Volunteers are festival’s foundation

  • Waimea volunteer Kikuko Kibe has taught origami to visitors at the festival for more than 10 years. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    Waimea volunteer Kikuko Kibe has taught origami to visitors at the festival for more than 10 years. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • Kibe says that any kind of paper is fine to use to make origami figures as long as it’s square. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    Kibe says that any kind of paper is fine to use to make origami figures as long as it’s square. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • A variety of chefs do cooking demonstrations at Hongwanji Church during the Cherry Blossom Festival. This year, seven different chefs from along the Kohala Coast will participate, with tastings for the audience between 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (COURTESY PHOTO/WAIKOLOA RESORT)
    A variety of chefs do cooking demonstrations at Hongwanji Church during the Cherry Blossom Festival. This year, seven different chefs from along the Kohala Coast will participate, with tastings for the audience between 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (COURTESY PHOTO/WAIKOLOA RESORT)

WAIMEA — Much of the success of the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival can be attributed to its stalwart volunteers, many of whom return year after year to keep the event going.

Margo Harumi-Mau Bunnell has been involved since it began, serving as an emcee for the cooking demonstrations at Hongwanji Church. She says she keeps coming back because she wants to support her Waimea community. She also has a sentimental connection to the festival — her mother is from Japan and as a young girl, Bunnell used to go with her to visit Japan during cherry blossom season.

The real reason behind Bunnell’s dedication, however, might simply be that she finds it fun and loves to eat.

“The cooking demonstrations are the most delicious part of the festival,” she said. “Not only do the chefs love cooking for the people, they really enjoy teaching and showing their culinary styles. It’s a great way to get talented chefs out of the kitchen and interacting with their customers and fans.”

Seven different chefs will present demonstrations at this year’s festival, with tastings for the audience. The cooking demos will be on the half hour, between 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Hongwanji Church.

In order of appearance, participants include Chef Peter Abarcar Jr. from Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Chef Naoto Yamagishi from Sushi Shiono at Island Gourmet Markets, Duane Phui from Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, Owner and Chef Allen Hess from Mai Grille at Waikoloa Beach Golf Course, Chef Shane Torres from Sansei Seafood at the Queens’ Marketplace and Chef Jayson Kanekoa from the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Hotel.

Chef Kanekoa has travelled to the Tokyo Marriott twice in the summer for their Hawaii promotion and has become a well-known face for Hawaiian cuisine using Japanese products. He makes local favorites such as poke, lau lau and loco moco. On a reciprocal visit, Tokyo Marriott Executive Sous Chef Takashi Ogawa is now visiting Kanekoa. The two chefs will team up for a memorable demonstration at the festival beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Waimea resident Kikuko Kibe has been teaching origami to residents and visitors of all ages at the festival for more than 10 years. Or maybe 15. She’s not sure. And because, in her words, she is “very, very old,” working the entire day at the festival is taxing but a labor of love.

Kibe was born in Kobe, Japan, and in accordance with tradition, was taught the art of origami in her family home. Although not widely known then outside of Japan, it was taught verbally from generation to generation, often mother to daughter. Because nothing was ever written down, only the simplest designs were kept.

The art of origami became more widely known and popular when origami design books by Master Yoshizawa Akira were published in the 1950s. Exhibitions of his work, both in and outside of Japan, introduced origami to many people and led to the formation of various origami associations around the world.

Kibe stresses that while origami may seem complex, it is really not hard to learn. At the festival, she is especially pleased when a family sits down to try it and finds out how easy it is. She starts her students out with easy projects, such as a dog or cat, which take just 2-3 minutes to complete and says they’re so pleased when they’re finished.

“Their parents are pleased, too,” Kibe said. “Some say to their children, ‘See you did it. Now you practice origami at night instead of watching TV.’ ”

As the popularity and recognition of origami has increased, so has the perception that special, expensive origami paper is needed. But according to Kibe, that’s not true.

“Any kind of paper is fine,” she said, “as long as it’s square. It’s very important that it be square.”

Kibe moved to the U.S. when her husband took a job transfer, and has always lived in Waimea. So when her community features her homeland at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival, she is so happy to be there and to help out.

“It brings me so much happiness to get a smile from everyone who tries origami and sees how easy it is to make something,” she said. “It’s like sharing a little bit of my culture with the world.”

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