncle first came to Arizona via East Texas in 1929 at the age of 9. He will be 100 years old this July! Phil’s dad, who was 12 years old at the time, told him that the first Japanese American family they met in Phoenix were the Takiguchi’s. Masako Takiguchi was JFG’s founder so Phil’s family has had a long connection to JFG. 

In 2017, Ilene Takiguchi, Mr. Takiguchi’s daughter and JFG Board President at that time, asked Phil if he would travel to Japan with some of the JFG staff. The purpose of the trip was to visit JFG’s sister city garden in Himeji and receive training. He was humbled and honored. It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime! 

Phil says the JFG, as a premier Japanese garden in North America, brings him and the Japanese community in Phoenix a lot of pride. That is why he volunteers and continues to support the garden.

*Above- Phil and his uncle Tom.

Phil participated in NAJGA’s recent Southwest Regional. He enjoyed the experience as it allowed him to experience the garden in a different way. During the Regional, Phil participated in a tea ceremony and ikebana class, things he had not yet done at JFG. He appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the tea ceremony’s history and process and was inspired to take additional ikebana classes. Phil also enjoyed meeting people from other gardens and of course, the lunches, which provided the perfect space for participants to get to know each other better. Thank you Phil for your contributions to RoHoEn!

*Right- Phil (left) with Ben Schrepf, RoHoEn’s Garden Curator (Note: When this article appeared in NAJGA’s e-newsletter (April 2020), it indicated Phil was with John Powell in this photo when in fact, it is Ben.)