Washington, D.C., Wears Pink

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

As usual, every year for spring, the capital of the United States dresses in pink and white, thanks to more than 5.000 cherry trees scattered throughout the city and located mainly around the Tidal Basin, Hain’s Point and around the Washington Monument. What started as a gift has become Washington’s annual holiday and one of the world’s largest spring celebrations [1] .

On August 30, 1909 [2] , the City of Tokyo informed the United States Department of State that Japan would donate 2,000 cherry trees to be planted along the Potomac. The trees  arrived in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 1910. However, President Taft gave the order to burn them after the Department of Agriculture inspection team informed him that the trees were infested with insects and nematodes.

Consequently, on February 14, 1912 the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, sent new trees to symbolize the brevity and beauty of life, in an effort to increase the friendship and close relationship between the two countries. 3,020 cherry trees taken from a group of trees that grew along the Arakawa River in Tokyo and grafted onto Itami plants [3] arrived in the United States Capital on March 26 of the same year [4] .

On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basil in West Potomac Park. You can admire them at the end of 17th Street Southwest, in addition to a dozen others located near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Events around these trees have not stopped [5] .

Few details are known of the history around the Japanese gift. For example, the fundamental role of Prince Tokugawa in the initial gifts or their evolution until 1935, when with the company of civic groups, the first National Cherry Blossom Festival [6]  was established.

In 1910, Prince Tokugawa visited the United States Senate with the purpose of learning  the American legislative process, becoming familiar with the differences and similarities among the different world democracies, such as the United States, Great Britain, and his own nation, Japan, and to learn about the development of infrastructure in the United States. During the visit, he met with President William Howard Taft and several leaders of the Japanese community, including the Mayor of Tokyo, to promote the event, which would become one of the most important events in Washington D.C [7] .

Every year, for 3 weeks beginning in mid-March (20- 17 of April), the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held, coordinated by the organization “The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc.”, which brings together representatives of the country [8] ’s business, civic and governmental organizations.

It starts with an official opening ceremony and carries out a wide variety of events. Parades, art exhibitions, pink-themed dinners, open-air concerts, a kite festival and official ceremonies full of atmosphere and joy [9] , and the Petalpalooza Show [10] , a day-long event filled with art, music and games featuring multiple outdoor stages, interactive art installations, a veer garden, hands-on activities for the whole family, celebrated along the Anacostia River and culminating with a fireworks display.

The festival takes place during the peak of cherry blossom boom. The National Park Service is in charge of estimating the date of bloom, which occurs when the Yoshino Cherry blossoms are present on 70% of the total trees, producing unique white flowers creating a white cloud effect around the Tidal Basin and to the north of the grounds of the Washington Monument [11] .

The Akebono bloom at the same time as the Yoshino and produce individual pale pink flowers. Other trees such as the Kwanzan Cherry, which represents 12.6% of all cherry trees, produce clusters of light pink, double flowers that bloom two weeks after the Yoshino and grow mainly in East Potomac Park, and produce double white flowers that age to pink [12] .

The bloom date is one of the most important spectacles for Americans, and the Festival has become the most popular event in the region, attracting more than a million visitors and tourist, which is very valuable for local commerce. Restaurants, cultural organizations, various museums, hotels and businesses participate in different ways and their economic impact is very significant. According to Diana Mayhew, President of the National Cherry Blossom Festival: “Annually, the Festival attracts about 1.5 million people. It’s estimated from the visitors who attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival that they put in about $150 million worth of economic impact to this area [13] .”

Many activities can be carried out to enjoy such an important event. You have to remember that although the cherry blossoms are very close to the public, the members of the National Park Service monitor all the time that the trees conserve each of their blooms and the festival’s official mascot, a beaver, will remember the ban with a traffic sign: “don’t cut the flowers [14] ”.


 [1] https://www.doi.gov/blog/unique-ways-experience-dcs-cherry-blossoms

 [2] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/history-of-the-cherry-trees.htm

 [3] https://www.japan.travel/en/spot/329/

 [4] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japanese-cherry-trees-planted-along-the-potomac

 [5] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japanese-cherry-trees-planted-along-the-potomac

 [6] https://theemperorandthespy.com/2020/05/the-history-of-the-national-cherry-blossom-festival-and-prince-iyesato-tokugawas-pivotal-role-in-establishing-it/ 

 [7] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/history-of-the-cherry-trees.htm

 [8] https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/

 [9] https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/

 [10] https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/event/petalpalooza/

 [11] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/types-of-trees.htm

 [12] https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-08/documents/cherry-blossoms_documentation.pdf

 [13] https://cherryblossomwatch.com/climate-change-nps/

 [14] http://mallhistory.org/items/show/264

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