The big excitement in Washington DC these days, as the “sequester” talk fades, is the annual display put on by the two thousand or so cherry trees given to the United States by Japan a century ago. Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo sent a gift of 3,020 trees, which were planted in both New York and Washington. In a little-known side note, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan in 1915. Only about 100 of the original trees from 1912 survive (cherry trees are relatively short-lived), but as they die the Park Service replaces them, so each spring the Tidal Basin is completely surrounded by an immense number of flowering Prunus Serrulata (ornamental Japanese Cherry) trees.
In our annual attempt to be tourists in our own city, Heather packed a lunch of curry chicken salad (with grapes, celery, mango, and cashews – wow!) and we drove to West Potomac Park, which sits roughly between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. I “embraced local knowledge” (inside joke) and got a parking spot very close to the Jefferson Memorial, under the outbound span of the 14th street bridge. From there we ate lunch on the memorial steps, and spent a few hours in the beautiful warm weather wandering the park with a few of the 1.5 million annual visitors to the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Japanese started the picnic-with-the-cherry-blossoms tradition over 1,200 years ago, with the Hanami (picnicking under a blooming cherry tree), so our outing wasn’t really an original idea. The custom originated with the Imperial Court of the Heian Period (794–1185), and then spread to Samurai society, and eventually to the common folk during the Edo Period (roughly the 17th through mid 19th centuries). The rapid bloom and quick death of the cherry blossom carries deep symbolism in Japan, and citizens track the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) as it moves northward through the islands.
One amusing tidbit, we found a Park Service informational sign that gave a brief history of the cherry trees, the festival, and the cherry blossom traditions in Japan. The sign contained this sentence; “After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, relations between the countries deteriorated.” I guess “deteriorated” is one way to put it when talking about a state of total, all-out war.
While we were enjoying shirt-sleeve weather, the northern half of the USA was enduring blizzard conditions (west) and soaking rain (east). I feel somewhat entitled to gloat, because for the past four months we’ve brought snow with us wherever we went, so I’m happy to finally shed the winter clothes and re-acquaint myself with warmth and humidity.
Without any more rambling, some photos: