Washington celebrates 110 years of cherry blossoms in a festival not only marking the beginning of spring but also commemorating the birth of an international tourist destination and marking the ties between the United States and Japan.
Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws more than 1.5 million admirers of the fluffy pink trees. Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted about 3,000 of them to the nation’s capital in 1912. His act of kindness is still celebrated more than a century later.
“This year, more than ever, you really understand why the festival is so important,” said festival President Diana Mayhew. “We recognize that it’s more than just a festival. It’s about spring and renewal and a sense of new beginnings.”
Tourists and photographers flock to the Tidal Basin, where the trees were first planted in 1912. Later in 1965, the Japanese government gifted 3,800 trees to first lady Lady Bird Johnson, and many of which were planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Awaiting the cherry blossoms is a long-held Japanese tradition. The delicate blooms symbolize the beginning of spring and last about one week, reflecting the Japanese belief that they embody the fleeting nature of life and a time of renewal.
Cherry blossom season is considered at its peak when 70% of the flowers around the Tidal Basin are open, according to the National Park Service. This year, the peak arrived about 10 days early, on March 21.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival also marks Washington’s unofficial reemergence from two years of COVID-19 restrictions, which prevented large gatherings and crowds.
During a recent event announcing this year’s plans, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said, “We want D.C. to be the face of spring for the nation. Let me say, without equivocation, that D.C. is open!”
The festival includes a parade, live music, art installations, kite flying, cultural events, fireworks, a Washington Wizards basketball game, pet- and family-friendly activities, food and liquor sampling, and river cruises.
The Japanese government often exchanges about 90 old trees for new ones every year and continues to be involved in the festival.