New Cal cherry tree grove honors Japanese grads

A new grove of 40 cherry-blossom trees was planted as a tribute to Cal graduates of Japanese ancestry. Photo: Tracey Taylor

On Saturday, UC Berkeley held a dedication ceremony for a grove of 40 cherry blossom trees which have been planted to honor university alumni of Japanese ancestry.

The idea for the Cherry Tree Project was formed several years ago, at a California Japanese American Alumni Associated dinner following the Big Game, when George Matsumoto suggested planting a row of flowering Japanese cherry trees along Crescent Drive at the west entrance of the campus off Oxford Street.

A total of $350,000 was eventually raised to complete the project, which includes new landscaping, planting, long-term maintenance, and a stone-mounted bronze plaque.

The flowering cherry trees in the new grove are Prunus Yedoenis “Akebono”, a tree with a single, light pink or nearly white blossoms, and graceful curving branches. Photo: Tracey Taylor

At the ceremony on April 6, Michael Omi, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal, spoke of the history of Japanese students at the university, including the creation at one point of Japanese-only dorms, the students who were incarcerated during WW2, and the launch, in 2002, of the Nikkei Student Union.

“The recurring flowering of the cherry blossoms makes these trees a fitting, living, and vibrant memorial to those students,” he said.

Edward J. Denton, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services, remarked that although much of his work revolved around buildings, the grove of trees had its own special meaning. “It’s not always about buildings. These trees define the first moment of truth for visitors to the campus and defines who we are.”

Read more about the background and creation of the Cherry Blossom Project.

The dedication ceremony on Saturday April 7 at West Circle was attended by many Japanese Cal graduates. Photo: Tracey Taylor

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  • guest

    These trees are a lovely addition. I look forward to watching them grow; they will be a regulr feature on my lunchtime walks. Thanks for the story, Tracey.

  • guest

    Will the campus be building new monuments dedicated to other ethnic identities as well?

  • Marmeladova

    Where is the new cherry grove located?

  • Guest

    Just inside west gate.

  • Nancy

    My sister and I attended this ceremony and were moved when we thought about how the trees will be even more beautiful in future years.

    Our mother was born in Berkeley, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. She grew up on Sixth Street near University Ave. and helped run the family’s cut flower nursery. She graduated from Berkeley High in 1936 and had always wanted to go to Cal but her conservative father didn’t think girls needed an education — just get married!

    World War II made the whole thing a moot point. Everyone was shuttled off to a camp in Topaz, Utah, where they lived behind barbed wire, leaving the Berkeley house empty. (They had neighbors who watched the house and when the family got back, they found that it seemed to have been used as a brothel).

    Mom eventually did go to Cal, graduating at age 30 with a degree in geography. My sister attended Cal in the 1970s. So I don’t think that the university built this for “ethnic minorities”. A group of alumni came together to raise money and plant a grove of trees. There are cases where wealthy individuals donate money and the buildings are named after them. Sometimes a corporation will donate money and name a school. Graduating classes raise money to help refurbish an area. Because the state doesn’t provide even one-third of the funds for this “public” university the campus needs help. I hope more people find creative ways to contribute to this amazing institution.

  • guest

    I agree with you that the trees are only going to become more and more beautiful. I think it’s a very thoughtful placement of them.

    The dedication puzzles me because it seems to be to a group of alumni defined broadly and exclusively by an ethnic identity. The west entrance and crescent drive play such a defining role in the iconography of the central, historic campus; I wonder what the dedication “says” in that regard.

  • Andrew

    When I heard about this last week (via Berkeleyside) I was in Kyoto, where the cherries were in full bloom–the parks were full of people picnicking under the blossoms, and many of the best and oldest trees were illuminated all night long. My family and I were thrilled to hear that we’ll have an echo of the experience in Berkeley. Thanks for the story, Tracey!