SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Each spring, people travel from all around the world to various regions of Japan during cherry blossom season for hanami, or flower viewing. Groves of sakura trees can also be found in a few places in the U.S., like Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, but on June 29, local leaders broke ground on a new cherry blossom park, Hanami Line, in Sacramento, with hopes that the site will become another destination in the U.S. where people gather for hanami each spring.
The Hanami Line Capital Campaign has been a decade in the making, spearheaded by Lon Hatamiya and Joe Rodota, co-chairs of Sakuramento, an organization founded to recognize Japanese American contributions to Sacramento, and the Sacramento Tree Foundation. Rodota said the idea for the park came to him while on a trip to Japan in 2013.
“I had just come back from Japan, where I went to Ueno Park,” Rodota said. “And my friends there told me about hanami and the cherry (blossom) trees and they showed me … the utility covers in Ueno Park. They’re bronze … and they have a sculpture of a cherry blossom tree with the blossoms flying off and turning into hearts. That was the photo I brought back to the Sacramento Tree Foundation.”
Rodota quickly connected with the Foundation and Lon Hatamiya, who served as the first Asian American cabinet member in the state of California in 1999. Hatamiya, the secretary of California technology, trade, and commerce from 1999 to 2004, was immediately on board with the project, because he thought it was a great way to recognize the contributions Japanese Americans have made to the economic and cultural base of Sacramento and Northern California over the past 100 years.
“Our first goal was to really remind the community of the importance of two things,” Rodota said. “One, its connection to its own Japanese American history — of the Issei and Nisei families — to sort of remind people and bring that forward to the present. And then also, to remind people of the ongoing connection to Japan that is sort of a day-to-day part of life for the state of California.”
Since 2013, the Hanami Line Capital Campaign has raised $7.3 million, surpassing its goal of $6.95 million, thanks to donors including Tom and Julie Winn, UC Davis Health, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, Caltrans and others, said Sacramento Tree Foundation Executive Director Jessica Sanders, Ph.D, PMP. Sanders.
The Sakura Grove — a multi-organization partnership — was planted in 2017 in Sacramento’s Southside Park, in part to ensure that the variety the committee selected would fare well in the central valley climate. The Pink Flair cherry blossom trees have thrived there, and now, more than 100 trees will be planted on the official site at Robert T. Matsui Park as the Hanami Line, a project of the Sacramento Tree Foundation.
The park, named for the late Rep. Robert Matsui, was a clear choice after about 10 locations in the region were considered, according to Hatamiya.
Rep. Doris Matsui, Robert’s widow, is a Capital Campaign honorary co-chair of the project. She has also been involved in the Hanami Line Capital Campaign since shortly after its inception and spoke at the groundbreaking event.
“(There’s a) transformative impact of a project like this,” Matsui said. “It breathes life into the community. It rejuvenates a public space. And you can see this around here because this space and this area is being rejuvenated … Old Sacramento is on its way to becoming what it should be.”
The design for the park features four micro-forests, each creating different atmospheres for visitors, according to Sanders. She said upon entering the site, the park will feel urban, with linear walkways and rows of trees. As visitors venture further inward, they will enter a more “organic” section of the park, in which trees are placed more at random. Furthest from the I-5 freeway, which can be seen from the site’s entrance on Jibboom Street, is where Sanders said her favorite part of the projected park will be.
“We also have programming space, which is the furthest from the highway, so the trees will act as a buffer,” Sanders said. “Just even having your mindset changed from when you enter the park and get to be surrounded by the trees is (amazing).”
Sanders said part of the vision for the site is to create a space for programming to take place. She said this might include collaboration with the next-door, newly built SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, as well as tree maintenance and care trainings and possibly night events.
The park is projected to open in 2024, hopefully in time for the hanami season.
“I’m anxious to bring my family and my grandkids to enjoy the park,” Hatamiya said. “It will just be amazing once trees are planted. … Sacramento is the City of Trees, why not have cherry (blossom) trees?”