The 21st Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival on Saturday, Feb. 1 is dedicated to Waimea residents Emiko Wakayama and Fumi Bonk. The women, who both have Japanese heritage, will be recognized at the festival’s opening ceremony. Time is 9 a.m. on the entertainment stage at the rear of Parker Ranch Center.
“Emi” Wakayama, 81, has been involved with the Cherry Blossom Festival since it began, contributing as a member of the organizing committee and performing traditional tea ceremonies to the delight of attendees.
During the festival’s two decades, the 55-year Waimea resident instructed about 20 students in the little known art and will be overseeing their performance during this year’s event in the Kahilu Theatre lobby.
Known as chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony involves the proper preparation, pouring and mannerisms involved in offering tea. Wakayama learned the process, which takes about 10 minutes, while in Japan.
A native of Kurtistown, Wakayama graduated from Hilo High School and studied fashion design at both the University of Hawaii and the Pratt Institute in New York City. Employed by an upscale sportswear line, she worked in the Big Apple for five years before traveling to Japan with her mother.
“I decided to stay in Japan for awhile to learn my Japanese culture,” explains the octogenarian. “I was there for about a year and during that time learned chanoyu.”
Wakayama also met her husband, the late Kinya, in Tokyo. A native of Waimea, they returned to their homeland, married and Emi worked as a seamstress, making Hawaiian muumuus. She also sold her appliquéd, Hawaiian-style quilts at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel where the designer’s expertly crafted quilts were popular with both visitors and residents. You can still see Wakayama’s orange-on-white hibiscus quilt hanging on display at the hotel and her kukui nut pattern quilt is exhibited at North Hawaii Community Hospital (NHCH) in memory of her husband.
No stranger to NHCH, Wakayama volunteered many years in the gift shop, where she sold her yukata, a casual Japanese kimono worn as a robe. Fabric was donated for the garments and Wakayama volunteered her time. She also painstakingly sewed prayer blankets for hospital patients.
“You have to love what you are doing,” Wakayama noted.
The seamstress and quilter is a member of the Kamuela Hongwanji Mission, the Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Association and its Aloha Committee. In 2008, Wakayama was named the Outstanding Older American for Waimea.
The second honoree, Fumi Bonk, is a native of Oahu who grew up on her family’s dairy in Waialae.
She first participated in the festival during its early years as a member of the local chapter of AARP, serving coffee at Church Row Park. Later, she was involved as a ceramist, where she displayed her functional artistic wares that reflected the beauty and diversity of Hawaii’s unique natural environment. The 90-year-old is recognized as an artist, educator and advocate for peace and social justice.
Bonk moves to Hawaiʻi Island in the late 1940s where she spent most of her life with her late husband, Bill, and their three children. Her husband was an archeologist and the couple traveled extensively. Bonk served as co-director of Hilo High School’s alternative “School Within a School,” before moving to Waimea in the early 1980s. She taught art and science at Waimea Intermediate School.
Discussing how Hawaii and the Big Island influenced her art, Bonk once wrote, “Nowhere does the refined and rugged aspects of nature more regularly and dramatically stand next to each other. The rugged texture of lava, overlaid with the smooth texture and color of the sky and water, and the details of foliage and forest have influenced my construction, glazing and firing of ceramic sculpture over the 40 years I have worked with clay.”
In the 1960ʻs the Waimea resident founded the Big Island Art Guild and was involved in the startup of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Art with artist/architect Alfred Preis. She was an active member of the Hawaii Craftsmen and participated in over 30 select exhibitions throughout the state.
Bonk feels “art is a spiritual reflection of our humanity.” She views compassion and reason as the “spirit of the arts” and believes that an artist’s life must also reflect this spirit. “Artists have the responsibility to speak up for those whose voices are not loud or powerful enough to be heard alone,” she adds.
While an octogenarian, Bonk travelled to Washington D.C. to join in the One Nation Rally of educators and other social justice advocates “to stand up for better education, housing and healthcare for all American people.”
The free Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival showcases the 60-year-old cherry trees planted at Church Row Park and the Japanese tradition of viewing them—hanami. The event, held annually the first Saturday of February, includes a variety of activities 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at venues throughout Waimea—look for pink banners identifying site locations from Parker School on Lindsey Road to the Hawaiian Homestead Farmer’s Market on Hwy. 19.
Spend the day to experience an all-day lineup of Japanese and multi-cultural performing arts, plus hands-on demonstrations of bonsai, origami, traditional tea ceremony, fun mochi pounding and a host of colorful craft fairs. Enjoy free shuttle transportation among most venues. For info, 808-961-8706.