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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Japanese temple holds traditional Vietnamese ceremony for those living in Japan

Teppei Yamashita

Nov. 6, 2017

Japanese people pay homage to their ancestors once a year at a Buddhist event called Bon. But for Vietnamese, the ceremony is not only for the deceased, but for parents who are still alive. Although the number of Vietnamese in Japan has been rising, mostly among those in their 20s, there are few opportunities for them to observe their own traditional ceremonies in Japan. A Japanese priest in the southwestern city of Kitakyushu recently held an event for them.

Chikai Matsuzaki is the chief priest at a temple that held a Vietnamese-style Bon ceremony in September. He decided to hold the ceremony after getting acquainted with a worker at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant.

"Buddha is Buddha, no matter where you live. I wanted to offer a Vietnamese-style ceremony so people attending it could remember their days in their home country," he says.

A wooden drum is an essential part of a Vietnamese-style Bon ritual. But Matsuzaki didn't have one because it's not used in his sect of Buddhism. He tracked down the instrument by getting in touch with a priest who uses it. He wanted his ceremony to be as close as possible to those in Vietnam.

The ceremony's participants were also looking forward to the event. Nguyen Thi Huyen Trang came from Vietnam to study at a university nearby. She hasn't seen her parents during the 5 years she's been in Japan.

"I do feel lonely. My parents worked hard to make the money to send me here. They did construction work, cleaned streets and took care of other people's children. I really feel grateful," she says. Trang was chosen to represent other participants at the ceremony, and read a letter to her parents.

On the day of the ceremony, Matsuzaki invited priests from a Vietnamese temple in Hyogo Prefecture -- one of the few such temples in Japan. The Vietnamese priest beat the wooden drum Matsuzaki had borrowed.

During the ceremony, Trang read out a letter thanking her parents. "We may be poor, but I am happy and proud of you. I want to thank you for giving birth to me. My wish is that you are both well. I can't wait to be reunited with you. I'll do my best to fulfill your expectations," it said.

"This is a place that should be open to all races and nationalities, even though cultural differences may complicate things. I want to make this temple a place where people from Vietnam will feel comfortable," says Matsuzaki.

It was a day for participants to give thought to their faraway hometowns -- and a chance to bring 2 cultures closer together.