WAIMEA — As residents and visitors alike wandered throughout Waimea, taking in the sounds of taiko drummers amid the splashes of pink of the cherry blossoms along Church Row, one thing was apparent: There isn’t anything like the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival.
“It’s unlike any other festival that goes on,” said Kelly Hudik. “It’s arts, and it’s music, and it’s bonsai and mochi pounding.”
The annual festival, celebrating its 25th year, draws thousands to see and celebrate the blooming of trees in Church Row Park, while also putting food and performances front and center for visitors to experience.
The first trees were planted in 1972 by a committee from the Waimea Lions, with more and more trees being planted over the years.
In 1975, the Lions planted 50 additional trees in honor of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito and to commemorate the Japanese immigrants who had settled in Waimea 100 years earlier.
In the early 1990s, James Tohara of Hawi suggested the blooming trees were something to celebrate.
The first festival was held in 1994 at Church Row Park, then offering primarily Japanese-themed entertainment and the planting of additional trees.
Since that first celebration, the festival has spread throughout the town, with fluttering pink banners inviting guests to experience and explore the region’s heritage and history.
Braley Pastorino, a board member for the Waimea Lions Club, said the array of things on display makes the annual event appeal to everyone.
“I think it’s the combination of all the different things that are offered,” he said, such as the food, displays and bonsai, which Pastorino said is fascinating.
But his favorite part, he said, is helping share the Lions Club mission to support sight and hearing preservation.
And visitors to the annual event also enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds.
“We love the cultural diversity of the island and that’s what brought us out,” said Judy Saari, who lives on the island for about seven weeks a year and in Connecticut for the rest of the year.
Saari said the festival is a great demonstration of Hawaii’s diversity and highlights the aloha spirit of the people who live here.
“The communities are so incredibly welcoming of visitors,” she said.
Saari was far from the only one to share that sentiment. Hilo residents Roycie Kaululaau and Dalton Windham-Salas also said the festival is a great showcase of the area’s one-of-a-kind nature.
While Kaululaau has been coming to the festival for years, this was Windham-Salas’ first time.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said.
Kaululaau said the festival shows off Hawaii Island’s countryside.
“It shows our background,” she said. “It doesn’t just show that we only go to scenic routes or go to the beach; there’s more to Big Island having its ‘Big Island’ name.”
Hudik similarly said the festival is an opportunity for community members to not only show off their own talents, but also an opportunity for people to just get together and enjoy the crafts and entertainment on display — not to mention the cherry blossoms.
“It’s just one of those things, ‘Oh we have to come up to see the row of cherry blossoms,’” said Kevin Lannen. “I mean, that’s one of the things that has to be done when you come to the cherry blossom festival.”
It’s also, Hudik and Lannen said, just a great opportunity to come up and see Waimea, a place filled with diverse culture that melds together.
Waimea, Hudik said, is a great mix of arts, history and “a little of everything.”
“I think it all kind of works really well together and it’s such a beautiful area, too,” she said. “So that’s a great reason to come up.”