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Friendship blossoms at Clark College Sakura Festival

Annual event celebrates tie between Vancouver, Japanese city

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: April 16, 2015, 5:00pm
10 Photos
Photos by Steven Lane/The Columbian
Portland Taiko Drum Group performs at the 10th annual Clark College Sakura Festival on Thursday.
Photos by Steven Lane/The Columbian Portland Taiko Drum Group performs at the 10th annual Clark College Sakura Festival on Thursday. Photo Gallery

This year’s celebration recognizes several milestones:

o 10th anniversary of Clark’s sakura celebration.

o 20th anniversary of the Vancouver-Joyo, Japan sister city relationship.

o 25th anniversary of John Kageyama, president of America Kotobuki, donating 100 shirofugen cherry trees to the city of Vancouver. They were planted at Clark College.

Vancouver celebrated the 10th annual Sakura Festival at Clark College under deep blue skies and pale pink cherry blossoms Thursday afternoon.

The festival celebrates the fleeting beauty of the blossoms, the preciousness of life and a lasting bond between Vancouver and its sister city, Joyo, Japan.

On Earth Day in 1990, John Kageyama, president of America Kotobuki, presented 100 shirofugen cherry trees to the city of Vancouver. They were planted on the Clark College campus to commemorate Washington’s centennial and to celebrate the friendship between Vancouver and Joyo.

Their brief, two-week blooming season coincides with graduating students preparing to embark on new adventures, said Bob Knight, president of Clark College.

This year's celebration recognizes several milestones:

o 10th anniversary of Clark's sakura celebration.

o 20th anniversary of the Vancouver-Joyo, Japan sister city relationship.

o 25th anniversary of John Kageyama, president of America Kotobuki, donating 100 shirofugen cherry trees to the city of Vancouver. They were planted at Clark College.

“They remind us to enjoy each day to the fullest,” he said.

Kageyama traveled from Japan for the event. He explained that “shiro” means white and “fugen” means virtuous.

“It was my way of giving back to your people,” he said about his gift of the cherry trees. “I am very pleased you are taking good care of the sakura. I never expected the trees (to be) so beautiful and big.”

“We Japanese have had an affinity for cherry blossoms for centuries,” said Hiroshi Furusawa, Portland consul general.

When the mild winter and early spring caused the trees to bloom about two weeks early this year, Knight said he was worried there wouldn’t be any petals left on the trees for the festival.

But light pink petals still clung to the trees in the Royce E. Pollard Friendship Garden.

“We have blossoms on the trees and petals on the ground,” Knight said. “It looks like pink snow.”

Erin Yamazaki, 21, a student from Fukushima, Japan, was recipient of the Dr. Kanagawa Japanese Friendship Scholarship presented by the Clark College Foundation. She arrived in Vancouver in September and has been studying English and political science at Clark College.

Wearing a kimono, Yamazaki spoke of the devastating 2011 earthquake that displaced 70,000 people in her region. Many are still living in temporary housing.

“I have never experienced such a traumatic event,” she said.

She also spoke of the generosity demonstrated by volunteers from America and around the world.

Her own family was not displaced by the earthquake.

In three months, Yamazaki will return home to Utsunomiya University to continue her political science studies.

“I love Vancouver as much as I love my home town,” she said.

After the cherry blossom ceremony, people gathered inside Gaiser Hall to view Japanese cultural displays and munch on sakura cookies.

Abbie Horrocks, 24, sat at a table where a shogi, a Japanese board game played with tiles, was set up.

A 2009 Clark College graduate, Horrocks studied the Japanese language and belonged to the International Club at Clark. She recently returned from living in Japan for 18 months while teaching English classes as a missionary for the Mormon church.

“I’d been interested in Japanese since I was a young child,” Horrocks said. “But when I came to Clark, it clicked.”

As the Portland Taiko Drum Group prepared to take the stage, sakura blossoms wafted in a gentle breeze and carpeted the ground.

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