The 27th annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival takes over the North Hawaii town Saturday with a full lineup of free, multicultural performing arts, hands-on demonstrations and more.
Organized by members of the Waimea community and Hawaii County’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the festival marks the blooming of the historic cherry trees at Church Row Park. The trees typically bloom in late January and early February following a good winter’s chill and ample rainfall.
Celebrating the season’s first bloom dates to eighth century Japan when aristocrats would enjoy the blossoms while writing poetry. “Hanami,” literally “flower look,” is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom viewing party.”
The upcountry festival began in 1993 to promote the town when a bypass was proposed that would have routed people around Waimea. Since 1994, when the Waimea Lions Club inaugurated the event, the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival has grown to stretch from one side of town to the other, with more than 150 vendors at various locations.
Waimea’s first cherry trees arrived in 1953 as a memorial to Fred Makino, who founded Japanese language newspaper Hawaii Hochi in 1912. Three ornamental cherry trees were distributed, one of which was propagated, and 20 of its saplings were later donated to the Waimea Lions Club to be planted along Church Row Park in 1972.
In 1975, the organization planted 50 more trees in commemoration of the first Japanese immigrants to settle the Waimea area a century earlier. Over the years, additional trees have been planted, including in 2012 when a dozen trees were planted by the Consulate of Japan and other dignitaries to mark the centennial anniversary of cherry blossom trees from Japan that were planted in Washington, D.C., to foster goodwill and friendship.
The 2020 event artwork is a watercolor titled “Imiola Church and Cherry Tree” by Chris Kutler of Waikoloa. The work has been reproduced on a limited number of festival collector posters at the Waimea Arts Council’s Firehouse Gallery. The $10 posters will be for sale during the festival.
Festivities are at various venues sprawling throughout Waimea’s center with pink banners identifying site locations.
Festival parking is available at Parker Ranch Center, the soccer field across Church Row Park, along Pukalani Street and Parker Ranch Historic Homes.
Shuttles offer free transportation among most venues 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. by Roberts Hawaii, though walking is encouraged among venues. A map of the shuttle route and festival venues is available in a detailed festival program available at each venue location on February 1.
A quick rundown of festival activities at various locations follows (times are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. unless specified otherwise). Schedule is subject to change. Activities are free unless noted.
Church Row Park
• Historical Cherry Tree Display: Waimea Lions’ Club offers a pictorial history of the cherry trees and serves as the festival’s official Lost and Found station.
• Entertainment: Traditional Kamuynomi Ceremony by Ainu Kanaka Project, hula, Japanese dance, Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, Chinese lion dance, judo demo at 9:45 a.m.
• Keiki Train Rides: The Cherry Choo Choo—a trackless, barrel train for small children offering rides by Engineer Clarence and Conductor Gloria Yee of Hawi. Rides are $3 per child.
• Bonsai: The Waimea Bon-yu Kai Bonsai Club offers a display and sale of bonsai, ongoing demonstrations and a clinic to discuss and work on the art of bonsai.
• Asian Collectibles/Food Sales at Kamuela Hongwanji: Browse Asian-themed collectibles including kimonos, cherry blossom crafts, cherry blossom cuttings, plus Asian foods: Inari sushi, nishime bento, chichi mochi and andagi.
• Cooking Demos at Kamuela Hongwanji: Hawaii Island chefs offer cooking demonstrations with free samples 9 a.m.-1 p.m.: Chef Sanshiro Homma of Shiono Ramen, Chef Ippy Aiona of Ippy’s Hawaiian BBQ, Chef Allen Hess of Aloha Bol, Chef Patrick Saito of Sansei Seafood, Steak and Sushi Bar and Chef Jayson Kanekoa of Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa.
• Origami instruction at Kamuela Hongwanji: Hands-on fun with Kikuko Kibe.
• Open House at Kamuela Hongwanji: Rev. Bruce Nakamura explains Shin Buddhism rituals.
• Tea Tasting: Mauna Kea Tea offers samples of locally produced and Japanese teas. Learn how to best prepare and maximize the benefits of these teas; Japanese teas presented by the Japanese Tea Instructor’s Program of Japan. Hawaii teas will be for sale.
Parker Ranch Center
• Festival Entertainment Stage: In the back parking lot. Opening 9 a.m., welcome ceremonies kick off continuous entertainment until 3 p.m.: Bon Odori Taiko accompanied by Kona Taiko, Kamana Senior Center’s Young-at-Heart Line Dancers, Team Majestic Lion Dancers, Bending Elbows, Patio Productions, Darlene Ahuna and Taishji Taiko.
• Craft Fair: Nearly 150 crafters and community booths inside Center and in back parking lot.
• Mochi Tsuki Pounding: Help pound mochi using 500 pounds of rice with the Kona Hongwanji Mission outside the Fireside Food Court starting 10 a.m.; samples.
Mana Christian Ohana Church (the former Kahilu Town Hall, behind Parker Ranch Center)
• Ka Hui Kapa Apana O Waimea Quilt Show: Quilt display
• New Car Display: IK Dealer Group displays new vehicles from Kamaaina Motors, Kamaaina Nissan, Kona Nissan and Kona Dodge in the adjacent lot.
Waimea Historic Corner
• Firehouse Gallery Activities: Waimea Arts Council presents cherry blossom and spring-themed art, sales of $10 festival poster and sale of original festival oil painting, sidewalk chalk drawing for all ages, keiki face painting, food sales.
• Waimea Preservation Association Cottage: Cottage Open House
• Waimea School Gym: Craft Fair presented by Waimea Elementary School.
• Thelma Parker Memorial Public and School Library: Create your own cherry blossom-themed greeting card. Free materials provided; all ages are welcome, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Parker Ranch Historic Homes
• Japanese Tea Ceremony: The Urasenke Hilo Association performs traditional chanoyu inside Puuopelu starting 9:30 a.m. and every half hour thereafter until 1:30 p.m.
• Performing Arts: Enjoy a variety of Asian performing arts titled “Sakura Beauty and Spirit” 2-3 p.m., including the Shizuno Nasu Dance Institute from Japan, vocalist Minehana, lyre master Miyuki Ikesue and lyre ensemble, and island musicians on taiko and piano.
• Interactive Fun: feather lei making demos, self-guided tour of Historic Homes.
• KTA Super Stores Waimea: In-store demos and sampling 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Waimea Center’s Center Court: Kohala Taiko 9 a.m., Honokaa Jazz Band 10 a.m., Darin Miyashiro on koto with So-shin Kai 11 a.m. and Majestic Lion Dance 12:15 p.m.
Historic Spencer House
• Japanese Collectibles: View a display of vintage kimonos and collection of kokeshi dolls, plus learn about the 1840 Spencer House.
Keck Observatory Headquarters
• See the Sun: West Hawaii Astronomy Club provides solar telescopes 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Sake Tasting: Noon-3 p.m.