WASHINGTON – In commemoration of the centennial of the arrival of Washington’s cherry trees, First Lady Michelle Obama reenacted the first cherry tree planting on Tuesday in a ceremony along the Potomac River.
“People from both of our nations worked together for years to bring these trees here to Washington,” said Obama, who is honorary chair of this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival. “And over the past century, people of all ages from the U.S. and Japan and so many other nations have come to this Tidal Basin each spring to marvel at their beauty. And year after year, even after the coldest, darkest, stormiest winters, these trees have continued to bloom.
“So on this historic anniversary, we don’t just admire the beauty of these trees, we also admire their resilience. And in so doing, we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience of the Japanese people. Over the past year, we have all witnessed their courage, unity and grace as they have come together and begun the very hard work of rebuilding their nation.”
Obama was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Japanese Ambasssador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and his wife Yoriko, and Diane Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Also in attendance were Fujiko Hara, granddaughter of Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki, who helped to arrange the donation of the cherry trees; William H. Taft IV, great-grandson of President William Howard Taft and his wife; and Floyd Mori, JACL national executive director.
On March 27, 1912, in a modest ceremony at the Tidal Basin, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees. In 1927, local citizens held the first celebration of these stunning trees, and today the National Cherry Blossom Festival typically draws more than a million visitors.
This year’s festival opened March 20 and continues through April 27.
Obama was joined by six children, who helped shovel dirt onto the five-year-old sapling. She urged the youth to continue the friendships embodied by the cherry trees.
“It will be up to them to carry these traditions forward so that one hundred years from now, their children and grandchildren will be able to come here to this very spot and see the tree that we will plant, full grown and in full bloom,” said Obama.
“And I hope that on that day, the First Lady – or the First Gentleman – of 2112 will also have the privilege of joining with our friends from Japan, and planting another tree which will bloom for yet another one hundred years and beyond.”
“The ceremony was a huge success, especially for the Asian American Pacific Islander kids that the JACL helped coordinate to participate in the event,” the JACL said in a statement. “Through this historic planting, these young kids continued the legacy of the cherry blossoms that represent an ever-growing friendship between Japan and the U.S.”