When the 2018 Sakura Festival kicks off April 19 on the campus of Clark College, it will mark the 13th year of the annual celebration of the sister-city relationship between Vancouver and Joyo, Japan.

Clark College Sakura Festival Dedication 1990
Vancouver Mayor Bruce Bruce Hagensen, Washington Governor Booth Gardner, and John Kageyama, President of America Kotobuki, dedicate the first of 100 cherry trees in celebration of Arbor Day and Earth Day 1990. Photo credit: Clark College

But though the festival started in 2005, the friendship between the two cities goes back many more years.

It was Earth Day, April 11, 1990, when Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen, Washington’s then-Governor Booth Gardner, and John Kageyama, President of America Kotobuki, gathered with many other dignitaries at Clark College to plant the first of 100 Shirofugen cherry trees. The trees were a gift to Vancouver from Kageyama, in honor of Washington’s centennial.

In the 28 years since they were planted, the trees have graced the campus of Clark College with their enduring beauty, and the annual explosion of bright pink and white petals that marks the coming of spring.

As he has done nearly every year, Kageyama is scheduled to return for this year’s Sakura Festival as a speaker, along with Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny Ogle and Clark College Japanese Scholarship recipient Suzuka Hitomi.

“Mr. Kageyama is a longtime friend of Clark College, and of the City of Vancouver,” said Hannah Erickson, Senior Communications Specialist at Clark College. “This year’s celebration is made even more meaningful than ever, because he has said that this will probably be his last time visiting us for Sakura.”

Clark College Sakura Festival Tree #1 planting
The first Shirofugen cherry trees are planted at Clark College on Earth Day 1990. Photo credit: Clark College

As Kageyama explains, “shiro” means white and “fugen” means virtuous. As the trees have grown, so have the traditions surrounding them, including the 1995 forming of the sister-city relationship between Vancouver and Joyo, and the creation of the Sakura Festival.

The festival began in 2006 as a celebration of the fleeting beauty of the blossoms, the preciousness of life, and a lasting bond of friendship between the sister cities.

This Year’s Cherry Blossom Festival

The 2018 Sakura Festival will begin at 1:00 p.m. on April 19, with opening remarks near the Royce E. Pollard Japanese Friendship Garden, located on campus next to the college’s music building. The Japanese garden, named for Vancouver’s former mayor and home to a bench honoring Kageyama, was donated to Clark College during the 2010 Sakura Festival and dedicated in the fall of 2011. The opening ceremony will include a koto performance by Yukiko Vossen and a performance by the Clark College Women’s Choral Ensemble. The koto, a stringed musical instrument, is the national instrument of Japan.

The festivities will continue all afternoon, with family-friendly cultural activities including performances by the Clark College Japanese Cultural Club, traditional dancing by Takako Hara, a greeting from the college’s Child & Family Studies program, and drumming by members of Portland Taiko.

“The Sakura Festival has become an important tradition at Clark College,” Erickson explains. “It is a celebration of international friendship, an opportunity for cultural exchange, and a wonderful moment for all of us to pause and recognize the beauty of spring.”

Clark College Sakura Festival cherry trees in bloom
Cherry trees explode with color on the campus of Clark College. Photo courtesy: Lorelle VanFosse

While Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate fully by letting the Shirofugen cherry trees show off their full beauty during the Sakura Festival, eventually the Clark College campus is bathed in blossoms, providing a beautiful backdrop for families, photographers, and more than a few strolling couples.

“My favorite photos of the trees that I have taken were of my son, who at the time was still attending the college’s preschool, playing among the blossoms,” remembers Erickson. “Every year, I see many families and couples taking similar photos of loved ones against a beautiful backdrop of pink blossoms.”

In late March to early April, many people in Japan celebrate and appreciate the temporal beauty of nature in Japan by admiring the cherry blossom flower. They watch the cherry blossom forecast carefully and plan a Hanami (cherry blossom flower viewing) picnic, where they gather under the cherry blossom trees and share delicious food such as sansyoku dango, a treat featuring tri-colored dough balls, and cookies made from real salted sakura flowers.

You can try Sakura cookies for yourself as part of this year’s Sakura Festival. The cookies, like everything at the festival, are free and available to the public. For more information about the 2018 Sakura Festival, go to the Clark College website.

Clark College Sakura Festival cherry trees
Cherry trees line a path on the Clark College campus. Photo credit: Clark College
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