For more than 25 years, the B.C. Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples Federation, based on the B.C. mainland, has sponsored an annual Vancouver Island Obon Cemetery Tour.
It pays respects to the many individuals of Japanese descent who helped build Vancouver Island’s communities and are buried in our historic cemeteries.
The Japanese-Canadians of the Island and Coastal B.C. were removed and interned in April 1942, as the Second World War spread to the Pacific, and few made their way back, so most of those buried here no longer have descendants living nearby to honour their memories.
Members of various Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples on the lower mainland and other parts of B.C. were aware of this and began organizing the Obon Tour in the mid-1980’s, as a “way of acknowledging the pioneers of our country (and) letting them know that they may be gone, but they are not forgotten.”
In years past, this weekend event attracted enough participants to fill a tour coach, but as congregations have aged, attendance has become limited to the celebrant minister and a one or two others from the mainland, and a small but increasing number of local residents who turn out to remember this vanished community.
Obon is the Japanese Buddhist Feast of Lanterns, an annual festival originating in China that begins on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month (July-August) and honours the spirits of family ancestors.
Everyone who can travels home for family reunions, work bees are held to clean ancestor’s graves and monuments, and their spirits are believed to return to visit their families’ household altars. Where the number of participants is sufficient, the three-day celebration traditionally ends with a Bon Dance, or Bon Odori, which expresses gratitude towards one’s ancestors.
For 2012, Rev. Grant Ikuta, resident minister of the Steveston Buddhist Temple and recently elected the first Canadian-born Socho or Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, will visit five historic Vancouver Island cemeteries and one private residence on Aug. 11 and 12.
Each Obon ceremony will last approximately an hour, but Rev. Ikuta will lead participants in cleaning up graves and monuments before and after each cemetery service.
As Rev. Ikuta says in his attached poster for this tour, “The other purpose of the Obon Cemetery Tour is to foster fellowship and understanding as we welcome people from all nationalities and denominations in paying tribute to those who have gone before us. Your participation in the visitation is greatly appreciated.”
On Aug. 11 at 2 p.m., a Obon ceremony will begin at the Cumberland Cemetery Service (Cumberland Japanese Cemetery on Cumberland Road).
— B.C. Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples Federation