Cherry Blossom Festival Blooms in Waimea
by Hunter Bishop
Waimea comes alive again with the 21st Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival on Saturday, Feb. 1, with the blooming of historic cherry trees at Church Row Park and a grand festival honoring the age-old Japanese tradition of hanami, or “cherry blossom viewing party.”
Organized by volunteer members of the upcountry community and the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the event features an all-day lineup of Japanese and multi-cultural performing arts, hands-on demonstrations of bonsai, origami, traditional tea ceremony, mochi pounding and craft fairs.
The 2014 festival is dedicated to Waimea residents Emiko “Emi” Wakayama and Fumi Bonk, both of Japanese heritage, who will be recognized at the festival’s opening ceremony at 9 a.m. on the entertainment stage at the rear of Parker Ranch Center.
Wakayama, 81, was on the first Cherry Blossom Festival’s organizing committee and performed traditional tea ceremonies. She learned the little-known art in Japan and taught during the festival’s first two decades. This year she will be overseeing the event in the Kahilu Theatre lobby.
A Kurtistown native, Wakayama was graduated from Hilo High School and studied fashion design at the University of Hawaii and the Pratt Institute in New York City. She worked in New York for five years before traveling to Japan with her mother.
Wakayama met her husband, the late Kinya, in Tokyo. They returned to Waimea and married. Emi worked as a seamstress, making Hawaiian muumuus and selling her appliquéd, Hawaiian-style quilts at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Wakayama volunteered many years in the gift shop of the North Hawaii Community Hospital where she sold her yukata, a casual Japanese kimono worn as a robe.
“You have to love what you are doing,” Wakayama said.
Fumi Bonk, an artist, educator and advocate for peace and social justice, first participated in the festival during its early years at Church Row Park as a member of the local chapter of AARP. Later she displayed her ceramics that “reflected the beauty and diversity of Hawaii’s unique natural environment,” said a festival release.
Bonk, 90, is an Oahu native who moved to Hawaiʻi Island in the late 1940s with her late husband, Bill, an archeologist, and their three children. She served as co-director of Hilo High School’s alternative “School Within a School” before moving to Waimea where she taught at Waimea Intermediate School in the early 1980s.
Bonk once wrote of the Big Island’s influence on her art that, “Nowhere does the refined and rugged aspects of nature more regularly and dramatically stand next to each other. The rugged texture of lava, overlaid with the smooth texture and color of the sky and water, and the details of foliage and forest have influenced my construction, glazing and firing of ceramic sculpture over the 40 years I have worked with clay.”
While an octogenarian, Bonk traveled to Washington, DC, to join in the One Nation Rally of educators and other social justice advocates “to stand up for better education, housing and healthcare for all American people.”
Visit the festival’s page on Facebook for a complete list of events. Call 961-8706 for information.