The National Cherry Blossom Festival is always a popular event, and its just starting to pick up momentum in the Washington D.C. area. The festival celebrates the March 27, 1912 gift of 3,020 from Mayor Ozaki Yukio to the city of Washington D.C. It was designed to highlight the growing relationship between the United States and Japan. Japanese relations with the United States were becoming increasingly important, and the gift was well received.
There were plenty of mishaps that occurred while setting up the gift, however. The fact that the trees were even planted is a great testament to the generosity of those who organized the gift. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore was publicly encouraging the planting of blossoming cherry trees along the Potomac River.
She was a member of the National Geographic Society board at the time, and continued to push the issue for over two decades. Some individuals brought trees over to the US at the time, but these efforts were quite small in comparison. David Fairchild bought 1,000 blossoming trees from the Yokohama Nursery Company and planted them on his land in Maryland in 1906. His family became quite prominent in the movement to plant trees in the area around the city.
Takamine Jokichi, who might be better known for discovering adrenaline, in part organized the original gift of 2,000 cherry trees. Sadly those 2,000 trees were infected with various pathogens and were burned in 1910. Takamine wasn’t fazed by this mishap, however, and worked with the Japanese ambassador to get another shipment.
The Awa Maru brought 3,020 trees into the Seattle harbor on February 14, 1912. They were shipped by train to the area and planted on March 27. The festival commemorating this event now attracts over 700,000 people who want to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blossoms.
While the initial gift featured twelve different verities of blossoms, two of these have proved particularly hardy. Kwanzan and Yoshino trees are everywhere. Small numbers of Akebono trees produce smaller pale blossoms that add a gentle aesthetic beauty to the scene. This aesthetic appearance isn’t necessarily the focus of modern celebrations, however.
These days the festival actually includes a number of events. It even runs through April 14. For most attendants, however, the blossoms themselves are the real attraction that keeps them coming back to see the natural show year after year. This event, like all hanami shows, is genuinely about natural splendor.