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History of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

History of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

By: Ayako Ishigaki

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Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

In addition to the blossoms, there are various activities, events, and performances that are held during the festival, which takes place between mid-March and mid-April. Hundreds and thousands of people visit D.C. each year to enjoy the cherry blossoms, partake in the many events, and soak up the festive atmosphere.

A Token of Friendship

The festival is not only a popular springtime event, but also a symbolic anniversary that marks the enduring friendship between the U.S. and Japan. The festival commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees from the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, to Washington, D.C.

The first few attempts to export Japanese cherry blossoms to the U.S. prior to this did not go so well; thousands of seeds were sent to the U.S. by an American physician living in Japan, William S. Bigelow, and botanist Charles S. Sargent, as well as by David Fairchild, an official in the U.S. Agriculture Department. Unfortunately, none of these survived.

This led to the batch of 3,000 trees sent by Mayor Ozaki in 1912, which arrived in D.C. healthy and strong. In a simple ceremony on March 27 that year, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the U.S., planted the first two trees in West Potomac Park.

In 1915, the U.S. reciprocated by sending a gift of flowering dogwood trees to Japan. The first cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C., took place in 1935, marking a lasting friendship between the two countries, despite two world wars and changing global politics.

Decades later, Washington, D.C., continues to hold the festival, and the festival itself has grown into one of D.C.’s most popular springtime event.

It has evolved from a modest celebration and expanded into several weeks of diverse events that feature not only the cherry blossoms, but also Japanese culture and the strong alliance of friendship between the U.S. and Japan.

The entire city has grown to get involved in the festival as well. Many hotels offer special themed packages, of which some include cherry blossom-inspired cocktails, meals, and more. Many restaurants also get in the spirit to offer cherry blossom- and spring-themed meals and beverages. This festival is perfect for anyone and everyone, from families with small kids to couples and tourists.

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