Sakura Grove to bloom in Sacramento’s Southside Park

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Hanami, or flower viewing, is the Japanese tradition of gathering under sakura (cherry blossom) trees to enjoy the annual spring blossoms with friends and family. In Japan, people travel from all across the country to experience hanami in various regions.

Cherry blossom trees can be viewed in a few places in the United States, the most well-known being in cities like Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, but now residents of California’s capital city will be able to start their own hanami traditions this coming spring.

A grove of 28 cherry blossom trees was planted in Sacramento Oct. 28 at Southside Park, which will add a shade of pink to the eastern side of the downtown park each spring. The Sakura Grove was planted through a partnership between the Sacramento Tree Foundation, the city of Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen and Sakuramento, an organization founded to recognize the contributions Japanese Americans have made to Sacramento, as well as the city’s relationship with Japan.

According to Sakuramento Co-Chair Lon Hatamiya, more than 100 volunteers were on-site on planting day. This, he said, was largely due to recruiting efforts from the Sacramento Tree Foundation, but also because many community members wanted to participate.

There was so much community support that, when the organization created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Sakura Grove planting, Hatamiya said they raised more than the $8,000 they asked for. According to the online crowdsourced fundraising page, 130 people raised $8,710 in two months. That, with the donations collected through the Sacramento Tree Foundation, brings the total to more than $13,000 raised for the project.

Hatamiya said he was “blown away” by the community’s ability to raise money so quickly for the project.

“It reinforces to me that we have great support within the community and great enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do,” he said.

CHERRY BLOSSOM GROVE — Conceptual drawing of Sakura Grove, recently planted on the eastern end of Southside Park, along the pond near 8th Street.
graphic courtesy of Jacobs

Hansen, whose district includes Sacramento’s old Japantown, identified Southside Park as an ideal location for the cherry blossom trees. Located between Sixth, Eighth, T and W streets, the community surrounding the park once housed many Japanese American families before they were forcibly relocated during World War II and imprisoned in U.S. concentration camps. Today, three Japanese American churches — Tenrikyo High Sacramento Church, Konko Church of Sacramento and Parkview Presbyterian Church — still surround the park.

Although the area is historically suitable for the grove, the trees were originally purchased for a larger-scale project, as a result of which, Sakuramento was founded to complete.

Aptly named the Hanami Line, Hatamiya said discussions to plant around 150 to 200 cherry blossom trees in an appropriate area in Sacramento began roughly five years ago, when Forward Observer CEO Joseph Rodota, a friend who has worked with Hatamiya on several projects, approached him with the idea.

Hatamiya, the former California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency secretary, and the first Asian American Pacific Islander cabinet member of Japanese descent in California history, didn’t take long to consider it.

“It took him about two seconds to convince me and I thought it was a fantastic idea,” he said.
Rodota and Hatamiya, co-chairs of Sakuramento, then contacted the Sacramento Tree Foundation and Councilmember Hansen, who hosted a meeting at city hall where locals and Japanese American community members were invited to attend. Support continued to grow for the project.

Sacramento Tree Foundation Executive Director Raymond L. Tretheway III, Rep. Doris Matsui and 6th District Director Sam Stefanki.
photo courtesy of Sakuramento

After requests for proposals were put out for the project, Hatamiya said it was ultimately decided to begin plans to plant the trees north of the Sacramento River by the Robert T. Matsui Waterfront Park. The line of trees along the river would connect to the Powerhouse Science Center, which only recently obtained financial support from the city of Sacramento.

After a plan was made, arborists at the Sacramento Tree Foundation identified the Pink Flair variety of cherry blossom trees to be best suited to withstand the city’s heat and drought. The foundation obtained about 30 pink flairs around three years ago to test how the trees fared in the city’s environment.

Not wanting to wait for the center to be completed, Hatamiya said the idea came about within the last four months to plant the remaining 28 trees.

With a target year of around 2020, Hatamiya said the goal is to have the Hanami Line planted and ready to go by the time the Powerhouse Science Center is fully up and running. The Hanami Line will be along the river and will enhance the landscape of the center. For now, a lot of fundraising has to be done for the project. Hatamiya said the Sacramento Tree Foundation has just agreed to enter into a capital campaign to raise the funds needed.

Hatamiya said he is hopeful that Sakura Grove will be the “first phase” of Sakuramento’s underlying objective to honor the contributions Japanese Americans have made to the city.

For more information about Sakura Grove and the Hanami Line, visit Sakuramento’s Website at www.sakuramento.org.

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