By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PULLMAN, WASH. – The annual burst of Japanese cherry blossoms is underway at Washington State University. Each year since 2002, the opening of fragrant pinkish-white flowers has heralded the arrival of spring. Who needs April in Paris when we have April in Pullman?
The Yoshino cherry trees planted 14 years ago owe their existence to a donor living on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Koichiro Iwasaki, who earned his master’s degree in economics at WSU in 1983, donated the trees “to symbolize a permanent and true friendship between WSU and Japan,” he said during a phone interview from Kawasaki City, where he is CEO and president of Shigetomi Shoji Co., Ltd.
Thanks to Iwasaki, 26 trees on the east side of campus put on an impressive show each spring when much of the outdoors is still a palette of beige and brown. Planted in the Alumni Arboretum and outside the Lewis Alumni Center and French Administration buildings, the cherry trees’ bloom cycle, usually in March/April, depends largely on weather conditions, according to WSU grounds supervisor Kappy Brun. She helped plant the trees after they arrived from Japan on March 14, 2002.
“Freezing temperatures can impact flower buds and a strong wind or rainstorm may bring petals sailing to the ground within a few days, while pleasant weather could help keep them intact for a couple of weeks,” said Brun, a certified arborist.
The cherry trees stood just four feet tall when they were planted. Today most stand higher than 15 feet, she said.
“It makes me very happy to hear that they are doing well,” said Iwasaki.
In his home country, Yoshino cherry trees are about culture as much as nature. In a ceremony called “hanami,” meaning flower viewing, the Japanese have celebrated the annual bloom for centuries by gathering under canopies of flower-covered branches to eat, listen to music and sing.
“Cherry blossom trees appeal to Japanese aesthetics and sensibilities of ‘mujo,’ the Buddhist concept of the impermanence of worldly things,” Iwasaki explained.
It is believed that Somei Yoshino trees spread and grew throughout Japan after they were grafted from a single tree many centuries ago, he said: “Many Japanese consider sharing Yoshino trees with foreign countries as the ultimate expression of friendship.”
Iwasaki, who stays up-to-date on Cougar football, also serves on WSU’s board of trustees. His gift of Yoshino trees was supported by a donation from then-president Nori Suzuki of the International Christian University located in Tokyo.
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209, email@example.com