History

 

History of the OBON SOCIETY

 

Sixty-two years after Keikos (one of our co-founders) grandfather had disappeared in the jungles of Burma, his spirit returned home, in the form of a personal memento he carried into war. It was a miracle. 

Decades after his death, this memento, a small flag inscribed with the names of family and friends, ended up with a collector in Canada. The flag was brought to Tokyo and left it at the front desk of a hotel. The hotel staff spent most of a year searching for the owner before finding Keikos family.

Upon receiving this good luck flagKeikos mother exclaimed, Father has finally come home. His spirit was so strong he would not rest until he returned to his family.His spirit was alive inside the Yosegaki Hinomaru flag and he wanted to return home.

Keiko related this miracle to her fiancé Rex (our other co-founder) in 2009 and upon realizing that every Japanese soldier carried these Yosegaki Hinomaru flags, they decided it was their duty to try to bring miracles to other bereaved families in Japan. This was what would become the OBON SOCIETY.

Without plans, funding, or connections, they set to work studying war history and the story behind the Yosegaki Hinomaru flags.

The first flag came into their possession from a chance encounter with a veteran. They did not know how to proceed but an unexpected meeting with a Buddhist Priest opened the path that allowed them to trace it back to its family in northern Japan. This was their first successful flag return. It took about four years.

Rex and Keiko set up a website which attracted the attention of people with items to return, while connecting with other like-minded people. The research team included several ingenious scholars who pioneered a way to find the families of missing Japanese soldiers. By 2014, the group had returned several dozen Yosegaki Hinomaru to their relatives in Japan.

Through newspaper stories and word of mouth, their notoriety grew. More and more items began to arrive, some from as far away as Australia, Sweden, Scotland, Canada and Singapore. It was challenging to keep up with the growing work without steady workers to assist, but the volunteers doubled their efforts.

As the successful returns increased, Rex and Keiko were advised to file for a 501(c)(3) non-profit so the organization could grow effectively.

As the amount of work with only small cash donations, the OBON SOCIETY became financially unsustainable. The Japanese Bereaved Family Association had been paying attention to their work and proposed working together.

Grassroots funding also provided support: a fundraiser at a small brewery in Portland, OR and a private foundation from a WWII SeaBee (Naval veteran), among others. A United States Japan Foundation in New York provided a financial lifeline to the OBON SOCIETY

After ten years of pioneering the research and networking, the OBON SOCIETY now possesses the a sophisticated system to find families, We rolled out this system in early 2019 and began to return more items to Japan. In the first 33 weeks of 2019 we were responsible for the return of more than 72 individual items to Japanese families.