Every year the Portland, Oregon Community is treated to the “Brief” annual blossoming of beautiful cherry trees of the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Bill of Rights Memorial at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
Culturally this is significant as many Japanese honor and respect the Cherry Blossoms’ transient beauty (Mono No Aware = “Impermanence“, the “transience of things“) = Extreme Beauty and Quick Death = An enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. 1
Portland Celebrates 25 Years of Cherry Blossoms
Portland’s 25th anniversary celebration of the Cherry-Blossom Trees, or Sakura, commemorates those donated to mark the Dedication of the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Bill of Rights Memorial at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in August of 1990.
The gift of the Cheery-Blossom Trees I am proud to say were in large part due to my Father’s, (Henry Sakamoto) business association with Japanese grain trade companies via the “Japanese Food Agency” (1955-1985). 2
The Japanese American Historical Plaza was dedicated on August 3, 1990. There were many distinguished speakers, among them was Kenote Speaker: Honorable Justice W. Michael Gillette and Consul General Akira Watanabe, representing the Office of the Consulate General of Japan in Portland.
Over the years, because of Sakamoto’s strong relationships with Japanese Grain Traders and as a person of Japanese ancestry who had attained an important position with the U.S. Government (culturally significant). A gift of 100 Cherry-Blossom Trees (Sakura) from Japan were planted in time for the August 3, 1990 dedication of the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Bill of Rights Memorial at Tom McCall Waterfront Park to commemorate the Japanese Americans sent to concentration camps on American Soil during World War II.
Sakamoto became involved within the Japanese American community initially because of the Japanese American Historical Plaza. The inspiration and theme for the project had been conceived by the late Robert Murase, a landscape architect with international credentials and promoted by Portland Businessman Bill Naito. The proposal for the Historical Plaza was approved by the City in 1989 and the non-profit corporation Oregon Nikkei Endowment (O.N.E.) was created to organize and raise $500,000 for the project. Thus, the Oregon Nikkei Endowment was born and Sakamoto was elected its president and served in that capacity for 19 years. (Photo, Right: Bob Murase, Henry Sakamoto, Dr. George Hara; July 23, 1989)
…without a memorial, without a physical gesture of remembrance, we can, we may, we will forget. Already the Japanese internment experience is hardly noted in civics textbooks and in history textbooks. It is barely a footnote in college history courses, and even worse it is not mentioned at all in most law schools. Yet this story, the story that is represented by the memorial we dedicate today, must not, and cannot, be lost.
Honorable Justice W. Michael Gillette speaking at the dedication ceremony August 3, 1990, of the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon