Honoring the Past: Clean-up Day at Japanese Colma Cemetery

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SAN FRANCISCO — In preparation for the 66th annual Memorial Day services at the Japanese Colma Cemetery, 300 volunteers from ages 5 to over 80 years old gathered on May 20 to participate in the annual clean-up day.

Volunteers from around the Bay Area and even as far as Chicago journeyed to pull weeds, rake leaves, clean the walk-ways, rinse headstones, and place fresh flowers throughout the three-acre cemetery.

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California’s clean-up day started in 2010. This community service project was organized as a way to honor the past, remember those who had passed on, and to bring the community together to educate them about a place that deeply represents the history of the Japanese American community.

Executive Director Paul Osaki recalls coming to the cemetery with his father, noticing that some of the plots were grown over with weeds as if no one had visited them in years. He remembers looking at the graves of some Nisei that were volunteers, members, and donors of the JCCCNC who had no children and wondering if anyone would ever visit their sites to say a prayer or leave flowers.

The Issei headstones in the old section were so worn that you could hardly make out some of the names on the headstones. He wondered if their families in Japan ever knew what happened to them or where their final resting place is located.

Osaki along with Diane Matsuda, a volunteer for the JCCCNC, and Donna Kotake, a board member, wanted to find a way to honor and remember those who had passed on and to give the community a reason to visit this cultural treasure. At the first clean-up in 2010, 80 volunteers came out to help, and over the years many other volunteers and organizations have joined in with the cleanup efforts.

“The program has grown beyond my expectations in scope, and it’s a beautiful sight watching three generations of our community, all over the cemetery working so hard,” commented Osaki.

The cleanup day has even drawn Joe and Lillian Kurata, who have been traveling from St. Charles, Ill. for the past few years and make it a family affair to visit the cemetery and pay respects to their grandparents buried there.

The JCCCNC would like to thank the many volunteers and organizations that joined in the clean-up efforts, including Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, Japanese American Religious Federation, Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Japanese Community Youth Council, Girl Scout Troop 32704, Boy Scouts Troops 12, 29 and 58 of San Francisco, Millbrae Radio Taiso Group, Boy and Girl Scout Troops of San Mateo, San Francisco Mita-Kai, Buddhist Church of San Francisco, and JCCCNC Shinzen.

This annual program is held each year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, and the JCCCNC is always looking for additional volunteers and organizations to join in. If you would like to participate next year, call (415) 567-5505 or email [email protected]

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