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Washington, DC Celebrates 110 Years of Cherry Blossoms in the City

A gift from Japan that has been cherished for over a century.

By:  |  April 1, 2022  |    783 Words
GettyImages-1386972111 Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

It’s spring again, and with the season comes the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. As a token of friendship, Japan gifted the United States 6,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees in 1912. As a result, the beautiful plants can be found in both DC and New York. Every year, around 1.5 million people head to the capital to view the beautiful trees in full bloom. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the planting.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival

The vivaciously colored blossoms represent the beginning of spring along with hope and renewal. The trees were planted in a circle surrounding the Tidal Basin, which is a is a man-made reservoir. The trees are in the company of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

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(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

In 1927, school children re-enacted the initial planting, holding the first unofficial “festival.” Later, civic groups helped expand the annual practice, and in 1935, the first official National Cherry Blossom Festival was held. It became a huge hit. Not only are these flowers a gorgeous sight to see, but the celebration includes art and cultural events.

The festival continued to grow over the years, and now it lasts for 16 days. It begins toward the end of March and continues into mid-April.

“We continue to ensure that we remember where this gift came from and the fact that it’s an example of peace and international friendship,” said president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Diana Mayhew.

The Gift

GettyImages-1239656115 cherry blossom

(Photo by Takahiro Yoshida/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Known as sakura in Japan, cherry blossom trees are a symbol of hope and renewal. However, they are only in full bloom for about one week before the final petals fall. The Japanese admire the short-lived blossoms as a symbol of the fleeting nature of life. During the brief flowering season, they hold flower-watching parties called hanami. It is a sacred time in Japan, and those in Washington, DC understand why.

In 1912, the Japanese gifted the US with 6,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees. It began with a writer for National Geographic named Eliza Scidmore, who visited Japan in 1885. She was in awe of the plant’s beauty and wished to see them in Washington, DC. So she began a campaign, writing to anyone she could until she got the attention of the first lady, Helen Louise Taft. Taft ordered the Army to plant some cherry blossom trees in Washington. But unfortunately, they could only get around 80 or 90 of the plants from Pennsylvania.

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Japanese performers play kotos, a Japanese musical instrument, during a the National Cherry Blossom Festival, 2004. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Japanese biochemist named Jokichi Takamine happened to be in Washington, and he agreed the trees were an excellent idea. Takamine asked the Mayor of Tokyo whether he would be willing to donate some as a gift. The mayor agreed, but when the plants arrived in 1909, a problem was discovered. They were found to be diseased and infested with insects and nematodes. Unfortunately, to protect the local ecosystem, the tress had to be burned. Only a few were kept for study.

Despite this setback, Japan agreed to replace the trees. Of the 6,000 gifted trees that arrived in 1912, 3,000 went to New York and the other 3,000 to Washington, DC.

Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, the Viscountess Chinda, planted two of the trees on the Tidal Basin’s northern bank. This marked the beginning of the American cherry blossom tradition. Since then, lots of cultural exchanges have taken place to celebrate this sign of friendship between the two countries.

The Relationship Between the US and Japan

Since the early 1950s, the United States and Japan have been allies. During World War II, Japan fought with the Axis Powers against the Allies. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US joined the Allies and sent soldiers to fight throughout the Pacific region. The Axis lost the war, and Japan surrendered after the US dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Following the end of the war in 1945, America occupied Japan for seven years, helping rebuild it into a new version of the country. Japan and the US began a strong friendship. The US-Japan Security Treaty was signed in 1960 and expanded in 2015. Today, the two nations work together on regional issues in Asia, economics, and trade.

The strong covenant between the US and Japan is represented every spring when the cherry blossom trees bloom in Washington, DC.

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