CAMP ZAMA, Japan (March 26, 2021) – Throughout the year, members of the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Roads and Grounds crew have a lot of admirers.
Whether it’s the meticulously groomed azalea bushes that bloom in May, the perfectly trimmed pine trees draped with lights in December, or the carefully tended Japanese camellia bushes that begin to bloom in February, the crew’s landscaping handiwork receives frequent compliments and appreciative comments.
The crew even knows when to leave vegetation alone, such as when the Red Spider Lilies spring up in the grass and bloom in September.
There is one time of the year in particular, however, when jaws drop in reaction to the beauty in their care, and that is during cherry blossom season, which is happening now.
“It’s the most beautiful time of the year to go out and see things,” said Larry Allar, chief of the Buildings and Grounds Branch of the Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Japan. “Not only here at Camp Zama, [but] everywhere. All over. It’s what Japan is known for.”
There are about 1,000 cherry blossom trees on Camp Zama, about 250 at Sagamihara Family Housing Area, and about 450 at Sagami General Depot, Allar said.
The 11-man crew that cares for the trees, all of them local national employees, mostly trims them back when necessary to make sure branches don’t reach into roadways, Allar said.
“For the most part, we just like to let [the cherry blossom trees] grow,” Allar said.
Also, since the life span for most cherry blossom trees is about that of a human, the crew removes the trees when they show signs of advanced age and replaces them with new trees, Allar said.
The oldest trees in the Camp Zama footprint are about 80 or 90 years old, Allar said.
For the past two years, the crew has planted 15 trees each year, but it usually takes about five years for them to take off and start blooming, Allar said.
It is important to remove the trees when they begin to die because they are unsafe, Allar said.
Members of the crew can determine when a tree is beginning to die when a fungus called Polyporaceae, which many call “monkey’s chair,” in English or “saru-no-kishikake” in Japanese, grows on the tree, Allar said.
“When they start developing [monkey chairs], it’s because the inside of the tree is beginning to rot,” Allar said. “So when you see the trees with a lot of the monkey chairs on them, those trees are coming to the end [of their lives].”
Most of the trees in the Camp Zama footprint are “Somei yoshino” cherry blossom trees, Allar said, but the three installations are also home to six other varieties that include “Oshima,” “Edohigan,” “Sato,” “Mame,” “Yama” and “Kan” cherry blossom trees.
In addition to caring for the trees and other vegetation, the crew also cleans up the installations after typhoons, Allar said. Those efforts include removing downed trees and clearing widespread debris.
They also take care of road repairs, remove snow and salt the roads in certain places during icy weather, Allar said.
Tomoya Osawa, a member of the Roads and Grounds team for about a year, said he enjoys his job because he gets to work outside.
Most of the work on the cherry blossom trees takes place in July and August, Osawa said, so the trees look beautiful when they bloom the following year.
“They are pretty,” Osawa said of the trees in bloom. “All season they are beautiful.”
In the past two years, at least four people have taken note of the crew’s work and filled out Interactive Customer Evaluations. Two comments praised the team in March 2020 for planting trees.
“Thanks again for planting more trees on Camp Zama—the first buds are starting to open on one of the cherry trees planted behind the [Camp Zama Exchange], across the street from Building 533,” read one comment. “‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.’ Perhaps old men didn’t plant these trees, but given the age of our [local national] workforce and the five-year rule, it’s safe to say those who did this won’t sit in the shade of these trees … unless back visiting after retirement.”