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Sapling replaces 80-year-old tree at Watsonville High School

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 23rd, 2013

Willie the Wildcat gives former Watsonville High School instructor Mas Hashimoto a hug Monday during a tree planting ceremony. The double-blossom cherry tree is shown in the upper left. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — In the late 1920s, the Watsonville Japanese Association gave several double cherry blossom trees to the city as a gesture of friendship and a symbol of the community to which they belonged.

The trees took root and lasted through the years, releasing their signature blossoms and sweet aromas every spring.

During World War II, when Japanese citizens were rounded up and sent to internment camps, many of the trees were vandalized.

Two of them still stand at Mintie White Elementary School, but the tree that stood in front of Watsonville High School for decades died last winter.

“Every day as a student and as a teacher I would walk by the tree that stood here,” said Mas Hashimoto, who graduated from WHS in 1953 and taught there for 36 years. “This winter when the tree passed on I was so sad.”

On Monday a group of Watsonville High School students, members of the Japanese community and two delegates from the Japanese embassy in San Francisco watched as a new tree was placed in the ground.

Hashimoto named the tree “Neko,” which is the Japanese word for cat and a symbol of good fortune in that country. But it is also a nod to WHS mascot Willie the Wildcat.

The Kwanzan flowering cherry tree was donated by the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

He said the flowering tree is intended to represent friendship, new hope and a new beginning.

“The beautiful blossoms are short-lived as a reminder that our lives are also short-lived,” he told the small crowd. “We must work diligently in the short time we have on this earth.”

Watsonville resident Nancy Tada, who graduated from WHS in 1933, attended the ceremony with Kitako Tsuda Izumizaki (1940).

“I hope I live a long time to see it bloom year after year,” Tada said.

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