Japan’s cherry blossom trees are coveted worldwide and many tourists flock to the country to witness these magnificent blooms first hand. But for those that are unable to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season you need only travel as far as Washington D.C. to enjoy the same sakura trees found in Japan.
In March of 1912, 3,020 cherry trees arrived in Washington D.C. from Tokyo. These trees were replacements for the 2,000 cherry trees that were sent to Washington in January of 1910 which had fallen victim to disease during the journey. The original trees were a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki as a gesture to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan. The first two trees from the 3,020 were planted along the Potomac River in a formal ceremony with first lady, Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. The remainder of the trees were planted along the river basin, in East Potomac Park and on the grounds of the White House.
The trees became so popular with visitors to Washington that a three-day celebration was held in 1934 which eventually grew into the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival (全米桜祭り Zenbei Sakura Matsuri). After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, the festival was suspended and remained suspended for the duration of World War II. It was resumed in 1947 and today attracts more than 700,000 visitors to Washington each year during late March. In 1994, the festival was expanded to two weeks to accommodate the many activities in the area that correspond to the blooming of the cherry trees.
The two week festival begins on the last Saturday in March with a Family Day and an official opening ceremony in the National Building Museum. Other activities include The Blossom Kite Festival, a sushi and sake celebration, a parade, art exhibits, cultural performances, rakugo (a 400-year-old tradition of comic storytelling in Japan), kimono fashion shows, martial arts demonstrations and various merchant-sponsored events. A fireworks show on the nearby Washington Channel marks the end of the festival.
It is interesting to note that after World War II, cuttings from Washington’s cherry trees were sent back to Japan to restore the Tokyo collection that was decimated by American bombing attacks during the war.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
Web page: http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/
NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
HEADQUARTERS: 50 Massachusetts Avenue, NE