Obon, the Japanese Buddhist “Feast of Lanterns”, is an annual memorial festival that begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month (July-August) and honours the spirits of one’s family’s ancestors. Originating in China, this festival has been celebrated in Japan for more than five centuries. It seems that some spiritual beliefs and practices predating the arrival of Buddhism have been incorporated into the event, which is treated partly as a holiday for family reunions, a work bee to clean ancestors’ graves and monuments, and a day on which the spirits of deceased ancestors can return to visit their families’ household altars. The three day festival traditionally concludes with a Bon dance, or Bon Odori, expressing gratitude toward one’s ancestors.
Although few Japanese-Canadian people returned to the West Coast after they were detained and transported to distant internment camps in 1942, efforts have been made for many years by mainland-based Buddhist ministers and members of the BC Buddhist Churches Federation to visit Vancouver Island cemeteries in which the dead of those vanished communities lie buried, to perform an Obon service and to clean graves and markers.
In 2011, on July 30 and 31, Reverend Grant Ikuta, the resident minister for the Steveston Buddhist Temple and recently-elected Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, visited five Japanese-Canadian cemetery sites on Vancouver Island performing an additional Obon service at a private residence. Time was apent before and after the services tidying graves and monuments. The public was invited to help with the cleanup and to attend the services.
Rev. Ikuta says, “I am grateful for all the support our Obon Cemetery visits have received by many different individuals on the Island. It is an important service for us as many of the Japanese individuals interned in the cemeteries on the Island passed away many years ago and probably don’t have families to come and visit them, so it is the least we can do is try to pay respect in honoring their memories.”
2011 Obon – Washing and Ceremony (Ross Bay Cemetery)
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