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Teen Leads OCBC’s Obon at Home as Tribute to Dad

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

By Jon Kawamoto


Wheel of Dharma

Katie Ikemoto’s idea for the Orange County Buddhist Church’s Obon at

Home stemmed from the family’s old Obon tapes.

“We got to laugh at our young selves winging the moves and seeing my

youngest sister running around,” said Katie, 17, a student at Yorba Linda

High School. Katie, her mother, Teiko, and her two sisters shared laughs

and good memories in watching the tapes — dating back to when Katie

was in the second grade.

But there was clearly another, bigger inspiration in Katie’s mind — her

father, Klete Ikemoto, who passed away April 2 of COVID-19 at the age of

52. Klete’s larger-than-life personality and his devotion as a “Girl Dad” was

a key reason that the OCBC Obon at Home was created.

“To not have Obon this year, after 17 years of going, did not feel right,

especially with my dad passing,” she said. “So, after watching these videos,

I got inspired to do something similar to what we had just felt, but through

videos that could instruct people how to have Obon fun at home.”

Katie pitched the OCBC Obon at Home idea to the OCBC Jr. YBA cabinet

— and enthusiastic members responded by agreeing to volunteer to help

plan and organize it. In all, about 20 Jr. YBA members got involved. She

also talked with the OCBC Obon Committee for feedback and approval.

Katie utilized Google, Zoom, texts, and emails to carry out her plans —

mindful of the need for safety and social distancing. She sent out a Google

sheet with various foods — like the OCBC’s signature dango — and

activities she considered “an essential part of my Obon experience and our

members signed up for the ones that they felt were their favorites.”

Jr. YBA members had about a week to film and edit their videos. And other

members “went above and beyond and volunteered to create our

thumbnails, emcee or edit a few extra videos,” Katie said.

“I could definitely feel the whole Sangha come together for this Obon,”

Katie said. “So many members volunteered to film and/or edit a video and

that overwhelming support and diligence just revealed how special this

Obon is to all of us.

“The OCBC Obon Committee and board was asking me if I needed

anything and truly helped to spread the word across OCBC and the JA

community,” she continued. “Our Jr. YBA advisers, especially Carol

Sakamoto, knew how important this was to our Sangha and especially me.”

In all, there were 22 videos created for the OCBC Obon at Home, which

was held from July 17-25. Once the videos were shown on the OCBC

Facebook page and on YouTube, the response was overwhelming.

“My mom showed me pictures of an OCBC basketball team making fans

together over Zoom, children making dango for their family, families

decorating their house and playing games together,” Katie said. “Seeing so

many families cherishing time together is so rewarding to me.”

There have been nearly 20,000 views of all the videos and, of course, the

food videos have proven to be the most popular.

“I was surprised that it reached many non-Buddhist JA organizations that

often attend and participate in Obon,” Katie recalled. “Even within my own

Yonsei Basketball Team, there was tremendous support and

encouragement for the video series.”

OCBC Rev. Jon Turner praised the efforts of Katie and the Jr. YBA.

“The Obon at Home event at OCBC was a joy,” Rev. Turner said. “It was so

much more than just YouTube videos, rather it was a youth-driven outreach

program that replaced physical distance with social intimacy through a

shared experience. The Jr. YBA reimagined Obon not as merely a festival

or fundraiser but as an affirmation of culture, family and Buddhism.

“Katie Ikemoto was my point of contact and I was so impressed with her

dedication and vision,” Rev. Turner continued. “It was executed with not

only technical skill but also with heart and depth. This event confirmed to

many that the future of our Buddhist tradition is in very good hands.”

Sakamoto said the idea “was to bring some joy and some togetherness into

our homes when it was needed most. With the pandemic and all the

closures, it was nice that we could bring parts of Obon to everyone in the

comfort of their homes.”

Sakamoto said that from the Jr. YBA, the focus wasn’t on fundraising, but

on “bringing the spirit of Obon.” But there was an opportunity for the OCBC

Sangha and friends and supporters to donate if they wished to and to buy

specially made T-shirts.

Sakamoto also praised Katie Ikemoto. “It was a very special way that she

could remember her father and dedicate the Obon at Home to him,” she


“For me, Obon has just been something I have done every year,” Katie

said. “It’s like a ‘tradition’ to spend that time dancing with my sisters, mom,

and baachan while my dad and jiichan take pictures on the side. We dress

up in yukatas for one of the days and wear happi coats for the second. As I

have grown older, I have gotten to appreciate having my family there with

me as well as my friends dancing alongside me.”

For Katie’s mother, Teiko, the granddaughter of Rev. Zesei Kawasaki who

served as the Gardena Buddhist Church minister from 1958 to 1968, Obon

is an annual event that she holds near and dear to her heart.

Her family lived about two miles from the Gardena Buddhist Church. On

July 12, 1980, an arsonist set fire to the church, which forced the church

board to decide whether to hold Obon that year in August. In the end, the

Obon was held.

“I remember distinctly that same smell of damp burnt wood while dancing on the street,” Teiko said. “I am so grateful that Gardena was able to continue and put on Obon that year. Every year at Gardena, when I hear the first dance ‘Obon Odori,’ I tear up. All those thoughts and emotions really come back, along with my memories of all my grandparents and friends that I’ve lost on the way.”

On Nov. 20, 1981, the Gardena Buddhist Church was hit with a second

arson fire — when the church reconstruction was about 70% complete.

There was a third small fire set in the church’s basement on Feb. 12, 1982,

but it caused little damage. In July 1982, John Alden Stieber walked into

the Gardena Police Department and confessed to the fires and other

church fires, according to the 2001 Gardena Buddhist Church’s book of the

GBC’s first 75 years.

“My girls understand how important Obon is to me and also to them,” Teiko

said. “That’s why Katie felt so compelled to make sure Obon went on.

Especially this year, when we would be dancing for our own Hatsubon for


Teiko said she was “proud, amazed, but not surprised that Katie was able

to put this together.

“It provided a chance for us to heal and endure our hardship,” she

continued. “She got the idea and put it together in the true spirit of Obon

and Dana — in order to provide everyone a chance to experience Obon

and not miss a year of memories due to the pandemic. It took a lot of time,

energy, organization, commitment and passion, but Katie was up to it. She

never got down, and the stress was more a sense of urgency, not worry.

“I think it really brought not only the OCBC members and families together,

but reached our extended families and friends, really pulling the entire

community together,” she said.

In retrospect, Katie said she was grateful to all those who made the OCBC

Obon at Home a reality.

“With this being dedicated to my dad, the overwhelming support that was

given to make this the best quality possible means so much,” she said. “I

learned how much hard work it takes to run an Obon festival in person and

appreciate all of the effort every year to make these experiences possible. I

really hope my dad is proud of me and I am happy to see so many families

enjoying Obon together.”

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