Friendship blossoms at Clark College

Annual Sakura Festival celebrates the blooming of 100 cherry trees on campus and the relationship between Vancouver and its sister city in Japan

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Rainy weather moved Clark College's ninth annual Sakura Festival inside to Gaiser Hall on Thursday afternoon.

Moments before Clark College President Bob Knight jumped onto the stage to start the program, rain was pelting campus sidewalks. Although the cherry blossoms were soggy, "we're not going to let the rain dampen our spirits," Knight said. "But we'd rather be outside underneath the cherry blossoms."

Clark's 100 shirofugen cherry trees were donated to the school in 1990 by John Kageyama, president of America Kotobuki.

Knight said the campus cherry trees were "a rich gift of symbolism."

They were planted to commemorate Washington's centennial and to celebrate the friendship between Vancouver and Joyo, Vancouver's sister city, Knight said. Their brief, two-week blooming season each spring coincides with graduating students preparing to embark on new adventures, and the blossoms "remind us to enjoy each day."

"In Japan, this celebration is an annual rite of spring, and it has become that to us in Vancouver," said Mayor Tim Leavitt.

Kageyama and Toshiharu Okuda, the mayor of Joyo, were among the Japanese visitors who spoke about the significance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture.

"We Japanese have a special affinity for cherry blossoms, or sakura," said Hiroshi Furusawa, Portland consul general.

He explained the blossoms are intense and delicate, but short-lived.

In Japan, "hanami" is the practice of families picnicking under a blooming cherry tree, explained Tatsou Ito, executive vice president of SEH America.

"Life is very short," Ito said. "We must enjoy today."

Members of the Rotary Club of Joyo also attended.

Wearing a kimono, Yukiko Vossen performed on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. The Clark College Women's Ensemble sang "Sakura Matsuri."

Students demonstrated origami and Japanese calligraphy. Some students offered coloring sheets of anime characters while others handed out cookies painted with frosting cherry blossoms.

For the first time at the festival, a kimono fashion show was presented by Clark College students and preschoolers from Terry Haye's classroom in the college's Child and Family Studies department. The garments ranged from yukata, a casual summer kimono, an ornate wedding kimono called a uchikake to a furisode, a kimono with long sleeves reaching almost to the ground to be worn by girls and unmarried women.

As if on cue that it was time for her solo catwalk, Madalynn Rothouse, 3, immediately walked to the front of the stage and began twirling. And twirling. And standing front and center, enjoying the moment. Her teacher, Haye, motioned for Madalynn to give up the spotlight and join the rest of the kimono models stretching across the stage. She did, reluctantly.

In the school cafeteria, as the preschoolers changed out of the kimonos and munched on sakura cookies, Clark students in the Japanese Club began dancing Soran Bushi, a sea shanty originally devised to keep fishermen in rhythm as they worked fishing nets.

Outside, the rain let up a bit and sakura petals painted the grass pink.

Sakura festival