Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship
Art and Documentation: Watercolors of the Original Sakura
On March 27, 1912, Mrs. Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of Japanese Ambassador Sutemi Chinda, planted the first two trees along the north bank of the Potomac.
The Library preserves eleven exquisitely-rendered watercolor drawings that represent a link between those cherry trees sent to Washington and their Japanese antecedents. Each drawing documents a different variety of cherry blossom from the famous trees growing along Tokyo’s Arakawa River. The drawings were acquired from Walter Tennyson Swingle, a Department of Agriculture botanist who collected thousands of Chinese and Japanese books for the Library between 1913 and 1937. His initials appear on this typescript memorandum that notes that the Arakawa trees were the source of buds selected for the ultimate gift to Washington.
Letter from Yei Theodora Ozaki to Mrs. William Howard Taft
As Washington’s sakura trees were en route from Japan, Tokyo Mayoress Yei Theodora Ozaki wrote to U.S. First Lady Helen “Nellie” Taft: “…my husband shipped off 3,000 cherry trees which he hopes will form an avenue in Washington as a memorial of national friendship between the U.S. and Japan.”
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Memorandum of Walter Tennyson Swingle
A typescript memorandum recounts Swingle’s later visit with sakura expert Seisaku Funatsu (referred to as Funazu), who was part of a team of experts tasked with selecting and growing the buds that were shipped to the U.S. in 1912. Funatsu commissioned the drawings from a “capable” artist, possibly Kōkichi Tsunoi (fl. 1892–1921).
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Seisaku Funatsu and Walter Tennyson Swingle in Tokyo
A photograph, taken during Swingle's visit to Japan in 1918, shows Swingle (second from left) and Funatsu (center) together.
Unknown photographer. Seisaku Funatsu and Walter Tennyson Swingle in Tokyo. Digital photograph from the facsimile copy of Kōhoku Ōfu (an album of cherry blossom trees in the Kōhoku region that documented the 57 sakura varieties planted along the Arakawa River bank), originally produced by Seisaku Funatsu, 1918. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library (001.01.00)
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