Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cherry Blossom Festival Time in Washington DC

It's cherry blossom time in Washington D.C. Our family has a special affinity for this time of year in Washington DC because a member of our family was a Cherry Blossom Princess, representing Oregon, a few years ago and we all attended some of the festivities.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual celebration in Washington, D.C., from March 31st through April 15th, commemorating the March 27, 1912, gift to the city of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo. Mayor Ozaki donated the trees in an effort to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan and also celebrate the continued close relationship between the two peoples.

In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two of these trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. By 1915 the United States government had responded with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1927, a group of American school children reenacted the initial planting; the first festival was held in 1935, sponsored by civic groups in the nation's capital.

Three thousand, eight hundred more trees were accepted in 1965 by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. In 1981 the cycle of giving came full circle. Japanese horticulturalists came to take cuttings from our trees to replace Yoshino cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed in a flood. With this return gift, the trees again fulfilled their roles as a symbol and agent of friendship. The most recent event in this cycle occurred in the fall of 1999. It involved the formal planting in the Tidal Basin of a new generation of cuttings from a famous Japanese cherry tree in Gifu province reputed to be over 1500 years old.

In 1994 the Festival was expanded to two weeks to accommodate the many activities that happen during the trees blooming. Today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is coordinated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc., an umbrella organization consisting of representatives of business, civic and governmental organizations. More than 700,000 people visit Washington each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees that herald the beginning of spring in the nation's capital.

The famous trees signal the coming of spring with an explosion of life and color surrounding the Tidal Basin portion of the West Potomac Park in a sea of pale pink and white. The two-week festival is kicked off with an opening ceremony, followed by a dizzying array of activities and cultural events. Every day there is a sushi/sake celebration, classes about cherry blossoms, and a bike tour of the Tidal Basin. Art exhibits figure heavily during this time, such as photography (both local and Asian), sculpture, animation, and various cultural performances throughout Washington, D.C. Rakugo, kimono fashion shows, art exhibits, dance, singing, martial arts, merchant-sponsored events, and much more can be seen during this time.

The Cherry Blossom Princess Program is sponsored by the National Conference of State Societies on behalf of individual member state societies. Every year since 1948, state societies have selected students as princesses to represent their states in the festival.

Princesses perform a variety of public relations and diplomatic duties during the week which are an integral part of the overall educational and goodwill mission of the festival. The Cherry Blossom Queen, who is selected by a random spin of a wheel of fortune, and the first runner-up may be asked to represent the National Conference of State Societies at other events during their year-long reign. Every year since 1973, the queen has been invited to visit Japan by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association.
Labels: History, Life