Cherry Blossoms and Botanical Diplomacy

Yesterday, I took a walk near the tidal basin to enjoy the sight of the blooming cherry blossoms. The history of the trees reminded me of this week’s readings about Japanese soft power and public diplomacy. Not only does the blossoming represent the start of spring in DC, but also the lasting relationship between Japan and the United States.

Cherry Blossoms in DCThis diplomatic initiative began before the first trees were planted. Through much opposition and several setbacks, the initiative began to bloom. Over 100 years ago, in March 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gifted the United States capitol a thousand Japanese cherry trees, where they remain today. A sign along the tidal basin path describes the goodwill nature of both countries. Forty years after the first trees were planted, the U.S. shipped budwood back to Japan to help restore the original cherry blossom grove. Japan shipped more trees back shortly after to help expand the capital’s current trees.

Every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place to foster “a growing understanding and appreciation of each nation’s culture.” Japanese and American artists present their work and perform for the festival. Tourists from around the world come to DC to visit these iconic trees and partake in the celebrations. Its success blends Japanese culture with American history and the joint public diplomacy is truly inspiring.

Also, through my research, I came across a neat NPR interview regarding the DC cherry blossoms, if anyone is interested: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/26/149394945/cherry-blossoms-as-botanical-diplomacy 

4 thoughts on “Cherry Blossoms and Botanical Diplomacy”

  1. This is a great blog post about one of the longest standing symbols of Japanese public diplomacy in the United States! I was lucky enough this year to attend the opening ceremony of the Cherry Blossom festival a few weekends ago. There was a charming, short speech given by the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. , Kenichiro Sasae, and then an amazingly diverse selection of musical performances by Japanese artists, bookended by performers from the DC area (including the very impressive Howard University Step Team). I was impressed by the quality and range of all the artists, including a pop singer reinterpreting traditional Okinawan festival songs, a jazz quintet of Japanese graduates of Berklee college of music in Boston, and a phenomenal young Japanese tenor currently studying at Juilliard. I was also struck by the impression that while the Cherry Blossoms might be seen as a symbol of Japanese-American relations, the Festival itself is very much an example of “city diplomacy”. This was exemplified in a speech by current Mayor Vincent Grey, who emphasized the chance that the festival gave international tourists to discover everything that DC had to offer, beyond its famous monuments. Whether or not those sorts of initiatives have worked and have helped to brand DC as more than just its “federal” monuments, remains to be proved.

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