From Tokyo to D.C.

The Cherry Blossom Festival Celebrates 97 Years

Thousands of people arrived to the downtown Washington, D.C. area last Saturday March 28, for the kick-off of the two-week long annual Cherry Blossom Festival .

People traveled with their loved ones and friends to get a snapshot of the breathtaking scenery of over 3000 cherry trees pleasantly assorted around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.

“I come to the festival every year and each time I fall in love all over again with these trees,” said Caroline Hutchinson from Manassas, Va. “It’s like going away for a while and coming back for a family reunion.”

This year’s 2009 festival marks the 97th celebration of the original gift of the 3000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington, D.C. in 1912.

With its signature events which include an opening ceremony, a Smithsonian kite festival, a firework show, daily cultural performances, a parade and a host of other revels the festival strikes at the beginning of spring each year when the trees are at full bloom.

Chelsea Howeth traveled with her family from Chesterfield, Va. to experience the festival. “This is my first time coming to the Cherry Blossom Festival and I am amazed at how the trees are strategically located all the way around the Tidal Basin,” Howeth said.

The opening ceremony was held at the National Building Museum following the family activities of the morning. It was followed by cultural performances, which included The Washington School of Ballet. Throughout the remainder of the next two weeks many other performances are scheduled to take place opposite the steps of the Jefferson Memorial.

“It’s pretty cool to see some of the Japanese artists and see the difference between their style of music and ours in America,” New Yorker Richard Thomas said.

First Ladies have always played a pivotal role in the festival, dating back to 1912 when First Lady Helen Herron Taft helped plant the first Cherry Blossoms Trees. First Lady Michele Obama is serving as the 2009 Festival’s Honorary Chair.

“I am honored to continue the tradition dating back to First Lady Helen Taft that celebrates the beauty and history of this festival,” Obama said. “It means so much to me to have the first black First Lady serve as chair of the festival, and I get to be apart of the history,” Felicia Smith said. Smith is one of the many people who come to the festival every year.

The First Lady has expressed that she wants to get to know the local community and make it her home. There is no better opportunity to do this than during the festival that marks the beginning of spring in the nation’s capital. The Cherry Blossom Festival is not only about the immaculate display of trees. There is a rich history behind this yearly celebration.

In a ceremony held 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. This led to the eventual planting of over 3000 additional trees and the first ever festival, celebrating the fellowship between Japan and America, which took place in 1935.

Part of the festivities is getting to learn the history behind the Cherry Blossom Festival. There are events each day that deliver interesting information.

“When I learned the history behind the planting of the trees, I had no idea about the reason for all of these beautiful trees,” said Sandra Brown of Baltimore, Md.

The last event of festival is April 12, and should not be missed according to Park Ranger Susan Peters.

“The Cherry Blossom Festival is a great experience for people of any age, so come on down and enjoy yourself and have a great learning experience as well,” Peters said.