National Cherry Blossom Festival – Zenbei Sakura Matsuri

March 30, 2015

The National Cherry Blossom Festival called Zenbei Sakura Matsuri is a spring celebration in Washington D.C. commemorating the gift of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to Washington on March 27, 1912. The planting of the Cherry Blossom trees took the coordination of many people. The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910 but this did not stop them. Coordination between Dr. Takimine, Dr. Fairchild, Eliza Scidmore and First Lady Helen Herron Taft ensured the successful arrival of 3,000 trees in Washington in 1912. On March 27, 1912 the First Lady Helen Terron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two trees from Japan in a simple ceremony. These two original trees are still standing today near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. Workmen planted the remainder of the trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. This began a cycle of gift giving between the two great nations, and it included the gift of flowering dogwoods from the United States to the people of Japan in 1915. Japanese horticulturists received cuttings from the Washington, DC cherry trees to replace trees that had been lost in a flood in 1981.

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Since Helen Taft all recent first ladies have served as honorary chair of the festival and many have been directly involved in the Cherry Blossom Festival and its activities. In 1965 Lady Bird Johnson known for her beautification work in the district accepted 3,800 Yoshino trees from the Japanese government and reenacted the original planting. Currenly there are approximately 3,750 cherry trees on the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC with most species are Yoshino Cherry. Other species include Kwanzan Cherry, Akebono Cherry, Takesimensis Cherry, Usuzumi Cherry, Weeping Japanese Cherry, Sargent Cherry, Autumn Flowering Cherry, Fugenzo Cherry, Afterglow Cherry, Shirofugen Cherry and Okame Cherry.

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Every year the date of the cherry blossoms peak blooming season changes, the average peak bloom date when 70% of the flowers of the cherry blossom trees are open is April 4 and this year the peak bloom range is predicted between April 11-14. The entire blooming period can last up to 4 days which include the days leading up to the peak. The most popular place to visit the cherry bloom trees during the National Cherry Blossom Festival is at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  The majority of blossoms are located near the Tidal Basin and along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point. Meanwhile, small clusters of trees can be found along the National Mall, just northwest of the Lincoln Memorial and around the Washington Monument.

As can be expected more people visit the cherry blossoms on weekend and when the blooms are peaking and the least busy time to visit the cherry blossoms is in the early morning or early evening but whatever time and day you visit, it is a time well spent.

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