Legacy Sakura and the memory of the Issei
On the afternoon of February 12, 2009, the spirit of the Issei once again radiated throughout Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park.
Nearly 32 years have passed since a group of Issei seniors planted sakura trees in the Park. A now healthy and full grown Akebono Legacy Sakura tree was transplanted to a nearby site within the Park to accommodate space for redevelopment plans. The Akebono was one of the original twenty one sakura planted in the Park by Issei pioneers in 1977 to celebrate the Centennial of Japanese Canadians in Canada and signified wishes for better lives to future generations.
In early 2008, the City approved a proposed redevelopment for the Park, which included the removal of several Legacy Sakura. In response, a group comprised of community organisations and individuals called the Coalition to Save the Legacy Sakura of Oppenheimer Park formed in April and has been working with stakeholders of the Park to save the trees and ensure the history of the trees is heard and respected. After much work, two Kwanzan sakura trees were removed and destroyed by the City’s Parks Board in the fall of 2008, but the majority were saved.
To commemorate the original planting, the Coalition organized a brief, poignant ceremony on the chilly but clear afternoon after the tree had been moved to its new home. Reverend Tatsuya Aoki from the Vancouver Buddhist Temple began the ceremony by first giving a sutra. All attendees were then given origami cranes to place into the hollow surrounding the tree in its new location before each participant took a turn ceremonially shoveling a little dirt into the hole.
Among the 50 to 60 people attending the ceremony was 93-year-old Mrs. Tokuko Inouye, one of the original planters from 1977. She epitomized the strength and spirit of the Issei as she stood for almost three hours, refusing to sit, while the tree was being moved. When Mrs. Inouye spoke she had only a few words to say, but the effect was profound. She had the attention of all attendees as she gave gratitude to everyone’s efforts and expressed her thanks for remembering the Legacy Sakura and the memory of the Issei.
Before ending, a group of local First Nations drummers took part and played a song dedicated to the spirit of the tree and the occasion. The group’s leader remarked on the shared bond between both First Nations and Japanese Canadians in that both communities had been expelled from the area and he agreed in the importance of paying tribute and respect to the histories of our ancestors that afternoon.
Coalition member and film maker Linda Ohama documented the Akebono replanting, and in 2008, also produced a beautiful tribute to the Issei who planted the Legacy Sakura. As Linda has done, the Coalition will endeavor to make sure the story of the Issei and the Legacy Sakura continues to be told. It has been working with stakeholders to have permanent, physical commemorative features placed near the trees to be included with the overall commemoration of the area describing the stories and histories of other people and communities.The story will also be told as part of the upcoming Japantown Multicultural Neighbourhood Celebration to be held in the Oppenheimer area on March 28. The Coalition will be working closely with the Oppenheimer Park staff and the Cherry Blossom Festival organizers as well. Though initially the Coalition and Park staff had opposing agendas for the redevelopment of the Park, the two groups are now working to celebrate the Legacy Sakura and the blossoming of the trees with a week of activities and events for festival goers and locals before the finale on April 18. Please visit www.legacysakura.wordpress.com for updates.