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Nikkei Society honours Victoria’s Japanese pioneers

The Victoria Nikkei Society is spending its 20th anniversary with one foot in the past, as it honours the pioneers of the city’s Japanese-Canadian community.

The Nikkei Society will be celebrating its annual Obon Festival on Aug. 10.

Obon is a traditional Japanese ceremony in which participants wash the graves of their relatives— though the ceremony is celebrated a little differently in Victoria.

After being forcefully relocated from B.C. during the Second World War, the families who originally established Victoria’s Japanese community did not return.

Many of the original settlers who lived and died in the city still remain in Ross Bay Cemetery, and play a unique role in today’s community.

Despite not sharing blood ties, Nikkei Society co-founder Tsugio Kurushima considers these pioneers to be ancestors of the entire community, and are honoured as such during Obon.

Kurushima says that a challenge the Nikkei Society faces today is encouraging younger Japanese-Canadians to become more involved in their heritage. Despite such a deep involvement in the community now, he admits that he once felt the same.

“Growing up in Winnipeg, I wasn’t very involved in Japanese culture, I just wanted to be like every other white kid on my block,” recalls Kurushima. “It wasn’t until I grew older that I wanted to learn more about my heritage.”

Kurushima hopes that the Nikkei Society’s events, including the New Year’s celebrations, cherry blossom festival and upcoming Obon can spark that interest for young Japanese- and non-Japanese Canadians.

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