The local park beneath the Roihuvuori water tower, a sunny slope with a lawn and trees, began to evolve into a Japanese inspired cherry park when the first 52 cherry trees were planted there on World Environment Day in 2007. By 2009 there were 152 cherry trees. The pink blossomed ornamental cherry trees Prunus sargentii have since thrived well in the park.
It all began around 2005 when the Public Works Department received a proposal from local entrepreneur Norio Tomida regarding the creation of a cherry orchard. The idea was that the Japanese community in Helsinki would donate cherry trees to the city as a sign of gratitude for what a good place Helsinki is to live in. Inspired by Norio Tomida, Japanese residents throughout Finland joined in to donate the trees.
Kaisu Ilonen from the Public Works Department selected the local park in Roihuvuori as the location due to its sunny slopes that would suit the cherry trees. The nearby location of another Japanese inspired park just 700 metres away was another advantage. The “Good Things Grow in Helsinki” movement of the Publics Work Department liked the idea and began also to look for corporate sponsors who would be interested in helping to cover the costs of establishing and maintaining the park. Four companies connected with Japan joined the project.
Thanks to the co-operation between local Japanese residents, corporate sponsors and the City of Helsinki, the cherry trees were planted by the end of 2009. Locals and visitors alike can now admire the Cherry park and spend time with their Japanese friends during the annual Hanami cherry blossom festival in springtime.
At the same time as the cherry trees were planted, the lighting and paths were renewed, and in the coming years water features may be added. The ditch along the local street Sahaajankatu has already been renovated, and it could easily be expanded into an iris pond at the bottom of the park, adding to the Japanese theme of the garden.
The upper slate-paved level of the park features Japanese benches and a plaque with the names of the donators. A path leads from the upper tree section to the nearby Japan inspired garden. Other cherry tree varieties may one day be planted along the path. Each year local residents plant an extra cherry tree in honour of the local citizen of the year, so these trees are becoming an identifying feature of this neighbourhood.
Hanami cherry blossom festival
Hanami, which translates as “flower viewing”, is the biggest annual festival in Japan. The festival takes place when the cherry trees are in blossom, so the exact dates vary each year according to weather conditions. The progress of the blossoming is followed enthusiastically by the Japanese media. When the flowers are in full bloom, the Japanese people flock to the trees to admire the “sakura”.
The first Hanami festival in Helsinki – and probably the northernmost in the world – was held at the cherry orchard in Roihuvuori on Mother’s Day, 11 May 2008. Japanese associations in Helsinki and the local community association helped organise the event. Around 300 people attended the event in the first year; by 2012 the number was in the thousands. The Hanami Festival has become a popular new tradition where local Finnish and Japanese residents can gather and share the experience thanks to Norio Toimida and the active locals in Roihuvuori. You can sign up for news about the Hamani Festival on the website www.roihuvuori.fi/hanami.