This weekend, the Vancouver Island Obon Cemetery Tour will come to Chemainus to honour the area’s Japanese-Canadians.
For more than 25 years, the British Columbia Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples Federation, which is based on the mainland, has sponsored an annual Vancouver Island Obon Cemetery Tour to pay 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 Vancouver Island and coastal B.C. were removed and interned in April 1942, as WWII 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 began organizing the Obon Tour in the mid-1980s as a “way of acknowledging the pioneers of our country [and] letting them know that they may be gone, but they are not forgotten.”
“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 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.
For the 2012 Obon Cemetery Tour, Rev. Grant Ikuta, the resident minister of the Steveston Buddhist Temple who was recently elected the first Canadian-born Socho or Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, will be visiting five historic Vancouver Island cemeteries and one private residence this weekend.
The Obon ceremony and Chemainus Cemetery Dedication Service in Chemainus will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at Chemainus/St. Michael’s and All Angels Cemetery on Chemainus Road. The ceremony will include a special dedication service to acknowledge the new grave markers that the Chemainus Cemetery Society has placed on each plot in the old “Japanese Section,” an area of unmarked burials since the graves were vandalized during the Second World War.
Ikuta will lead participants in cleaning up graves and monuments before and after each cemetery service.