Today, Washington, DC celebrates the first day of Spring and the opening of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, commemorating the 100th anniversary of a gift of cherry trees that symbolized the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan.
Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival honors the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. More than a million people visit the U.S. capital during the blooming period to admire the blanket of pink blossoms gracing the trees planted alongside the Jefferson Memorial and National Mall.
In 1912, a batch of a thousand trees arrived in D.C. and the First Lady, Helen Taft, planted the first one along the Tidal Basin. These are the trees that now turn the Tidal Basin into a cloud of pink each spring for all to enjoy.
In 1915, America reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. A group of American school children reenacted the initial planting and other activities, effectively holding the first “festival” in 1927.
First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson accepted several thousand more trees in 1965 to replace some of the originals that had died. The tradition of friendship continued in 1981 when cuttings from the DC trees were flown back to Japan after a devastating flood destroyed cherry trees there.
A massive parade marks the modern-day festival — this year it is scheduled for April 14 and will be broadcast on TV nationwide for the first time and hosted by Katie Couric. Several weeks of events and cultural exhibits through April 27 herald the beginning of spring and the culture of Japan.
The Festival will present a public art display, featuring 25 cutting-edge temporary art works to enliven public spaces. The National Gallery of Art will exhibit a 30-scroll set of paintings never before seen in its entirety outside Japan. The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (of Asian art) features “Buddha’s Amazing Disciples” and 36 Views of Mount Fuji. National Geographic Museum’s Samurai: The Warrior Transformed focuses on the Samurai’s role as diplomat in the growing friendship between the US and Japan. A concert series presents award-winning, world-class Japanese artists performing at The Kennedy Center.
Both countries have created a commemorative stamp, with the United States Postal Service offering Cherry Blossom Centennial Forever stamp, which will be issued during Family Days at the National Building Museum on Saturday, March 24. Peter Max is the Official Artist of 2012, and a DC Cherry Blossom Festival design will be sold on a commemorative poster and other merchandise.
The Festival will plant over 1,000 cherry trees in the coming years to continue the circle of giving, as part of the Neighborhood Tree Planting Program.