Washington, DC’s stunning cherry trees, a gift from Japan, a cherished symbol of renewal that bloom spectacularly each spring, were planted by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and other dignitaries on this day in history, March 27, 1912.
“The flowers are officially in full bloom!” The National Cherry Blossom Festival made a splash in an online announcement Thursday, marking what was expected to be the spirit of the spring tourist season in the nation’s capital.
The opening ceremonies of the annual festival, which runs until April 16 this year, were held on Saturday.
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The original shipment of 3,020 cherry trees, representing 12 different varieties of flowering fruit trees, arrived in Washington, DC on March 26, 1912 – a living symbol of the goodwill of the people of Tokyo, presented by Mayor Yukio Ozaki.
Officials wasted no time in planting the next day in a place of national prominence around the Tidal Basin.
Cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument are seen on April 10, 2014, on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The first cherry trees were ceremoniously planted by First Lady Helen Taft and Japanese Viscountess Iwa Chinda on March 27, 1912. More than 3,000 trees were planted. Through the modern National Mall and Memorial Park Yokohama, Japan, to Washington as a gift. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images)
Mayor Ozaki was accompanied by authorities from both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
“The First Lady and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, a location now commemorated by a simple bronze plaque in Japan’s Stone Lantern Plaza,” according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
“Cherry blossoms, known as sakura in Japan, are known the world over for their radiant, delicate and fleeting beauty.” — Japan National Tourism Organization
The effort to beautify Washington, DC, with cherry trees was Eliza Ruhaham Scidmore, a journalist, photographer and connoisseur of Asian cultures.
Among other claims to fame, she was the first woman to serve on the board of directors of the National Geographic Society.
Mrs. William Howard Taft in evening dress. She was first lady from 1909 to 1913. (Getty Images)
“Cherry blossoms, known as sakura in Japan, are known around the world for their bright, delicate and ephemeral beauty,” reports the Japan National Tourism Organization.
“However, they are more than just beautiful trees, as sakura have strong ties to Japanese history, culture and identity.”
According to the US National Park Service, “For more than 100 years (the US and Japan) have been celebrating cherry blossoms in solidarity.”
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The two nations had strong relations in the 20th century.
The United States, among other examples of the state of the relationship, aided Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. American shipyards built warships for Japan during the conflict.
The Taft-Katsura Agreement was negotiated after the war between then Secretary of War William H. Taft and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Katsura. It was a statement of joint interests in the Pacific Ocean.
Two people pose for a photographer under Japanese cherry blossoms on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Washington, DC. The people of Washington in 1912. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
The solidarity symbolized by the cherry trees planted a few years after the agreement, during the Taft administration, was violently broken by Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
More than 2,400 Americans died in the brutal attack.
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Cherry trees in Washington, DC became an obvious target of America’s rage as it entered World War II.
“On the night of December 10, 1941, an unknown number of vandals cut down four trees on the west side of the basin,” the National Park Service said.
“The US and Japan gradually became friends again, and today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is an important event of the year.” – National Park Service
“Two of the trees were original specimens from 1912. One tree was also marked ‘To hell with the Japanese’.”
The Cherry Blossom Festival was canceled from 1942 to 1947, while Washington DC became the brain center of the Allied war effort.
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The National Park Service adds, “Many people balked at naming the cherry trees ‘Oriental’. Customers complained that stores carried Japanese merchandise. The Freer Gallery of Art hid all of its Japanese artwork.”
Tokyo, which 33 years earlier supplied the United States with the now contaminated cherry trees, was destroyed by US forces in a massive bombing raid in early March 1945.
Tania Cai of Arlington, Virginia, poses for a photographer under Japanese cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
The ensuing firestorm killed 100,000 people and was the deadliest bombing of World War II, with more casualties than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Washington DC’s beautiful cherry trees once again became a symbol of international unity, hope for peace and a shared love of natural beauty after the war, as nations worked to overcome the human tragedy of armed conflict.
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“After Japan’s defeat in 1945, the United States and Japan gradually became friends again, and today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is an important annual event,” the National Park Service wrote.
“There has been no more vandalism in the trees, except for the occasional beaver.”
Kerry J. Byrne is a lifestyle reporter for Fox News Digital.