Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival Celebrates 25 Years

A suggestion by a community member is how the annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival got started. Annually attracting thousands of people from all over the world, the festival marks its 25th anniversary on Saturday, February 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This year’s festival will be at multiple venues throughout Waimea. Look for pink banners identifying site locations throughout town, sprawling from Church Row Park to the Parker Ranch Historic Homes.

Spend the day to experience an all-day lineup of Japanese and multi-cultural performing arts at several locations, plus hands-on demonstrations of bonsai, origami, traditional tea ceremony, fun mochi pounding, plus a host of colorful craft fairs, a quilt show and food booths. Roberts Hawaii provides free shuttle transportation among most venues, although walking to the venues is encouraged.

It was the early 1990’s when the late James Tohara of Hāwī thought the annual blossoming of the trees in Church Row Park should be celebrated.

“He came to me and asked if we could do something,” said retired Hawai‘i County Parks and Recreation Director George Yoshida of Hilo. “He felt the blooming of the trees was a wonderful resource being wasted.”

Yoshida decided to explore the idea and consulted with Evelyn Togashi, then serving as a Recreation Specialist with the Department’s Culture and Arts Division.

“Our original thought was to create a festival to celebrate the viewing of the trees, while encouraging the community buy into the idea of participation,” Yoshida said.  “We wanted people to plant cherry trees along the roadway leading into Waimea to beautify the whole landscape.”

The festival started in 1994 at Church Row Park, offering mainly Japanese-themed entertainment and the planting of more trees.

The retired parks director says the festival took off when Roxcie Waltjen, now the Director of Parks and Recreation, joined the Department in the late 1990s. Roxcie led the festival through 2017 as the Department’s Culture and Education director.

“Roxcie got all the right people in the community involved and the festival grew with more activities and locations,” said Yoshida. “I give her credit for the festival’s success.”