Cherry blossom trees in Japantown vandalized, nearly destroyed by vandal

Photo: JCCCNC/Facebook
By Jay Barmann - Published on January 09, 2021.

A pair of cherry blossom trees outside the Japanese Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco's Japantown won't be blooming this year after a vandal or vandals went to great efforts to rip all the branches off of them.

The two street trees were discovered shorn down to their trunks on Tuesday morning, as the center reported on Facebook.

"This was not simply a passerby trying to break a branch off for fun," said Paul Osaki, Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC). "Someone took their time breaking off every branch. This was no easy task as some of the larger branches were over 3” thick and the trees 12’ to 15’ feet high."

Apparently a third tree was similarly vandalized last year.

The center posted photos of the injured trees, and noted that these cherry blossom trees were "the first to be planted in San Francisco’s Japantown in over fifty years since the Redevelopment Agency uprooted every tree in Japantown during the 1960-1970’s." The trees were planted in the 1990s to commemorate a visit by the Emperor and Empress of Japan in 1994.

Cherry blossoms symbolize ephemerality in Japanese culture. The annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is the biggest event on the community calendar in Japantown, and happens every April. Last year's event was canceled due to the pandemic, and this year's is tentatively scheduled for the weekends of April 10 and 17 — though it may end up getting canceled as well.

The festival mirrors the celebration of Hanami in Japan, which features often drunken picnics under the blossoming trees in celebration of the beginning of spring.

White-blossomed cherry blossom trees live all over San Francisco — not just in Japantown. You'll begin seeing them bloom around Alamo Square, in Golden Gate Park, and elsewhere beginning in mid-March, often peaking by the end of the month or early April. 

Update: A GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to replace the trees has already raised over $14,000, after setting a $5,000 goal.

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