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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Honoring Culture and History at Torii Square Park

Honoring Culture and History at Torii Square Park

There is a place in Historic Westminster where design and history transport visitors to a world more than 5,800 miles away. Located just feet away from the intersection of 76th Ave. and Lowell Blvd., a unique gateway ushers guests into a sacred place of remembrance tucked within the busy corridor of Westminster’s oldest neighborhood. 

“Torii Square Park is a jewel box,” remarked Tomas Herrera-Mishler, Director of Westminster’s Parks, Recreation & Libraries Department (PRL). “We live in a complex and changing world, but this park landscape reflects a deeper connection to the natural world, and to ancient landscape design traditions.” The Mayor of Westminster and Consul General of Japan participate in a tree planting at Torii Square Park.

This spring, the City of Westminster continued its mission to honor the woman Torii Square Park was dedicated to in 1975. On May 16, Mayor Nancy McNally and the Consul-General of Japan, Yoichi Mikami, participated in the planting of a flowering Pink Flair Cherry tree, one of 14 that now line the perimeter of the park. The trees represent a place of renewal and the fleeting nature of life, a message deeply woven into the background and history of the park which was designed to serve as much more than just a play space when it was first conceptualized nearly 50 years ago. 

Plaque honoring Yuko Kishimoto in Torii Square ParkNearly a decade before Torii Square Park was dedicated, Westminster welcomed a new member to our community from Japan. Yuko Nakamura Kishimoto, a Japanese foreign exchange student, found her way to Westminster through the Westminster Rotary Club Exchange Student program. She attended Westminster High School from 1967 to 1968, having a profound impact during her short time here. Sadly, in 1974, Kishimoto suffered a stroke, and the 25-year-old passed away unexpectedly. As a plaque in the park honoring her life and contributions to Westminster reads, “[Yuko] came to America with dedicated gifts of love, intelligence and courage creating a bond for international understanding. Her untimely death is memorialized to remind us that sharing, as life itself, goes on forever.”  

Westminster Rotary Club and City of Westminster dedicate Torii Square Park in 1975.In 1975, the Westminster Rotary Club donated the funds to develop Torii Square Park in memory of Kishimoto. 

“I’m very sorry she passed away at such a young age,” said Consul-General Mikami. “For [Westminster] to keep the stories and memories of her alive with this beautiful park, it’s a wonderful thing.” 

To align with the theme of honoring prominent Westminster residents, a plaque in the park was also dedicated to Pleasant DeSpain, whose family owned the very first residential homestead in Westminster located just north of the park in 1870. 

“Honoring anyone who lives here, contributes, and touches hearts, that’s what this is about,” said Mayor McNally.  

Torii Square Park in Historic WestminsterThroughout the years, the City of Westminster has continued to uphold its promise to honor Kishimoto, and in 2013 the park was renovated to instill more of the exchange student’s Japanese culture and background into its features. One of the most eye-catching renovations was a large, red, gate-like structure that greets guests at the entrance. The structure is called a “torii” and is utilized in Japanese culture as a boundary between the sacred space of a shrine and ordinary space. With the addition of the newly planted Pink Flair Cherry trees throughout the park, the significance and symbolism that cherry blossom trees have in Japan comes to life. 

“They are beautiful and represent something great in Japanese culture” admired Consul-General Mikami. “They happen to bloom every year at the beginning of the Japanese school year so we are also celebrating kids starting a new year. They only bloom for a short time, so this gives us a sentimental feeling about the cherry trees.” 

Pink Flair Cherry tree planted at Torii Square ParkFor Westminster’s PRL Department, highlighting cultural diversity is imperative to creating an inclusive place where people from all walks of life can be respected and celebrated.  

“In a way, we are bringing the world to Westminster as Kishimoto brought her life experiences and cultural background to share as part of her cultural exchange experience,” said Herrera-Mishler. 

That theme is something residents can expect to see in the City’s first ever “Around the World Street Fair” to be held in August. The event will showcase various expressions of culture through live entertainment, unique crafts and culinary delights. 

“It’s about learning from one another, and I’m so thrilled we don’t just single out one group of people, but we bring all of us together, because there are so many recipes, cultures, heritages and traditions to learn about, and it’s wonderful,” said Mayor McNally. 

The City of Westminster is home to 62 parks, all of which can be located on our Find A Park webpage. To learn more about upcoming events, including the Around the World Street Fair, visit the City’s Special Events webpage

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