The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place during the last week of March and the first week of April in Washington, DC. It commemorates the gift of the Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to the city of Washington on March 27, 1912. Mayor Ozaki donated the trees to strengthen the growing friendship between the United States and Japan.
This history of ornamental cherry trees in Washington D.C. has a deeper history. In 1885, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore suggested planting the trees along the Potomac River, but her idea was rejected. Tree were brought to the area by many individuals during this period. In 1906, David Fairchild imported 1000 cherry trees from Japan and planted them on his property in Maryland. They grew well. Fairchild promoted the idea of planting the trees in the DC area. In 1908, he donated a sapling to every DC school to plant on Arbor Day.
In 1909, Scidmore raised money to buy trees and donate them. First Lady Helen Herron Taft suggested planting “an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road”. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline, happened to be in DC at the time and heard about the plan offered Mrs. Taft 2000 trees. She accepted.
The same year the Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds purchased ninety trees and planted them along the Potomac River (from the Lincoln Memorial south toward East Potomac Park). It was discovered afterwards the trees were of the cultivar Shirofugen, rather than the ordered Fugenzo. These trees largely disappeared by the 21st century.
On August 30, 1909, the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. offered a donation of 2000 cherry trees to the United States to be planted along the Potomac. The trees arrived in D.C. on January 6, 1910. Unfortunately, the trees were infested with insects and nematodes and had to be destroyed to protect local crops. Secretary of State Philander C. Knox wrote a letter of regret to the Japanese Ambassador. Takamine responded by donating 3020 trees with a lineage from a famous group of trees along the Arakawa River in Tokyo and grafted onto stock from Itami, Hyogo Prefecture. These trees arrived on March 26.
In 1915, the United States government gifted flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.
In 1934, the District of Columbia Commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration of the flowering cherry trees. In 1935, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held under joint sponsorship of numerous civic groups, and became an annual event. In 1994, the Festival was expanded to two weeks to accommodate a variety of activities to take place while the trees are in bloom.
Events and activities include a Family Day (to start off the festival), a Blossom Kite Festival, sushi and sake celebrations, classes about cherry blossoms, bike tours of the Tidal Basin, art exhibits, cultural performances, kimono fashion shows, Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run, and fireworks.