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Sunday, May 13, 2012

100th Anniversary of Japan's Cherry Tree Gift To U.S.


Sorry... I forgot to write this up when it was happening...

Check out the photo above: That's U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (third from the right - or the coolest mama jamma doing all the dirty work) taking part in a 1912 Cherry Blossom tree planting re-enactment ceremony with Fujisaki Yoriko (the second from the right in the beautiful kimono) near the Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images).

This event marked the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. - a gift that was meant to symbolizing the friendship between the two countries.

Now... why did Japan make a gift of 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. back in 1912? Why do all of the current news stories say that the gift was for 3,000 cherry trees?

Let's take a look.

Back in 1885 after Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore returned to Washington after a trip to Japan, she asked the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds if perhaps one day some cherry trees could be planted along the Potomac waterfront.

She was shot down. But, over the next 24 years, she went to every single new superintendent to make the same request... but still, no luck.

You truly have to admire her stubborn determination.

By 1909, she tried to raise the money to buy some 90 cherry trees and then donate them to the city. She sent her idea via a letter to the new First Lady Helen Herron Taft (wife of President William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the U.S. between 1909–1913).

As luck would have it, the new First Lady had actually lived and toured in Japan back in 1899, and was familiar with the beauty of the flowering cherry trees. Two days later the first lady responded in a letter back to Scidmore.
The White House, Washington
April 7, 1909

Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part is still too rough to do any planting. Of course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.

Sincerely yours,
Helen H. Taft


A day later on April 8, 1909, Dr. Takamine Jokichi (surname first), the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline and takadiastase, was in Washington with Midzuno Kokichi (surname first),the Japanese consul in New York. When he was told that Washington was to have Japanese cherry trees planted along the Speedway, he asked whether First Lady Taft would accept a donation of an additional 2,000 trees to fill out the area. Midzuno agreed, but suggested the gift be given in the name of the City of Tokyo.

First Lady Taft agreed to accept a donation of 2,000 cherry trees.

But... there was a problem. After the trees from Japan landed in Seattle, Washington and were transported to Washington, DC, it was discovered on January 19, 1910, that the trees were infested with insects (something that is of a major concern nowadays in 2012!), so all 2,000 trees were destroyed upon the order of President Taft.

So... with a diplomatic problem in attendance, Japan tried to make amends with a gift from Tokyo Mayor Oazki Yukio (surname first).

On February 14, 1912, 3,020 cherry trees from 12 varieties were shipped from Yokohama, Japan aboard the S.S. Awa Maru, to Seattle. they were then shipped via insulated railway cars for the trip to Washington, DC.

On March 27, 1912, First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda who was married to the U.S. ambassador to Japan planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW.

So... did you know that the initial gift of cherry trees was made up of 12 different varieties? I had no idea there were 12 different varieties!

Nowadays, there are two dominate varieties still left: the Yoshino and Kwanzan.

The Yoshino cherry tree is the main tree that surrounds the Tidal Basin and spills north onto the Washington Monument grounds. The Yoshino trees produce a great profusion of single white blossoms that create the effect of white clouds banked around the basin. The Yoshino, known as Somei-yoshino in Japan, is a hybrid of unknown origin that first was introduced in Tokyo in 1872 and is now one of the more popular cultivated flowering cherries.

In this batch of trees, however, are a few Akebono cherry trees, which are a variation of the Yoshino. The Akebono variety has a single, pale pink blossom, and was introduced in 1920. The Akebono trees flower at the same time as the Yoshino - so when you see the area, there is a blanket of white cherry blossoms and a few pale pink blossoms - a nice melting blend of the two.

Now... right about this time (two weeks later than the ones above), another cherry tree goes into bloom. The Kwanzan cherry tree grows mostly in the East Potomac Park. The Kwanzan provides a heavy clustering of double clear pink blossoms.

Here is the official list of cherry trees (alphabetical order) that were shipped from Japan and planted in Washington DC:

Somei-Yoshino - 1,800
Ari ake - 100
Fugen-zo - 120
Fuku-roku-ju - 50
Gyo-i-ko - 20

Ichiyo - 160
Jo­nioi - 80
Kwanzan - 350
Mikuruma­gayeshi - 0
Shira-yuki - 130
Surugadai­nioi - 50
Taki­nioi - 140

Total = 3,020

So... as you can see, Japan did indeed present 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. back in 1912. So why does everyone say that there are only 3,000 cherry trees?

Well, it turn out that all 20 of the Gyo-i-ko cherry trees were planted on the grounds of the White House presidential grounds - and not with the other trees.

And now you know.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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