'We were told that California Fuji and the church are the same thing, that their religion involved building golf courses around the world.'
planner, state Coastal Commission
In the western Santa Monica Mountains near the Ventura County border, looking like an emerald-green carpet lining the bottom of a remote, fire-blackened valley between Westlake Village and the Malibu beaches, is a small golf course with an exotic past and a controversial future.
The PL Malibu Golf Course was founded by a Japanese church that connects golf to its worship--the Church of Perfect Liberty, which has its North American headquarters at a small church in a residential neighborhood of Glendale.
The golf course is the subject of a debate between its owners, who want to build 420 single-family houses around the links, and neighbors who oppose such a development in the lightly populated area.
California Fuji International, which owns the golf course, appears to be connected to the Church of Perfect Liberty. But both the corporation and the church are secretive, refusing to discuss their activities or relationship.
Corporation Holds Title
The church purchased the land in 1972, and title went to California Fuji International in March, 1975, according to county tax records.
(California Fuji has no relationship to Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd., the giant international manufacturer, a spokesman for the U.S. subsidiary of the firm said.)
Church leaders, the golf course manager and Shinya Uehara, the sole California Fuji executive listed with the California secretary of state's office, declined to be interviewed.
The golf course maintains the PL--for Perfect Liberty--in its name. The church's founder and former patriarch was Tokuchika Miki. His brother, Michumasa Miki, was president of California Fuji International, according to the Rev. Tatsumi Yano, secretary to the pastor of the Perfect Liberty church in Glendale. Both men are now dead, Yano said.
President Member of Church
Uehara, president of California Fuji who lives in Downey, is a member of the church in Glendale, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Jack Koshimune. He would not say whether Uehara is related to Keiko Uehara, identified in the church magazine, Perfect Liberty, as its publisher and identified by the church's headquarters in Japan as "director for North America."
California Fuji and the church also share telephone numbers and a mailing address at a rear entrance to the golf course property.
California Fuji exists only as a corporate owner of the land and has no other business or function, said Jim Johnson, who described himself as an unpaid consultant to the corporation for the construction project.
"We were told that California Fuji and the church are the same thing, that their religion involved building golf courses around the world," said Pam Emerson, a planner for the state Coastal Commission, which will have to rule on the acceptability of the construction project if it is approved by county authorities.
'The Golf Church'
Golf has become firmly, perhaps inextricably, linked with the name of the little-known church.
Called the "Golf Church" even in its native Japan, where golf holds high social status, the church does indeed have golf courses in several nations, including a 36-hole spread in Japan and a golf course in Brazil. Some of the churches in Japan have driving ranges on the roof, and the church has sponsored international golf tournaments.
However, the religion has nothing to do with golf itself and there is no intrinsic connection between the two.
There is nothing in the church's published beliefs--an outpouring of books, pamphlets and magazines--that sanctifies golf. Baseball fulfills the religious or philosophical needs of many of its millions of Japanese adherents. So, apparently, would almost any other activity or sport, from soccer to cabinetry.
Leaders of the church declined to be interviewed, but the sect's history, beliefs and achievements are outlined in the group's literature and in scholarly histories of Japanese religions.
'Life Is Art' Tenet
According to the writings, the church's primary tenet is: "Life is art." Followers are encouraged to worship God by leading an "artistic life."
"What that means," said a woman who said she belonged to the church for several years, "is that you must bring to what you do--whatever it is--the dedication, the passion for excellence that a true artist brings to his work."
"The person who mops out a cathedral is worshiping God just as greatly as the person who designed the cathedral, if he brings to his art the same dedication as the designer did, the same artistic commitment," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
"Golf is a favored sport because it requires such concentration on details and because it can be played by almost anyone. The principles could be applied to any other sport or activity, but it would be difficult to recommend to many people that they take up, say, pole vaulting."