Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.
It took the coordination of many to ensure the arrival of the cherry trees. A first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but did not deter the parties. Between the governments of the two countries, coordination by Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a world-famous chemist and the founder of Sankyo Co., Ltd. (today know as Daiichi Sankyo), Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eliza Scidmore, first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and First Lady Helen Herron Taft, more than 3,000 trees arrived in Washington in 1912. 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 trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.
Over the years, gifts have been exchanged between the two countries. In 1915, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle. Japanese horticulturists were given cuttings from the trees to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed in a flood.
Today’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown from modest beginnings into the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. In 2012, the Festival expanded to five weeks (from 16 days in recent previous years) to provide a grand tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the gift of trees. Today, more than 1.5 million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and participate in diverse programming that heralds spring in the nation’s capital.
This year is the second latest peak bloom of the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. since 1992. It comes nearly a week later than the long-term average peak, April 4, and 11 days after the more recent average, March 31 (since 1992). It falls one day after last year’s peak bloom date, April 9. The blossoms’ bud development got off to a slow start thanks to cold March temperatures, about 4 degrees below average. But warm temperatures in the first 10 days of April, roughly 2 degrees above average, helped the buds gain some ground.