Steveston's Buddhist tradition turns 80

Richmond News, October 24, 2008

This Saturday the Steveston Buddhist Temple celebrates its 80th anniversary

Richmond, Canada -- It'll be a three-generational affair with Reverend Grant Ikuta, the newly appointed minister and grandson of the temple's first reverend, Shinjo Ikuta, presiding over the celebrations.

Grant's father, Kyojo, who is now retired, but who earlier presided over many of the temple's weddings and services, will also be there. Shinjo passed away in 1980.

The temple is for followers of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, founded in Japan about 800 years ago. A principal difference between this school of Buddhism and others is that the reverends can marry and have families, whereas in other schools of Buddhism the temple leaders are all monks.

"It is religion for common people, and family is very important," Kyojo said.

The church follows Amida Buddha, which is the Buddha of infinite light and boundless compassion.

The Buddha has two hands forming a circle with the thumb and index finger.

The right hand symbolizes wisdom, so that circle is perfect wisdom, and the left hand symbolizes compassion, so that circle is perfect compassion, Grant said.

"Between the Buddha's fingers there is webbing to show that the compassion of the Buddha does not let anyone slip through," Grant said.

His father likened their Buddhism to the first verse of the Christian hymn, Amazing Grace.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me .... I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see," the song lyrics read.

"It's not that you find God, but that God finds you," says Kyojo.

The original temple was opened on Sept. 28, 1928 at First Avenue and Moncton Street where the Steveston branch of the Royal Bank now stands. The temple remained at this location until the Japanese were interned during the Second World War and sent to various places throughout British Columbia and Alberta.

Kyojo Ikuta remembers being sent to live in Alberta during the war years, but after his return he became the Buddhist minister responsible for all of British Columbia during the post-war years.

"I was never home," he remembers.

His son, Grant, has now come full circle.

"The first three years of my life were spent here, living on Blundell Road," he said. "Now I'm back as the reverend here, where my grandfather was."

Grant spent summers visiting his grandfather, who had by then retired to Steveston.

He said he had no intention of following in his father's footsteps until one summer his dad asked him to help out a bit with driving him around.

"I got to see different aspects of what he did," Grant said. "It made me more interested in learning about Buddhism."

After the war, many Japanese people returned to Steveston, and a group of Buddhist followers decided to rent the former Steveston Fishermen's Hall on Third Avenue next to the present day Steveston Hotel.

In 1958, the temple purchased the kindergarten building at the corner of Chatham Street and No. 1 Road and converted it into a temple. Here, Reverend Kyojo Ikuta, son of Shinjo Ikuta, presided over many weddings and services.

In March, 1963, the current temple was built at 4360 Garry St., with funds raised through the congregation members. The five-acre property was purchased for $15,000, a price many parishioners thought was too high for a property so far removed from Steveston's main streets.

The temple is a light-filled building surrounded by greenery. Seniors play gate ball, a Japanese version of croquet, on the grass in the afternoons. The architect who designed the temple was Arnulf Petzold, a German man who was raised in Japan. He also designed the Martial Arts Centre beside the Steveston Community Centre.

Everyone is welcome to Buddhism for Beginners, this Saturday, Oct. 25 at 2 p.m. at the Steveston Buddhist Temple at 4360 Garry Street. The lecture will be followed by a banquet in the evening, which is sold out. On Sunday, the public is again welcome when a commemorative service will be held, preceded by the Ochisgosan, a children's parade, beginning at 10 a.m. at the temple. There will be 34 kids dressed in traditional Japanese outfits for the parade.

The public is welcome to join the 375-member congregation at regular weekly Sunday services at the temple, which begin at 10 a.m. for children and 10:30 for adults.