The cherry tree planted at El Cerrito High School Monday may have been but a sapling, barely a meter tall, but the symbolism was big.
On hand for the occasion were Japanese officials, including the top government representative for Northern California and Nevada – Consul General Hiroshi Inomata. El Cerrito Mayor Bill Jones also spoke at the ceremony marking the occasion, as did El Cerrito High Principal David Luongo and a representative of Congressman George Miller.
The high school band, led by music director Keith Johnson, performed the national anthems of the U.S. and Japan, and four students recited Japanese haiku that they had composed for the occasion under the direction of El Cerrito High's Japanese teacher, Nobuko Satake, who helped organize the event.
A reception for guests in the school foyer featured Japanese snacks and a koto performance by student Emily Groves wearing a new-style Japanese kimono.
El Cerrito High was selected as one of many schools and parks in the United States receiving cherry trees from the Japanese government this spring and summer as part of the 100th anniversary of a famous gift of about 3,000 cherry trees given by Japan to the United States in 1912 and planted in Washington, D.C.
Nearly 100 of the original trees are still alive in the nation's Capitol, and together with other cherry trees added later, are a major tourist attraction each spring when they bloom and are celebrated in the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This year's version of the festival features many special events as part of the centennial observances.
At the El Cerrito ceremony, Inomata acknowledged the modest size of the tree, saying, "This is very small at this moment, but in several years time, I think you will see cherry blossoms in full bloom. And that will serve as a symbol of friendship."
Addressing the numerous students studying Japanese at the school who attended the ceremony, Inomata said he hopes they will continue their studies and interest in Japan, adding, "l really would like you to be a bridge between Japan and the United States as a symbol of friendship, like the cherry tree."
Mayor Jones concluded his remarks, saying, "When we go by this tree here, it won't just be a cherry blossom tree, it will be a sign of friendship and hope and remembering today's celebration."
Inomata told Patch that the tree is one of about 80 being planted in Northern California and Nevada. More than 1,000 cherry trees will be planted nationwide in the coming years, according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The ceremony began with two students from the leadership class giving a brief history of the cherry tree gift a century ago, first Rebecca Dao in English and then Bowie Lee in Japanese.
Four students of Japanese recited their own haiku, a short Japanese poem of three lines, with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second line.
Below in order of recitation are the haiku. Three of them were presented in Japanese and appear first in the Japanese, followed by an English translation. The third one, by Maureen Mai, was presented in English. All were asked to include the Japanese word for cherry tree, sakura.
Kaze ga fuku
O sakura sakura
Hana ga saru
Wind is blowing
Oh sakura sakura
Blossoms are falling
Amai na nioi
Pink and white pretty flowers
It is time for spring
Kevin Liu Mahoney:
Haru ga kita
Sakura ga saita
Nodoka da na
Spring has come
The sakura has bloomed