‘Goodwill and Community Are What We Feel’: Newly Donated Cherry Blossom Planted as Part of Mead Park’s ‘Gold Star Walk’

Town resident Jackie Alexander, a third-generation Japanese-American, had already been looking for a place in New Canaan where her organization could donate a cherry blossom tree when she heard last fall about a need at one of the town’s most important, if little-known, memorial sites. 

Established in 1945 and twice restored in the past 20 years thanks to Korean War veteran Jim Bach, among others, the “Gold Star Walk” at Mead Park is dedicated to the 38 New Canaan men who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Alexander on learning that one of the Gold Star Walk trees was dying and needed to be replaced, brought the information back to the nonprofit organization where she serves as president—the Japan Society of Fairfield County, which promotes goodwill through mutual cultural understanding between the United States and Japan—and within months the cherry blossom tree donation was approved and accepted for the site. “I’m excited about this, personally, because it’s in a time where we have a lot of protests and lot of things that we want to change, and this is something we can do to be kind and reach out and give back to our community,” said Alexander, a New Canaan resident since 1988 whose uncles served during World War II with the U.S. Army 442nd Infantry Regiment and whose father taught Japanese to U.S. soldiers. The tree planting “is significant for the fact of where we are now—it [World War II] was a war against Japan, but goodwill and community are what we feel now.”

She added, ”To me it’s a positive message. I’m proud of being an American, I’m proud of being a New Canaan resident and I think what they have done in Mead Park is beautiful.

Japan Enthusiasts Enjoy 2nd Annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Mead Park

Gabriel Santana began studying Japanese by accident. He noticed that a class in Japanese opened up at Norwalk Community College a couple of years ago and he hadn’t been interested in any other languages, so he signed up. From there, the Stratford resident recalled Sunday afternoon from the colonnade at Mead Park, he grew interested in Japanese folklore, music, history and food. “I took a very serious interest in all of that, and Japanese culture,” Santana, now secretary of NCC’s Japanese Language & Culture Club, said as a crowd of people visited the club’s table behind him, learning about tenugui or Japanese gift wrapping during the second annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Mead. Sponsored by the Japan Society of Fairfield County and the Consulate General of Japan in New York, the festival featured Japanese folk dancing, taiko drumming by UConn Taiko, the stories of Hachiko the Akita dog and Spartacus, an American Akita therapy dog with K9 First Responders, kimono dressing, ikebana flower arranging for kids, origami and calligraphy.

Parks & Rec Approves Spring Dates for 2nd Annual ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’ at Mead

Following a successful inaugural event, town officials this month approved use of the colonnade area at Mead Park by the Japan Society of Fairfield County for a cherry blossom festival this spring. The Parks & Recreation Commission voted 6-0 to approve the festival to run on Sunday, May 6—or, if the Society prefers, to run on Sunday, April 29 with May 6 as a rain date. “It was just a wonderful gathering, very family-friendly,” commission Chair Sally Campbell said of last year’s festival. New Canaan resident Jackie Alexander, a member of the Society who is helping organize the festivals, said the events are traditional celebrations in both Japan and the United States. “Cherry blossoms, as you know, are a harbinger of spring, it’s very fleeting, so it’s meant to appreciate the tradition of enjoying each moment of the cherry blossoms season,” Alexander told commissioners at the meeting, held in Lapham Community Center.

‘It’s Incredible’: Japanese Culture Enthusiasts Enjoy First-Ever Cherry Blossom Festival at Mead Park

Ashley Fippinger held both arms out straight where she stood under a canopy tent in the bustling colonnade area of Mead Park on Sunday afternoon, as a volunteer from the Japan Society of Fairfield County folded her into a deep red kimono robe and tied on an orange sash. The Bridgeport resident hadn’t planned on donning the formal Japanese garment here, but heard about the society’s first-ever “Sakura Matsuri,” or Cherry Blossom Festival, online, and “just had to see it for myself.”

“And it’s incredible,” Fippinger said as a traditional Japanese drumming group from UConn played to a nearby crowd, gathered on the grass on a cool, overcast day. Asked how she felt to be in a kimono, she said: “I feel like a princess.”

A steady stream of residents and park visitors attended the two-hour festival, approved last month by the Parks & Recreation Commission and marking the society’s 30th anniversary. Joined by town representatives including Parks & Rec Chair Sally Campbell and commissioner Francesca Segalas, Japan Society of Fairfield County President Mito Mardin welcomed festival-goers as well as a special guest, consul Ryusuke Shimada of the Consulate General of Japan in New York. Children and families moved from hands-on station to station, trying origami, bonsai, painting and ikebana flower arrangements as live entertainment including a martial arts performance, dancing and singing took place toward the rear of the colonnade.

Traditional Japanese ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’ Coming April 30 to Mead Park

Officials last week voted unanimously in favor of allowing an area organization dedicated to building knowledge and mutual understanding between Japanese and Americans to hold a “cherry blossom festival” next month at Mead Park. The Japan Society of Fairfield County’s traditional festival is to be held 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 30 following an 8-0 vote from the Parks & Recreation Commission. New Canaan resident and society board member Jackie Alexander said the cherry blossom festival—or “Sakura Matsuri”—is “a century-old Japanese tradition to celebrate spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.”

“It happens to be [the society’s] 30th anniversary, so we would like to do a Sakura Matsuri at Mead Park to share Japanese culture and open it to the public,” Alexander said at the meeting, held in Lapham Community Center. “It’s a family friendly event, with some music and some crafts.”

To include bonsai flower arranging and perhaps also a karate demonstration, the festival will be held in the colonnade, overlooking Mead Pond. The Japan Society of Fairfield County—founded in 1987 in Greenwich—also will donate a cherry tree to Mead Park, Alexander said, and is seeking a representative from the Consulate General of Japan in New York to attend a dedication ceremony.