Waimea’s cherry blossom trees were nearly in full bloom Saturday, adorning the town with delicate, pink blossoms during the 21st annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival.
“It’s the delicacy of the blossom. It feels very light and happy and it brings the spirit of goodness to everyone,” said Susie Krall, a freshman at Parker School, about why the ornamental trees draw people to take a break from the hustle and bustle to enjoy nature. “And, pink is obviously my favorite color.”
Krall, who has lived in Waimea for 10 years, said she has been hoping to come to the festival for years but the large crowds and traffic often kept her family away from town during the festival. She spent Saturday taking in the event as well as photographing the trees at Church Row Park.
“Over the past few years, I’ve just developed feelings for the cherry blossom trees,” said Krall, who added she and her mother even spent time this summer painting a cherry blossom mural on her bedroom wall. “This was one of the things on my bucket list … now I get to go home and check it off.”
Thousands of people flocked to the North Hawaii town to enjoy the blossoming trees at Church Row Park and around town — a tradition known as hanami — as well as the events and attractions associated with the festival. The trees bloom annually in late January and early February following a good winter’s chill and ample rainfall.
Celebrating the season’s first bloom dates to eighth century Japan when aristocrats would enjoy the blossoms while writing poetry. “Hanami,” literally “flower look,” is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom viewing party.”
Saturday’s festival featured scores of exhibitors offering information, goodies and arts and crafts as well as traditional cultural demonstrations such as a traditional tea ceremony, mochi pounding and taiko drumming.
Waikoloa Village residents Sandi and Ken Eggleston, with their pooch Chewbacca, arrived early to enjoy a beautiful day in Waimea perusing the locally made items offered at the event.
“We’re really appreciative of the homemade stuff and that was a real drawing card for us,” said Ken, who added that the couple planned to check out the cherry blossoms as well as other activities around Waimea.
The festival began in 1993 to promote the town when a bypass was proposed that would have routed people around Waimea. Since 1994, when the Waimea Lions Club inaugurated the event, the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival has grown to stretch from one side of town to the other, with more than 150 vendors at various locations.
Waimea’s first cherry trees arrived in 1953 as a memorial to Fred Makino, who founded Japanese language newspaper Hawaii Hochi in 1912. Three ornamental cherry trees were distributed, one of which was propagated, and 20 of its saplings were later donated to the Waimea Lions Club to be planted along Church Row Park in 1972.
In 1975, the organization planted 50 more trees in commemoration of the first Japanese immigrants to settle the Waimea area a century earlier. In 2012, a dozen more were planted by the Consulate of Japan and other dignitaries to mark the centennial anniversary of cherry blossom trees from Japan that were planted in Washington to foster goodwill and friendship.
On Saturday, four more trees were planted, joining their decades-old counterparts that awash the town in pink during the winter months. One sapling was planted fronting the historic Spencer House and three near the Department of Agriculture building at the entrance to Lalamilo Farmlots in Waimea.
The tree planted by Spencer Home honors Nelson Doi, a lifelong Waimea resident, retired judge and former state senator and lieutenant governor. Doi took part in the planting along with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and other dignitaries.
“It is a great honor to plant this tree,” Doi said before turning dirt for the sapling to take root.
The three others at the entrance to Lalamilo Farmlots were planted to honor three generations of Japanese farmers that transformed Lalamilo’s arid and rocky lands into highly productive farmland.
Festival attendees along with Abercrombie, Mayor Billy Kenoi and other dignitaries honored Waimea residents Emiko “Emi” Wakayama, 81, and Fumi Bonk, 90, for their contributions to the festival and community.
Wakayama has been involved with the festival since it began as a committee member and by performing the festival’s traditional Japanese tea ceremony. She also teaches the art to others.
Wakayama, who studied fashion design at the University of Hawaii and Pratt Institute in New York, is also known for her seamstress work on muumuus and for her quilting. In 2008, she was named an Outstanding Older American. She has also volunteered many hours to North Hawaii Community Hospital’s gift shop.
Bonk has been involved with the festival since its early years, first serving coffee as a member of the local AARP chapter at Church Row Park before moving to ceramics, which she would display for attendees.
She also founded the Big Island Art Guild, was involved in the start up of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, co-directed an alternative school within Hilo High School and taught at Waimea Intermediate School.
Bonk also traveled to Washington to join the One Nation Rally of education and other social justice advocates promoting better education, housing and health care for Americans.
“We’re here to honor two of our treasures of our community who have given so much, for so long to so many,” Kenoi said.