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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cherry Blossoms peak in Wahiawa

Photo gallery: Wahiawa cherry blossoms

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The corner of Crest and Glen Avenues is pink with blossoms.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

In a light rain, Kazue Tsujihara enjoys the fragrance of cherry blossoms in her front yard. Hundreds of trees are now in bloom. Residents began planting them in the 1950s, thanks to her father.

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WAHIAWA Hundreds of cherry trees are blooming throughout this community, casting a pink hue over neighborhoods, backyards and streets.

For many, the bloom marks the onset of spring, but others gaze on the delicate flower with nostalgia and see it as a symbol of the Japanese culture left behind.

In Japan, rituals and activities surround the cherry blossom sakura season with viewing, sake drinking and picnics. In Wahiawa, a local group is promoting and preserving the trees to perpetuate the culture.

Many of the cherry trees in Wahiawa trace their roots to a single tree brought from Okinawa by Choro Nakasone, who lived in Waipi'o. Nakasone gave a seed to Tasuke Terao of Wahiawa in the mid-1950s. Terao in turn grew more trees from seeds and either gave them away or sold them to people in the community.

Today, Wahiawa has the largest collection of cherry trees in the Islands, said Rene Mansho of the Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association, which promotes cherry blossom traditions, among other community activities.


The family continues to grow trees and plant them in the community.

"His dream in the 1970s was to make Wahiawa the sakura town," Mansho said.

There are 500 trees scattered throughout the community, including some planted by dignitaries like Japan's Prince Hitachi, who donated trees to Leilehua High School in 1985, and organizations like Gifu Sakura no Kai, which purchased 35 cherry trees from Terao Nursery wiping out its entire stock and gave them to the city this year, Mansho said.

The trees, known for their stunning blooms in Japan and Washington, D.C., thrive in Wahiawa, which seems to have just enough cold weather to force a bloom.

The Japan and Washington trees, a different variety, need very cold winters and very warm summers, said Paul Weissich, who retired as head of the city Botanical Gardens after 33 years. Weissich said he remembers when the trees were planted in Wahiawa, but that he would not recommend them for low-lying areas.

"Wahiawa is just cool enough in the winter," Weissich said. "I've seen people manage to get a flower or two in Kane'ohe. It's sort of a scrawny misshapen tree. It's not happy and they won't be turned aside from their genetic makeup."

A grove of cherry trees was planted on the Big Island in Waimea in 1972. The bloom there is spectacular, he said, but the trees are badly sculpted by the wind, making them look like they are leaning over.


The trees in Waimea come from Taiwan, said Kazue Tsujihara, Terao's daughter, who works in her father's nursery, where he and his wife are still active. People often ask for that variety but when they learn it is from Taiwan, they ask for the Okinawan tree, Tsujihara said, adding that she thinks it's because they care about it being a Japanese tree.

Fronting the nursery on California Avenue are about 10 trees, including some from a neighbor and the original tree from Nakasone. The 12-foot-tall trees are in different stages of bloom and the flowers on one tree are darker than others. It is the most requested variety of tree, but Tsujihara said she can't guarantee the color because they gather the seeds from the ground, where they're all mixed together.

Tsujihara said her father, a retired plumber, has donated or given away about 300 cherry trees since he started growing them.

Joyce Shimokusu said she was one of the fortunate to get a Terao tree at a lucky-number drawing. This week her tree, still vibrant with color, was past its peak, Shimokusu said.

She said she and her husband had seen cherry blossoms in Japan and wanted a tree but were not sure it would grow in a tropical climate.

"We're fortunate that it bloomed for us," Shimokusu said, adding that the Japan blossoms are lighter in color. "... (Our) pink is much brighter."

The Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association helps the trees survive by fertilizing them twice a year, said Jack Tsujihara, president of the group and Kazue's husband. Leilehua High School students from the Nakayoshi Kai club help.

"Our purpose is to promote and perpetuate Japanese culture," Tsujihara said.

Not all of the trees in Wahiawa are from Terao, Tsujihara said. Many years ago, a neighbor who worked for the military brought 60 cherry trees from Okinawa and gave them to Terao to care for but only six survived, she said.

To bloom, the trees must lose all of their leaves and the winter must be cold, Tsujihara said. Trees are fertilized twice a year and they like to be watered daily.

To illustrate how far people go to have cherry blossoms, Kazue Tsujihara said a Honolulu woman picks all the leaves off her tree in November and while she doesn't get a bloom like the trees in Wahiawa, she still gets a few flowers.

"Sakura gives you inside the heart," she said. "Every time you look at the flower, it's like all inside peaceful."

Tsujihara's 91-year-old mother, Ayame Terao, said the same thing: "It gives peace in the mind."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.