By Debbie Ibaraki and Cristina Shore
Obon Tradition in Victoria
The Nikkei community in Victoria honour the Obon tradition in a unique way. There are 152 early Japanese immigrants that are buried in Ross Bay Cemetery. These graves fell into neglect after the internment of Japanese and Japanese Canadians in 1942. Wooden markers were lost and some gravestones were vandalized. In the 1980’s the Kakehashi project was established to identify all of the Japanese graves and to install grave stones for those that did not have a marker. Today there are very few, if any, Nikkei living in Victoria who are related to the Japanese that are buried in Ross Bay. So a tradition has been established that on Obon, members of the Nikkei community go to Ross Bay Cemetery to clean the grave stones, lay flowers, and have an Obon service officiated by a Buddhist priest. We are honouring the early Japanese pioneers who laid the groundwork for Japanese Canadians now living in Canada.
On Sunday, July 31st the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS) in conjunction with Reverend Grant Ikuta organized the 2011 Obon Ceremony at the Ross Bay Cemetery and inaugural summer matsuri (festival) at the Ross Bay Villa.
There was grave washing and flowers were laid on each gravestone with the help of many VNCS members, families and friends from 12:00 to 2:00 pm, It was followed by an Obon service officiated by Reverend Grant Ikuta the resident minister for the Steveston Buddhist Temple and recently-elected Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada accompanied by his wife and two daughters and also Mr. Bud Sakamoto, President of Steveston Buddhist Temple.
After finishing the Obon ceremony, some Nikkei members and friends went on the Old Cemeteries Society’s tour guided by John Adams and later came to join the Obon matsuri at the Ross Bay Villa across from the cemetery to enjoy delicious refreshments provided by the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS) and entertainment. The guests enjoyed performances by the Uminari Taiko drummers and the Furusato dancers.
The Obon organizers would like to thank the Old Cemetery Society (OCS) Wilf Bruch and Don Reksten for their time and help and to the Land Conservancy (TLC) for the use of the Ross Bay Villa garden. Also, to the Silk Road Aromatherapy and Tea Company that donated tea. And to all the volunteers that made this event a success.