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Cherry Blossom Trees

2012 marks the centennial of the gift of cherry blossom trees from the people of Japan to the people of the United States.  Planted in Washington, D.C. in 1912, these cherry blossom trees have become a symbol of the warm relations between our nations.

Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, an American writer, photographer and geographer - who became the first female board member for National Geographic Society- returned from her first visit to Japan with a proposal to plant cherry trees along the Potomac waterfront.

In 1909, she sent a note introducing the idea to First Lady, Helen Herron Taft. Having lived in Japan, Mrs. Taft knew the beauty of the flowering cherry trees and replied to Mrs. Scidmore with appreciation.

When he learned of Mrs. Scidmore’s proposal, Dr. Jokichi Takamine - the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline - offered to donate 2,000 cherry trees, and the First Lady accepted the donation with gratitude. Meanwhile, the Consul General of Japan in New York Mr. Mizuno advised that the trees be presented in the name of the City of Tokyo.

A year later, two thousand trees were delivered to Washington, D.C, but upon inspection by the Department of Agriculture the trees were found to be infested with insects and nematodes, and were destroyed.

The Mayor of Tokyo and others proposed to send a second donation of trees. With an endorsement from Tokyo City Council, they increased the number of trees from 2,000 to 3,020. The second shipment of cherry trees arrived in Seattle from Yokohama in good health and was transferred to Washington D.C., in February 1912.

On March 27, First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin.  Washington's renowned cherry blossom celebration began with this simple ceremony, attended by only a few people. These two original trees still stand today, located several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial with a bronze plaque which commemorates the occasion.

In 1927, the first "Cherry Blossom Festival" was held in in our nation’s capital and has become an annual event, cherished by many Americans.

Forty years after Japan’s gift to the U.S., the cherry trees in Tokyo’s Goshiki Zutsumi Park were on the verge of extinction due to urban development. Some of the trees donated to Washington in 1912 were descended from those in this same park, so cuttings from the American trees were sent to Japan and planted there. Thanks to those transplants, beautiful flowers that descended from the park’s original trees still bloom in Tokyo.

The Government of Japan presented a third gift of cherry blossom trees in 1965. Many of these 3,800 trees which were presented to Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, were planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

For the 50th anniversary of Tokyo’s governmental organization system, the city undertook a project to bring cuttings from Washington’s cherries back to Japan.  An important contribution to the project was First Lady Nancy Reagan’s 1982 donation of cuttings grown from the “Taft Cherry Tree” which had been planted by President Taft’s wife in 1912. The Reagan trees now flourish in Tokyo’s parks.

October 20, 2012, we commemorate 100 years of friendship between the people of Japan and the U.S., which was bridged by the gift of cherry blossom trees from Japan. And, we celebrate the Sister City friendship that Tacoma has had with Kitakyushu Japan since 1959. The citizens of Tacoma, and millions of annual visitors who enjoy Point Defiance Park and its gardens, thank the Consul General of Japan - the Honorable Kiyokazu Ota, and the people of Japan for a special gift of trees which will be planted here in the Japanese Garden in commemoration of this extraordinary shared history between our nations.