WAILUA — Dr. John Harris “Jack” Saiki is home where he spent the happiest days of his childhood, said his wife Julie Saiki during the toro nagashi ceremony Sunday hosted by the Kapaa Jodo Mission at Wailua River State Park.
“I’ve been meaning to do this since Jack passed in 2014,” Julie Saiki said. “This year, my family, including daughters, sons in-laws and grandchildren, brought some of his ashes home. We attended the bon service where his ashes were interned at the church’s columbarium, the bon dances and, now, the toro nagashi where we send him off to the spirit world.”
Jack Saiki spent part of his life, when he was in the seventh and eighth grades, on Kauai, living with his grandparents.
In February 2014, Julie and Jack returned to Kauai, seeking the gravesites of his grandparents, and to discover the roots of the Saiki family.
“We checked with the county and got a list of graveyards and cemeteries,” Julie said. “But the graveyard in Kealia was not listed. We visited the Wailua graveyard and found some Saiki grave markers, but they were not related to Jack’s family.”
Frustrated, the couple went to the Kapaa Jodo Mission because Jack remembered his grandparents belonging to the church. They were met by the Rev. Shoryu Akiya, who invited them to Sunday service.
“Rev. Akiya surprised us,” Julie said. “We thought we would just be part of the service, but instead, he introduced us to the members.”
Julie said, at that time of their search, Jack was ill and knew he didn’t have long to live. He wanted to find his grandparents’ graves because he considered Kauai to be one of the happiest days of his childhood. He passed in August 2014 at 77 years old.
Julie and her family were embraced by their extended Saiki ohana and joined by other members of the community in celebrating toro nagashi, the Jodo Buddhist ceremony symbolizing the return of the spirits of deceased ancestors to the spirit world.
During bon, it is believed spirits return to the earthly world to reunite with their relatives, the event being marked by the bon dance to celebrate the reunions.
The Kauai Buddhist Council bon dances resume Friday and Saturday with the bon celebration taking place at the West Kauai Hongwanji, Waimea Temple, located on Menehune Road. Bon dances start at 7:30 p.m. each night.