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.”