Japanese new year a hit in Olympia

Celebration includes planting of seven friendship cherry blossom trees at Percival Landing

ckrotzer@theolympian.comJanuary 27, 2013 

An 8-year-old Girl Scout Brownie was being careful not to crumple thin pieces of pink parchment paper too much as she glued them to the drawing of a barren tree.

Fiona Whitaker of Olympia wanted to make sure her cherry blossoms looked just right.

“It’s pretty fun,” Fiona said as she and her mother, Carolyn, finished their pieces and had them stamped by a volunteer during a Japanese New Year celebration event Saturday morning in Olympia.

It was the second year that Oshugatsu was held at The Olympia Center off of Columbia Street. Organizers had about 2,000 people turn out at the center in 2011.

In addition to crafts, food, performances and art, this year’s celebration had a twist.

Seven sakura, or cherry blossom trees, were planted near Percival Landing as part of a friendship ceremony, said organizer Mina Kiive.

Thousands of sakuras were planted in Washington, D.C., a century ago, given to the country by Japan as a sign of friendship, she said.

“The people in D.C. were looking for places to gift trees to commemorate the 100 years of friendship,” Kiive said.

The trees could have gone to Tacoma, but Kiive said they thought Olympia would be a more fitting location.

The trees had been put into the ground prior to the event, but Kiive said they still had a ceremonial planting at noon.

It might be a few seasons before they bloom.

“The trees have to mature a bit before they flower,” Kiive said. “But the trees made this year a little more special.”

Kaylee Boeck, a South Puget Sound Community College student and member of the Tomodachi Club on campus, was overseeing the cherry blossoms craft table where the Whitakers were working.

“The entire table was full right at the start,” Boeck said.

Fiona’s Brownie troop out of Olympia is studying Japanese culture.

“They came down to learn themselves before they have to present on it,” Whitaker said.

Families also were able to make origami, bookmarks and “samurai hats” while watching events, including mochi pounding on stage.

Participants on stage used large wooden mallets to pound sticky rice into a substance that’s shaped into a ball for a tradtional new year’s food.

Rikki Bland’s daughter, 6-year-old Abby, was initially frightened.

“She did not like the noise,” Bland said, who came to the event from Shelton.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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