'Total violent assault': Vandal hacks down historic cherry blossom trees in San Francisco's Japantown

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "No cherry blossoms to bloom this year," mourned the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California on social media Wednesday.

The organization shared photos of two cherry blossom trees outside its San Francisco office, hacked down to just their trunks.

"To me, it looked like a total violent assault on those trees," said Paul Osaki, executive director of the community center.

The surveillance video confirmed Osaki's suspicions that this wasn't just an accident. The damage to the trees was done over the course of three days, he said, starting on New Year's Day. Every night, the vandal came back to break down the tree even further. The JCCCNC didn't notice the damage until they came back to work after the holiday weekend on Monday.

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"This was not simply a passerby trying to break a branch off for fun. Someone took their time breaking off every branch," Osaki said.

Breaking them down wouldn't have been easy, either. The taller tree was originally 15 feet tall and some of the branches were several inches thick.

The trees date back to 1994, when they were planted to commemorate the visit of the emperor and empress of Japan to San Francisco.

"They weren't regular street trees to us," he added. "We planted them with intent, purpose and culture in mind."

A third tree was vandalized in a similar way two years ago. Osaki says the city still hasn't done anything to fix that one, but his group is filing a police report. He believes the vandalism should be investigated as a hate crime.

"They had personal meaning to us, so seeing them so violently destroyed, we took it internally as it reflected on our cultural heritage," Osaki said.

He hopes this time the city will act to help replace the damaged trees. When they're cut down this badly, the trees don't really have a chance to recuperate on their own, Osaki said.

"It becomes a stick that's just sticking out of the ground," he said.

Osaki said the community center will hand over surveillance footage to the police.
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