In Portland, Oregon, it doesn't feel like spring until the cherry blossoms bloom.
The sprouting of these glorious pink and white blossoms coincides perfectly with more hours of sunshine and fewer days of gloomy rain. Cherry blossoms are the first plants to break seasonal dormancy, and their pop of color is almost startling after months of grey. When you combine the weather and plant life with the re-opening of Portland’s festive and bustling Saturday Market in March, one can’t help but feel as though the city is finally awakening from hibernation. It’s still a brisk fifty degrees most days, but with the first tender rays of spring sunshine soaking the city, you scarcely notice.
The best place in Portland to witness the loveliness of the cherry blossoms is the Japanese American Historical Plaza. Located on the banks of the Willamette river, this feature of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park was designed by award winning landscape architect Robert Murase and dedicated in 1990. With the river on one side, and two rows of evenly spaced cherry blossoms on the other, it’s an immensely beautiful and serene half mile walk from one end to the other. The air feels fresher there, somehow, and there is nothing lovelier than the way the sun shines through the blossoms and projects shifting patterns onto the freshly sprouted grass.
Murase wanted this park to be educational as well as beautiful. For a mini outdoor-museum experience, enter the plaza through its official entryway, which is flanked by sculpted pillars depicting snippets of the Japanese American experience. The entryway leads you to a small courtyard, where short poems are carved into erect boulders in both English and Japanese. Despite their brevity-and the light dusting of fallen petals-these poems illustrate a powerful notion of dual-identity, and the internal struggle it inevitably fosters. At the southern end of the courtyard you’ll find a small podium that briefly describes Murase’s personal history, as well as nods to the US Government’s complicated relationship with its Japanese American citizens.
The genius of this plaza is how these educational features are not obtrusive.
There’s even an easy detour around the courtyard. If you’d rather have a simple, peaceful stroll amongst the cherry blossoms, breathing deep breaths of relief because the worst of winter is finally over, this is still the perfect place. Whether your goal is sight-seeing or mild cultural exploration (or both!), if you’re in Portland for the spring season, the Japanese American Historical Plaza is a must see!
By Kyra Boyle