Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sakura: Cherry blossoms and flower viewing season in Huntington Beach Central Park

The annual Huntington Beach Cherry Blossom Festival is Sunday, March 20, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., behind the Central Library at 7111 Talbert Avenue and Goldenwest Street. Free parking is plentiful in the Central Library parking lot. This event celebrates Huntington Beach's Sister City relationship with Anjo, Japan, and supports the student exchange program. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   It took two attempts to bring the first gift of cherry trees to the United States from Japan.  The first shipment of 2,000 trees in 1910 were not healthy enough to plant.  The second shipment of 3,000 trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, D.C. in 1912 were a success!  It is the recognition of that gift that sparked the National Cherry Blossom Festival along the Tidal Basin.

LEFT:  In Japan, the face of the moon is a rabbit mochi-tsuki: rabbits pounding cooked rice in a mortar to make mochi, the confection enjoyed at special holidays and festivals. Dango, or mochi, is often shaped like a rabbit at the time of the fall moon festival and like cherry blossoms during hanami, or "flower viewing" season. (Image, National Diet Library, Japan)

    It was an idea with roots in the late 19th Century, with the writer Eliza Ruhamah ScidmoreScidmore was an aberration.  She wrote the first travel book for Alaska and was the first woman to write for National GeographicScidmore wrote about her experiences traveling in Asia and lived in Japan.  She would write about Asia for decades, introducing American readers to the Japanese moon festival and that while Americans saw a "man in the moon," in Japan the image on the moon's face was seen as "rabbits making mochi."  

   While she wrote about cultural traditions and flower festivals--such as the festival in Japan for the asagao, or morning glory--Scidmore also was acknowledged as an insightful observer of the social and political environment in Asia, publishing works like Java: The Garden of the East in 1897, and China: The Long Lived Empire in 1900.

RIGHT: An illustration from Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore's 1891 book, Jinrikisha days in Japan (New York, Harper & Brothers). Scidmore writes, "the cloud-burst of cherry blossoms decks the Empire in wreaths of white and pink, and fills the people with joy."  Scidmore continues to explain to her readers that "the gradual unfolding of sakura, the cherry blossoms, is of great concern, the native newspapers daily printing advance despatches from the trees..the pinkish light from their fair canopy dazzles and dizzies the beholder." Today in Japan, the "cherry blossom front" is reported on the nightly news as the blossoms move south to north through the country.

LEFT: Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, described as a writer of "sparkling travel sketches" by the Minneapolis Journal, March 16, 1901.  She was the first to advocate for the planting of cherry trees in Washington D.C.   Washington Post writer Michael Ruane wrote in 2012 about Scidmore's appearance at a Capitol society ball in the winter of 1894: "She wore a gown of green under a black silk robe embroidered with gold and silver Japanese characters. And when the young woman walked into the Dupont Circle mansion that night, she turned every head...She was 37, an author, journalist, traveler and collector of the lore and artifacts of far-off lands." (Photo, Wisonsin Historical Society)

   The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) credits Scidmore as the first to advocate for cherry trees in 1885

"Upon returning to Washington from her first visit to Japan", reports the NPS, Scidmore"approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, with the proposal that cherry trees be planted one day along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears. Over the next twenty-four years, Mrs. Scidmore approached every new superintendent, but her idea met with no success."

RIGHT: Cherry trees in bloom in Akasaka, an area of Tokyo, in the 1890s. (Photograph, The New York Public Library. ID 109995. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.)
   In 1909, Scidmore made the request of the wife of President William Howard Taft, first lady Hellen Herron Taft, suggesting she would fund raise to buy the cherry trees and donate them to the Capitol.  The NPS explains that the First Lady had lived in Japan and was familiar with the sight of the cherry trees in bloom. 

   Hellen Herron Taft responded to Scidmore in two days, writing, "Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part is still too rough to do any planting. Of course, they would not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this."
LEFT: An image from the Huntington Beach Cherry Blossom Festival in 2014. (Original photo by Gregory Robertson) © All rights reserved.

   The Washington Post continues the history, explaining that the day after Scidmore received the letter from the First Lady, "she told two Japanese acquaintances who were in Washington on business: Jokichi Takamine, the New York chemist, and Kokichi Mizumo, Japan's consul general in New York.  The two men immediately suggested a donation of 2,000 trees from Japan, specifically from its capital, Tokyo, as a gesture of friendship"and asked Scidmore to find out if the First Lady would find the gift acceptable.  She did.

RIGHT: A hummingbird winging through the cherry blossoms in Huntington Beach Central Park. (Photo, Gregory Robertson, 2015) © All rights reserved

   With First Lady Helen Taft's support, things moved quickly.  Although the first batch of cherry trees could not be planted, the second love letter from Japan arrived just in time for Valentine's Day, February 14, 1912.  Over three thousand trees were shipped from Yokohama to Seattle, then in insulated freight cars to Washington D.C.  And, on March 27, 1912, Helen Herron Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin.

   That year, the Washington Star reported a "Washington woman who has been decorated is Miss Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, whose home is at 1837 M Street northwest, and who in 1908 was given the cross of the Order of the Eastern Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan in recognition of her writings on Japan." (Editor's note: Scidmore's home appears to be standing at the address reported in 1912, a stately, restored brick Victorian, now living a new life as a restaurant.)

LEFT: Taiko drum performance at the 2015 Huntington Beach Cherry Blossom Festival.  There will be taiko drum, classical Japanese dance, live music from Japanese musical groups, cultural arts and crafts, and a wide variety of Japanese and Japanese-influenced foods to try at this year's Festival.  Admission and parking in the Huntington Beach Central Library parking lot are free. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   The National Cherry Blossom Festival reports that several years later in 1915, the United States reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.  In 2012--a century after the planting of Japan's gift of cherry trees in Washington D.C.--the United States sent 3,000 flowering dogwood trees to Japan as an anniversary gift.  The dogwood trees were planted in Tohoku region of northern Japan and in Yoyogi Park of Tokyo.

   To preserve the original genetic lineage of the first cherry trees, the NPS reports that "approximately 120 propagates from the surviving 1912 trees around the Tidal Basin were collected by NPS horticulturists and sent back to Japan (in 2011) to the Japan Cherry Blossom Association...Through this cycle of giving, the cherry trees continue to fulfill their role as a symbol and as an agent of friendship."

LEFT: An early 20th Century selfie. By 1921, the cherry trees in the Tidal Basin had become Washington D.C. celebrities, celebrated and photographed. (Image, Washington Evening Star, April 3, 1921)

   This year in Huntington Beach, we will again plant new cherry trees in Central Park--near the lakeside Secret Garden--with the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and delegates from our Sister City Anjo, Japan.  This Southern California-central Japan friendship began in 1982 and is working toward its own centennial event.  The Cherry Blossom Festival of 2082 will be one for the books!

RIGHT: Historic Wintersburg, designated a National Treasure in October 2015, will have a booth again at this year's Cherry Blossom Festival in Huntington Beach Central Park on March 20. Author Mary Adams Urashima will be signing her book, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, about the history of Wintersburg Village and Orange County's Japanese American pioneers, the Furuta Gold Fish Farm and the Wintersburg Mission. In addition to historical information, there also will be an activity and treat for little cherry blossom visitors! (Original photo by Barbara Haynes, 2015) © All rights reserved.


It's Hanami Time! at Surf City Family can be found at

The Huntington Beach Sister City organization website for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival--with information on performances and vendors--is at

Read the History of the Cherry Trees from the U.S. National Park Service at

Read the full feature by Mike Ruane, Cherry Blossom's Champion, Eliza Scidmore, Led a Life of Adventure, The Washington Post, March 13, 2012, at

Author Andrea Zimmerman has written a book about Eliza Scidmore, Eliza's Cherry Trees, with more information about Eliza's life, travels and writing, and teacher resources at

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Stamp Our Story: A ten-year effort to gain recognition of the Nisei veterans of WWII

   Stamp Our Story is an effort to gain a United States commemorative postage stamp honoring the service and contributions of the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.  This has been a decade-long campaign.

   Japanese American World War II veterans are among the most highly-decorated military groups in American history. Over 33,000 served during World War II.  Over 18,000 medals. Over 9000 Purple Hearts. Thirty Distinguished Service Crosses. Twenty-one Medals of Honor. 

   These men served in the "Go For Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, who---as is now known---helped liberate Dachau.  They served during a time when their families were incarcerated in camps and detention stations around the United States, due to their ancestry.

   Among those who would be honored, are veterans in Orange County and veterans associated with the Wintersburg Mission, for which there are Medal of Honor recipients and nominees.  

LEFT: Wintersburg Mission congregant, Huntington Beach High School alumni and son of Talbert (Fountain Valley) farmers, Kazuo Masuda with the
442nd Regimental Combat Team (fourth from left, front row). Photograph courtesy of

   The associated history with Historic Wintersburg also includes a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, presented posthumously to the family of Kazuo Masuda at a farmhouse in Talbert by General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell with then-Army Captain Ronald Reagan.  This moment in American history was remembered by President Ronald Reagan when he signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, with Masuda family members and Wintersburg Mission congregant Clarence Nishizu present at the signing.

LEFT: Kazuo Masuda Memorial Day ceremony, 2015, at Westminster Memorial Park.  He is honored locally with a VFW Post, a school named after him, and on memorials in front of Huntington Beach City Hall and in the historic auditorium at Huntington Beach High School.  Kazuo Masuda was killed in action in Italy during WWII. (Photograph, M. Urashima, 2015). © All rights reserved.

   Not many of the Nisei veterans of World War II will see this stamp.  The effort to gain this recognition over the past decade has seen the loss of many of these veterans.  But, their families can finally see a stamp honoring their contribution and sacrifice.

   Among the United States Postal Service stamps, there are stamps recognizing civil rights history and leadership, stamps recognizing heritage months, stamps recognizing American Samoa, and Hawaiian icons like Duke Kahanamoku.  There are stamps celebrating the Lunar New Year.  Try a Google search for U.S. postal stamps for Japanese Americans and the search comes up with one collection issued in 2004 for artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

RIGHT: U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamps issued in 2004 for sculptor, landscape architect, and theatrical and industrial designer, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988).  The "California Scenario" sculpture plaza in Costa Mesa was designed by Noguchi.  What is less known is that Noguchi--who was biracial--wrote directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt prior to the authorization of Executive Order 9066, asking him not to violate the civil rights of American citizens of Japanese descent.  Noguchi was an anti-fascist advocate and---although not legally required---voluntarily went to the Colorado River Relocation Center in hopes of teaching art to those in confinement. (Source, U.S. Postal Service)

   With the arrival in American a century and a half ago, there still are no stamps honoring the larger history of Americans of Japanese descent, let alone the Nisei veterans. 

LEFT: Japanese American pioneer farmers on the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, California, circa 1920s.  The first Japanese arrived on the West Coast in the mid 19th Century---at the time of the California Gold Rush---and in rural Orange County by 1900. (Snip courtesy of California State University-Fullerton Center for Oral and Public History) © All rights reserved.

There are stamps honoring other American pioneer history---those who crossed the country by wagon---but no stamps recognizing those who crossed the Pacific Ocean with the rich history and imagery of Japanese American pioneer settlement of the American West.  

   There are stamps rightfully honoring African American "Buffalo Soldiers" of the U.S. Cavalry, but not the "Go For Broke" soldiers of the U.S. Army.  Stamps honor the civil rights movement in the southern part of America and civil rights leaders, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.  There are no civil rights stamps with the faces of Japanese Americans---like Todd Endo, who marched at Selma, Alabama's Bloody Sunday in 1965---yet Japanese Americans also have a civil rights story on the West Coast.   

   There are no stamps honoring those who fought and overturned the Alien Land Laws faced by Japanese American pioneers in the 20th Century, such as California attorney and journalist Sei Fujii.  There are no stamps honoring the resilience and gaman of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who lost their civil rights and were unjustly incarcerated during WWII.  There are no stamps for those who stood for Japanese American civil rights during that time, like Gordon Hirabayashi or Fred Korematsu.  There is no stamp for the Civil Rights Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan.

RIGHT: The guard watch tower at Manzanar National Historic Site in California's Owens Valley.  Manzanar was one of the ten major incarceration camps for 120,000 Japanese Americans, the majority United States citizens. (Photograph, M. Urashima, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   There is no stamp for Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese American astronaut, who lost his life on board the Space Shuttle Challenger.  There is no stamp for the first Japanese American congressional representative, Daniel Inouye.  There is no stamp for the first Japanese American mayor of a U.S. city in 1957, James Kanno, a Wintersburg Mission congregant and Fountain Valley, California's first mayor.

   With no stamps honoring the pioneer settlement, civil rights and achievements of Japanese Americans, there is, of course, no stamp for the few remaining Japanese American historic places that survived the past century.  There is no stamp for the iconic Little Tokyo, the Harada House, or for the early 1900s goldfish farms of Wintersburg Village.

   A stamp honoring the Nisei veterans of World War II is a step toward including the history of Americans of Japanese descent in the larger story of America.  As Stamp Our Story explains that while "it is just a tiny rectangular piece of paper" it is "huge in its impact.  It will be preserved and remembered as an iconic image which will last through the ages...We believe that if the Postal Service can churn out multiple stamps for fictional cartoon and movie characters, it can issue at least ONE stamp for these real American heroes."

   One hundred thousand signatures are needed by March 20 to get a petition requesting a stamp honoring Nisei veterans on the President's desk.  It takes only a moment to honor those who put their lives at risk in defense of America, while their families were confined.

Go to for more information.  

The online petition can be found and signed in a few seconds at

Publication 528 of the U.S. Postal Service shares the current stamps relating to "Veterans and the Military on Stamps",

More about Kazuo Masuda, President Ronald Reagan and the Masuda family story at 

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.