A grove of flowering Japanese cherry trees has been planted on the Berkeley campus to commemorate the Japanese American alumni who attended the University of California. The flowering cherry tree, sakura, was selected because of its beauty and deep cultural significance to the Japanese people. It is a fitting tribute to the generations of Japanese American graduates who have contributed to all sectors of our society.

The Seed . . .

It all started years ago with George Matsumoto. He was a semester short of graduating in 1942 when he was pulled out of Cal and sent to an internment camp under Executive Order 9066. He later became a highly acclaimed architect with an illustrious private and academic career. He taught at the University of California, and he served as architect at the UCSF and Berkeley campuses. At a California Japanese American Alumni Association (CJAAA) dinner after the Big Game, he suggested planting a row of Japanese cherry trees along the crescent drive at the west entrance of the Berkeley campus. 

Cherry Tree Project - About UsYears later in 2008, Bill Fujita reintroduced the idea. Bill, who has since passed away, graduated from Cal in 1939. A “True Blue” fan to the end, he often referred to his days at Cal as “the best days of my life.” During an informal meeting of a group of CJAAA members, the Cal Nisei “lunchers," he proposed that the CJAAA donate the long considered landscape project to serve as a legacy to the University of California Japanese American students--past, present, and future. The “lunchers,” seniors (in their 70s) and super seniors (in their 80s), all agreed that it was a very worthwhile project. 

The Root . . . 

But it wasn't until the following year, at another “lunchers” meeting in early 2009, that the project began to take root. Asa Hanamoto and Kaz Abey, retired landscape architects, and Harold Kobayashi, principal with the firm of Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey (RHAA), a Mill Valley landscape architectural firm, volunteered to serve on a "subcommittee" to help with the project. They contacted Jim Horner, Campus Landscape Architect - UC Berkeley-Capital Projects, who immediately embraced the project.Cherry Tree Project - About Us

In July of 2009, Harold Kobayashi, Bill Fujita, George Matsumoto, Asa Hanamoto, and Kaz Abey joined Jim Horner and reviewed the following sites: Alumni House Garden, Central Open Space Pathways, The Crescent, Faculty Glade, Mining Circle and the West Gate to West Circle. The group felt that the West Gate to West Circle, a 220 ft. x 18 ft. grass median, would be the ideal location. A row of flowering cherry trees gracing this prominent location would be a beautiful asset to the campus entrance.

Harold Kobayashi prepared a series of conceptual tree planting plans for the median area and the island by the gate house along with a cost estimate. These drawings were submitted to Jim Horner who felt that the project had a good chance of being approved by Vice Chancellor Denton and the UC Design Review Committee. 

In a subsequent meeting, Jim informed the subcommittee that the University, through the Office of Capital Projects, would handle all contracts with the design firm and construction contractor. In addition, the UCB Foundation would collect, acknowledge and manage all donations.

With the legal and accounting issues resolved, the subcommittee met with Cordy Hill and Tara McIntire of RHAA to prepare the preliminary landscape drawings necessary for UC approval. The drawings included a landscape plan of the trees, a perspective sketch and cross sections. The preliminary cost estimate for the project was $350,000.

On May 11, 2011, Jim Horner presented the Cherry Tree Project to the UC Design Review Committee. Asa Hanamoto explained the background of image02athe project and the significance of leaving a legacy in honor of the Japanese American alumni for their accomplishments and contributions to our nation and society. The Design Review Committee offered several favorable comments.

With approval from the University now in hand, Cordy Hill and other partners of RHAA generously agreed to donate their services to the Cherry Tree Project in recognition of past partners, Asa Hanamoto, Kaz Abey and Harold Kobayashi, with hope that their donation would jump-start the project.

The Water . . .

But the project still needed funding.  A CJAAA 2010 Big Game Scholarship Luncheon served as the forum for creating an article in the CJAAA newsletter asking for help in the fundraising effort. Although many said they could help, no one volunteered to organize the fundraising campaign. 

Cherry Tree Project - About UsIn the end, after many months of futile attempts to establish a fundraising committee, the “lunchers” decided to proceed without a committee.  The campaign goal was set at $350,000. Andy Fukutome of Fukutome Design created the fundraising packet.  The UC Foundation assigned a fund number. Excess funds would be given to the CJAAA and the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley (JAWAUCB) on a percentage basis, with 75% donated to the CJAAA Scholarship Fund and 25% to the JAWAUCB Scholarship Fund.

Because the field grown trees needed to be planted during the dormant stage (November-December), a donation deadline of March 31, 2012 was set. Two thousand donation forms were printed in December 2011.  At an enthusiastic gathering hosted by Jean Abey, 11 supporters stuffed envelopes, and the first mailing of over 1,000 donation forms was sent on January 5, 2012. On February 7, 2012, a group of four supporters, hosted by Mary Tomita, stuffed envelopes for a second mailing to over 400 JAWAUCB members.

Melanie Keilholtz, Gift Planning Officer, University of California Berkeley, University Relations, kept the subcommittee updated with periodic progress reports. When donations hit $200,000, the decision was made to proceed with the preparation of landscape plans and specifications. After so many years, the dream of a flowering cherry tree grove was coming true!

The Trees . . .

Cherry Tree Project - About UsOn April 2, 2012, a kick-off meeting with Tara McIntire, Jim Horner, Harold Kobayashi, Asa Hanamoto, Mas Riusaki, and Kaz Abey was held at the office of RHAA. There were adequate funds to cover the revised cost estimate of $235,000 (not including donated cost of landscape architectural services), and RHAA was directed to proceed with the preparation of plans and specifications required for bidding and construction. 

On April 16, Jim Horner and Kaz Abey went to Oregon to select 40 cherry trees, Prunus yedoensis ("Akebono"), a tree with single, light pink or nearly white blossoms, with graceful curving branches. On June 11, Harold Kobayashi, Asa Hanamoto and Kaz Abey selected a granite stone for the mounting of the plaque.

The construction contract was awarded to Gardner's Guild Inc., and construction began on October 1, 2012. Forty field grown trees were delivered to the site on the first of November. The project was completed with the planting of Hypericum ground cover plants (golden yellow flowers) and Agapanthus (bright blue flowers), the staking of the trees and the spreading mulch over the entire area. Three surplus trees were planted by the Alumni House. 

The Blossoms . . .

The inscription on the plaque was written by a group of CJAAA Board members, Jesse Ante, President of CJAAA, along with George Matsumoto, Ted Ono, Frank Inami, Chizu Iiyama, Asa Hanamoto, Sara Ishikawa, Mas Riusaki, and Kaz Abey.  Eight different, interesting, and heartfelt wordings were submitted, which were distributed to the group and to Jim Horner for review and preference. After several revisions, the following wording was submitted and subsequently approved by the University:

Cherry Tree Project - About Us 

Since the beginning, the “lunchers” have kept track of the project through updates at their quarterly luncheon meetings. They offered suggestions and comments, but most importantly, they have always been strong supporters of the Cherry Tree Project. Now, a beautiful cherry tree grove graces the west entrance of the Berkeley campus. It is the culmination of a dream of a group of Nisei Alumni who were determined to leave a lasting legacy to honor Japanese American students who attended the University of California.