By Walker Orenstein
Northwest Asian Weekly
Every spring, the quad on the University of Washington (UW) campus transforms from a peaceful green space to a bustling habitat for hundreds of shuttering cameras, families, and onlookers.
The draw is the quad’s Yoshino cherry trees, blossoming into clouds of pink and white that lure attention locally and worldwide.
The trees, bought by the UW in the 1930s and moved from Seattle’s Arboretum to the UW campus in the 1960s, are a trademark attraction for the school.
On Tuesday, May 20, UW President Michael K. Young, Japanese Consul General Masahiro Omura, and others helped dedicate a new set of flowering cherry trees that will grace the Rainier Vista, a grassy area at the center of campus with views of Mount Rainier. The trees are a gift from the Japan Commerce Association of Washington to the UW Department of American Ethnic Studies to celebrate the long history of Japanese-American relations at the university and in Seattle.
Rainier Vista will host 18 trees, and another 14 will be planted in the courtyard of the Japanese Garden in the Arboretum, as well as on Azalea Way, a small street entering the garden.
A large crowd packed the event held in a tent on Rainier Vista. It featured speeches, mock-up photos of what the vista will look like, previews of ceremonial plaques, and Japanese art.
“We all benefit from this rich diverse heritage of our Japanese-speaking communities in the Pacific Northwest and at the University of Washington,” Young told the crowd. “We are deeply honored to accept this wonderful gift.”
The event featured several speeches that commemorated the history of Japanese and Japanese American students who have attended the UW. Those relations haven’t always been perfect. In the 1940s, about 450 students were either sent to camps at the Puyallup fairgrounds, fled the state, or were drafted into the army. In Washington state, over 12,000 Japanese were incarcerated. Aside from touching on those troubling times, most speakers talked about positive relationships and experiences, such as the successful Asian law program at the UW that began in the 1960s with just three professors, and is now the Asian Law Center.
“There’s so much with respect to the University of Washington’s relationship with Japan, Japanese cultures, and Japanese Americans … the history goes back for more than 100 years,” said UW professor of American Ethnic Studies Tetsuden Kashima. Kashima has been a visiting professor at two of Japan’s most prominent universities. He won the 2008 Japanese American of the Biennium Award in education and humanities given by the National Japanese American Citizens League.
“That’s just part of our life being at the University of Washington, and cherry trees are only a symbol of that,” Kashima said.
The gift of trees coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the time when Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees to the United States.
“The cherry blossom represents the fertility and beauty of life,” Kashima said. “In their country, the blossoms are a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful, but it is also tragically short. When the cherry blossoms bloom for a short time each year in force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and precarious life is.” (end)