Friday, January 21, 2005

It’s time for
cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossom Tour of Wahiawa

Where: Meet at Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission, 1067 California Ave.

When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. tomorrow

Admission: $5 for trolley ride. Bentos from Kitchen Delight can be purchased for an additional $5.

Call: Rene Mansho at 306-1876

Everyone knows that palm, papaya and mango trees thrive in Hawaii's tropical climate. But few know about the cherry blossoms that thrive in Wahiawa Heights. Ordinarily, those who drive past them think nothing of the scraggly gray branches that look like dead trees, but late January through early February is their time to blossom.

Fred Itamoto, 96, was there when the Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association set a goal of making Wahiawa the "sakura capital of Oahu."

"Mr. Nakasone of Waipio Valley was the first one to raise a tree," he said, explaining that seedlings from that first tree were passed around to take root throughout town. "People started enjoying the blossoms. ... They see the nice bloom," he said.

A trolley tour tomorrow will take plant enthusiasts to sites for cherry blossom viewing of the purplish blossoms of Nago, Okinawa. Among the tree sites are Leilehua High school, Wahiawa District Park, Wahiawa Fresh Water State Park and Wahiawa Ryusenji Soto Mission. Maurice Ishimoto also planted sakura seedlings at all of the public schools in the Wahiawa area. The trees began to mature and blossom in the spring of 1990.

"The sakura viewing, 'hana mi,' is also referred to as our sakura safari as we celebrate a wonderful tradition of the first sakura tree planting with seedlings from Okinawa and the continued propagation by Wahiawa residents," said Rene Mansho, president of the Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association.

THE WORD "sakura" derives from the word "sakuya," which means "blooming." The flowers were named after Princess Kono-Han-Sakuya-Hime, the tree-flower-blooming-princess enshrined on top of Mount Fuji. According to legend, she was dropped from heaven onto a cherry tree, making it sacred to the Japanese.

The trees at Leilehua were planted in 1985 at a centennial celebration honoring Japanese immigrants. Japan's Prince Hitachi and Princess Hanako were invited to meet the first-generation Japanese who had come to Hawaii to work on the plantations. They toured the pineapple plantations as well, to glimpse the conditions under which the immigrants worked.

"In Japan they would bow their heads and never (look at) royalty," said James Iha, who was the school's principal at the time. But so special was the occasion that the issei and their descendants were able to shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

At the ceremony, three cherry blossom trees germinated and nurtured by Maurice Ishimoto and Russell Wong were planted by the royal couple, the governor of Nago, Okinawa, and Hawaii's Gov. George Ariyoshi. Ishimoto and Wong germinated and nurtured the plants.

THE TREES that now grace the Leilehua High School parking lot are cared for by the Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association and Nakayoshi-Kai, a student friendship club. The Leilehua students initially started a fertilizing project in fall 2001 as a service to the community, Mansho said.

Wahiawa's cool climate continues to keep the sakura trees in good health, although Itamoto said fungus from rainy conditions needs to be controlled to achieve a good bloom.

Iha, Itamoto and Mansho are all delighted that Wahiawa residents continue to perpetuate Japanese cultural traditions. Such is the relationship with the sakura that in Japan, people stop to enjoy mochi and tea under the trees, Iha said. Now, residents of Oahu can share that same experience.

Celebrate Sakura Matsuri

Dance, sing and learn more about Japanese culture at the 17th annual Sakura Matsuri, also taking place at the Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission, at 7 p.m. Jan. 29.

Odori, a form of Japanese dancing, taiko drumming and karaoke are all highlights of the celebration.

Refreshments will be served by Nakayoshi Kai, the friendship club of Leilehua High School, and proceeds from the event will benefit Kaala Nippon Go Gakko and other Japanese-language schools.

Admission is $5 general and free for children under 12. Call Evelyn Fukumoto at 621-3659 for more details.

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