70,000 Attend Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival
Video by Crystal Richard.
This year’s chilly winter has Waimea’s cherry blossoms in full bloom, drawing an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 to the 24th Annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival to enjoy approximate 75 Hawai‘i Island’s Waimea cherry blossom trees and activities on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.
Traditionally held the first Saturday of February, the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival includes a variety of activities at multiple venues throughout Waimea town on the Big Island.
The tradition of hanami celebrates the first cherry blossoms of spring dates back to seventh-century Japan. The word “hanami,” comprised of hana, meaning flower, and mi meaning look, is the Japanese word for cherry blossom viewing party.
Events featured an all-day lineup of Japanese and multicultural performing arts, hands-on demonstrations of bonsai and origami, a traditional tea ceremony, mochi pounding, craft fairs, a quilt show and food booths.
“We felt this year’s festival really showcased the diversity of culture here on the Big Island that has blended nicely with the Japanese culture,” said volunteer organizer Margo Mau Bunnell. “The food, the people and the viewing of the cherry blossom—hanami has really become part of this community and the state of Hawai‘i and we hope that it will continue for generations to come.”
The day’s performances included the Enka Sisters; Christy Lassiter Trio; Darlene Ahuna, a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winner; Hui Okinawa Kobudo Taiko; music of the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, by Darin Miyashiro; performance by the Hawaii Lion Dance Association; Okinawan-style Taiko drumming by Ryukyukoku Daiko; the Aloha Kings; Da Poi Dawgz;and more.
The colorful Chinese Lion Dancers, the centuries-old tradition essential to New Year’s festivities in Hawai‘i, incorporated acrobatic feats and leaps, and interaction with the audience as they proceeded through the crowd down historic Church Row.
Participants young and old “fed” the lions small donations to bring good fortune in the year ahead.
Many new locations to in the Waimea community participated this year. W.M. Keck Observatory offered solar viewing and the Historic Spencer House offered a koto presentation by Darin Miyashiro, vintage kimonos and a Kokeshi doll display.
As the cherry blossoms signal spring nearing, as does the first flush of tea. New to the festival this year, Mauna Kea Tea assisted with tea education and appreciation by serving a variety of locally grown green varieties in the lobby of the Kahilu Theater.
An additional new aspect of this year’s festival was tying in sister cities in Japan. This year, Tokyo Marriott Executive Sous Chef Takashi Ogawa and Waikoloa Beach Marriott Executive Chef Jayson Kanekoa teamed up to demonstrate their take on the Sakura Festival, which was featured through Waikoloa Beach Marriott hotel.
Penny Keli‘i-Vredenburg was the mistress of ceremonies, followed by a blessing given by Rev. Shigo Furusawa.
Mayor Harry Kim, Gov. David Ige, Japan Consul General Yasushi Misawa, County Director of Parks and Recreation Charmaine Kamaka and Council Rep. Tim Richards offered welcome addresses.
This year’s festival honored long-time festival contributor Roberts Hawaii and Guinness World Record holder Betty Webster.
The first cherry trees date back to 1912. The Waimea Lions Club inaugurated the festival in 1994.
The Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Education Section was the primary sponsor of this year’s festival, in addition to a large volunteer planning committee.
Next year, the festival will celebrate a quarter century. Future plans may include requesting the county’s permission to add a parade to the festivities and inviting people from Japan to be participants.