By Hiroyuki Oshita
This weekend marks Ohio University's sixth annual Sakura Festival, an event honoring the spirit of sakura, as illustrated by the flowering cherry trees that line the Hocking River on South Green. Here, Hiroyuki Oshita, an associate professor of Japanese and linguistics and adviser to the Japanese Student Association, which organizes the festival, explains the celebration's significance.
The Sakura Festival this Saturday is very much a fruit of collaboration between Japanese students and other Ohio University students, something that is evident if you attend. I am very happy and proud that the festival has grown not simply as an occasion to showcase Japanese culture, but as an event in which all kinds of people -- young and old, Americans and internationals, students, faculty and community members -- can come together and enjoy themselves.
A nightly illumination of the cherry blossom trees at TailGreat Park also is part of this celebration. The lighting began Monday and is scheduled to continue from 8 to 11 p.m. nightly for 10 days (including Saturday and Sunday) or until the flowers are gone.
Sakura, or cherry blossoms, are probably the most popular and celebrated flowers in Japanese culture. In the old days, the word for flowers in general, hana, also meant cherry blossoms in particular.
Sakura is a symbol of the arrival of long-waited spring, continuation of resilient life and the fragile and momentary aspect of natural beauty because sakura flowers do not stand well against harsh natural elements like rain and wind.
I believe that Athens is one of very few places in this part of the country where we can see so many sakura trees bloom in one place -- maybe except along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., where they have sakura trees given by the City of Tokyo in 1912 long before our nations went into the unfortunate war.
The original 175 cherry trees were donated by Chubu University, our sister institution in Kasugai City, central Japan, to commemorate Ohio University's 175th anniversary in 1979. In 2004, for the university's bicentennial, Chubu replaced sick and dying trees with new healthy ones, and we now have 200 trees in total.
The tradition of illuminating the trees along the Hocking River began last year with financial help from a number of sources, including Chubu University. The staff of Facilities Management has generously offered to provide technical and personnel support again this year, but the financial help this time comes solely from the university's Office of International Affairs thanks to the understanding of Joe Rota, associate provost for international affairs.
My wish is to have more people both in Athens and surrounding communities associate the cherry blossoms as a sign of Athens' springtime. I believe the Sakura Festivals over the last five years have certainly helped in this respect. Though the illumination of the flowers is limited to only a couple of dozen trees now, I hope this also will grow and become a regular springtime event in Athens and will attract more people from other parts of the state and neighboring states to the beautiful Southeast Ohio.
It's important to realize that we all have to take good care of these trees. They are not very strong trees to begin with and are living through much harsher winters here than in Japan. I understand that some people have an urge to climb them to take pictures or break small branches with flowers for memory. But those actions are very harmful to the trees.
To let students and community people in the future enjoy their beauty as we do now, we need to make sure they will be in good condition for a long time to come.