Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cherry Cherry

Sunset beach cherry trees photo by Junie Quiroga
A sure sign that Spring has arrived in Vancouver is the flowering Japanese cherry trees that suddenly appear, as if on cue, everywhere you look.  They are the first trees to blossom in Vancouver and there are now thousands of them lining the streets and in the parks; but it wasn't always that way.  It wasn't until the 1930's when the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama donated 500 of the trees to Vancouver, as a gift in memory of the Japanese Canadians who fought in World War 1, they made their first appearance.  Interesting how quickly we forgot about their loyalty when the Second World War came around and we rounded up all the Japanese Canadians, put them in concentration camps, and stole all of their property; a truly sad and shameful piece of Vancouver history.

WW 1 Japanese-Canadian Soldier Memorial photo by Junie Quiroga
Nonetheless the beauty and popularity of the Japanese cherry tree captivated Vancouverites and they quickly became the preferred replacement for the magnificent maple, elm and chestnut trees that had previously dominated the city boulevards but were now causing problems with sidewalks, sewers and overhead wires.  Over the ensuing years a combination of Parks Board efforts and more donations from Japan led to the cherry trees becoming the first choice of any new tree plantings in Vancouver and, by this year, Vancouver's 127th anniversary, there are now an estimated 40,000+ Japanese cherry trees in the city.  We even have our own Cherry Blossom festival that takes place in the VanDusen Gardens and other venues around town in imitation of the traditional Japanese festivities.

Beach Avenue cherry tree photo by Junie Quiroga
And what, you may ask, has the Japanese cherry tree got to do with what's going on around the Vancouver waterfront?  Well, it's the same ocean that connects the waterfront of Vancouver with that of Japan and this year, as the flotsam and pieces of wreckage from their recent tsunami makes its way to our own shoreline, we are reminded of the fragile and precious life we all share. In Japan the blooming cherry tree blossoms are a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, with its short lived beauty and quick death, and the sadness we feel when it disappears. Thanks to the introduction of the Japanese cherry tree we now have the opportunity to appreciate this profound perspective and can perhaps strive to enjoy life while we can, just like the cherry blossom.

Memorial bench & cherry blossoms photo by Junie Quiroga

1 comment:

  1. Wow what an amazing story. Once again you've done your research and shared with many of us what we did not know. The link with the Cherry Trees, the war and the Japanese. What a fantastic article and love the pictures.