Sakura Safari 2019

Jan 25, 2019

Jack Tsujihara and his wife, Kazue are possibly the only sakura cultivators on O'ahu. Kazue's dad, Tasuke Terao had a dream of replacing Wahiawa's lost Pineapple Town identity with new pride as a Sakura Town. Tsujihara says cherry blossoms do require a cold snap to bloom, and Wahiawa is one of the few places on O'ahu they could get that. In season January to February, dozens of trees dot the neighborhoods with gnarly black branches sporting little pink tufts.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

In Japan, cherry blossom viewing is a big event, as families gather among pink and white blossoms to ponder the fragility of life.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports, you can do that on O‘ahu as well, in the uplands of Wahiawā.

One of the original sakura planted in Wahiawa. Mr. Tsujihara says the biggest threat to the trees are the algae and mosses that spring up on the branches and seem to smother them.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

The Wahiawā Nikkei Civic Association’s annual Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Safari is primarily a folksy trundle around the backroads of a plantation town.  You see full grown mango trees, avocadoes, kumquats, lychee spreading to the sky, not all chopped tight like in town.  And in this backyard, there, on the side, over behind the garage, there are dozens of blooming cherry trees.

“Ninety to ninety five percent of the trees are from Okinawa.”

There’s a reason for that.  Jack Tsujihara here and his wife, Kazue, are sakura growers.  Kazue’s dad, Tasuke Terao, received an Okinawan sakura tree from a friend, Choro Nakasone, in the 1950’s.  Terao propagated more, and more, giving them away to anyone who would plant them in Wahiawā, with the idea that the once famous Pineapple Town might be known for its cherry blossoms.

Tsujihara:  As you know, every year at the Sakura Matsuri time, we donate ten trees. 

Hundreds have been given out, or sold, over the years.  In 1985, Japan’s Prince Hitachi endorsed the cause by planting cherry trees across Leilehua High School.  This year, Tsujihara says, none of the seeds they planted survived.

Tsujihara:  And the yield is bad normally.  If you plant a hundred seeds, less than ten come out.  You can’t graft, can’t air layer or anything.

Tsujihara showed me the lovely blossoms give way to tiny pointed oval seeds, not luscious cherries.  Thesse seeds are allowed to mature to a reddish color, then they are picked or retrieved from the ground, and planted.  

Last week, these trees at the Wahiawa Botanical Garden were still waiting to bloom. They are located across a bridge off the lower end of the parking lot, and are part of a gift from the Gifu Prefecture Sakura Association, which purchased the trees from the Tsujihara's for this location.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Tsujihara:  The weather used to be very consistent, very predictable.  It used to be colder so the blossoms used to be more vivid.

Blooms are coming earlier, too, so the last two years the trolley ride was a little late.  This year they've moved it up a week, and may have to adjust more next year.  Tsuihara says Okinawan sakura stay on the branch longer, but there’s no telling what you’ll see on your trolley ride.  From what I saw last week, there are still a lot to go!

Several years ago the Gifu Prefecture Sakura Association donated 35 trees, you can see some of them off the lower parking lot of the Wahiawā Botanical Garden, ask about them at the desk.  Ten sakura trees will be given away at the Sakura Matsuri --- February 2nd, 2019, at a new location, Wahiawā Hongwanji. 

For a ticket on the sakura trolley, call (808) 291-6151 or email Renemansho@hawaii.rr.com

For sakura viewing on your own, try California Avenue.  There are trees right across the entrance to Leilehua High School, then, after the road does a 90 degree turn to the right, you'll see the first sakura Tasuke Terao planted in front of his nursery, now called, Kazue Nursery.  Kazue and Hirotaka (Jack) Tsujihara are trying to propagate as many more cherry trees as possible every year.  They only manage to produce 20-30 new sakura annually, and as Mr. Tsujihara mentioned, in 2018, none of their plantings survived.  Still, ten sakura from previous years will be given away at the Wahiawā Nikkei Civic Association Sakura Matsuri February 2.  Glenn Avenue often offers good viewing also.  

While you're there, why not revel in the sight of other trees---mango, lychee, avocado, loquat, kumquat, tangerine---growing to full size.  A rare sight in Honolulu.