Gwen Battad Ishikawa
Helemano Plantation in Wahiawä is now home to 12 cherry blossom trees from Japan — with 88 more to come when they are ready for planting, for a grand total of 100 trees. A planting ceremony for the first 12 trees was held Feb. 17 at Helemano Plantation. The trees were donated by the Rotary Club of Tokyo Shibuya, District 2750 and the Kochi-ken Makino Botanical Garden, both of which are based in Japan.
Helemano Plantation is just one location on O‘ahu where the Japanese cherry blossom trees are being planted.
Their new home in Central O‘ahu was made possible through the efforts of the Hawaii Cherry Alley Committee, which was formed to promote friendship with Japan, awareness of Japanese culture and to help promote tourism in local communities by planting flowering cherry trees in areas where people can enjoy their beauty.
The Feb. 17 ceremony was attended by Consul General of Japan Yasushi Misawa, members of the Rotary Club of Tokyo Shibuya, District 2750, the Rotary Club of East Honolulu, retired U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro and botanist Dr. Tetsuo Koyama from Japan, among others. A stone monument commemorating the tree planting and the friendship between Hawai‘i and Japan was also unveiled.
Two trees were ceremonially planted that morning. Joining in the planting of the first tree were Consul General Misawa and his wife Yoko, Dr. Koyama and his wife Vivian, and Susanna Cheung and her husband, Ho-Ming Cheung. A second ceremonial tree was planted by members of the Cherry Committee, including Norie Masamitsu, who chairs the O‘ahu Cherry Alley Committee; Arthur Taniguchi, honorary consul general of Japan in Hilo; Kelvin Sewake, interim associate dean of the UH-Mänoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources; Hideki Yamane, economic development specialist with the state Department of Agriculture; Dr. Masafumi Honda from UH-Hilo and Sue Eguchi, a volunteer with the O‘ahu committee.
Sen. Akaka thanked Helemano Plantation founder and president/CEO Susanna Cheung for making the land available for the cherry blossom trees. She, in turn, thanked Dr. Koyama for selecting such an ideal location for the trees, noting that “it is cold morning and night.”
Said Koyama: “I trust that these trees will be happy in Helemano Plantation and will bloom in seven to 10 years from today and will contribute to the enhancement of U.S.-Japan and Hawai‘i Japanese friendship relations and tourism of Hawai‘i.”
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who represents Wahiawä in the state House of Representatives, said, “Wahiawä is known as the ‘Land of a Million Pines,’ and now it is going to be known as the land of a thousand cherry blossoms.”
The planting at Helemano Plantation is part of the ongoing activities commemorating the Japan-U.S. cherry blossom gift of friendship. In 1912, Japan sent cherry blossom trees to Washington, D.C. The U.S. returned the goodwill gesture in 1915, sending dogwood trees to Japan.
More than a century after the trees arrived in the nation’s capital, millions of people from all over the world flock to the Tidal Basin area each spring to view the trees in full bloom. This year, the D.C. trees are expected to bloom during the week of March 18 to 23, according to the National Park Service.
In 2012, Japan launched an initiative to send more cherry trees to other parts of the United States, including Hawai‘i. Through the efforts of former Consul General of Japan in Hawai‘i Yoshihiko Kamo, Dr. Koyama was asked to identify a cherry tree variety that would survive in Hawai‘i’s tropical climate. Seedlings from the Oshima Zakura cherry tree, which is raised on Hachijö Island, south of Tokyo, were cultivated and planted in Waimea on the Big Island and at residences in Mänoa and Wahiawä on O‘ahu.
The trees planted at Helemano are located in front of the facility’s Wellness Center and are presently 3 to 4 feet tall. They are anticipated to start flowering in three to seven years and are expected to grow up to 30 feet tall.
“Hopefully, we can rival D.C.,” said Sen. Akaka, who had the pleasure of seeing the cherry blossom trees in bloom for more than three decades while serving Hawai‘i in Congress.