WASHINGTON—Cherry blossoms symbolize the arrival of spring in Washington. A colder spring this year made the peak period for the cherry blossoms arrive two days late, according to the National Park Service. But the trees are still magnificent to behold and will be in bloom after the peak, which happened around April 3.
Every year beginning the last week of March, Washington celebrates Japan’s gift of the cherry blossom trees, symbol of the enduring friendship between the people of Japan and the United States. This year marks the 99th anniversary of the gift. The two-week-long festival officially runs from March 26 to April 10.
Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton attended the opening ceremony in the National Building Museum on March 26.
Fujisaki spoke of Japan’s tragedy: "Everything started on what I call 3/11—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident—and we are still struggling. This is a very tough fight, but the consolation is that people around the world are trying to be with us."
He said that Japan needs help, and the United States sent one of the first rescue teams and military support. He expressed his deep appreciation for the United States.
"Really, we need your assistance, and you're giving that to us," he said.
Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in Congress, said the flowers will be a reminder of Japan's resiliency.
"This year, the cherry blossoms will remind the world to stand for Japan," Norton said.
Gray said, “The Cherry Blossom Festival represents the deep friendship and kinship between the people in Japan and the people in the United States.” The mayor urged everyone who comes to the festival to keep the people in Japan in their prayers and thoughts.
The tradition began with a gift of trees from Japan in 1912. First lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of Japan's ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees near the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912. The Cherry Blossom Festival started in 1935, and has become an annual two-week, citywide event featuring more than 200 international cultural performances.No festival took place during World War II, but the custom was revived in 1947. In 1965, Japan sent another 3,800 cherry trees to Washington.