Over the last one-hundred years, Washington’s cherry blossoms have become widely emblematic of Japan, its people, and American appreciation of Japanese culture. Hybrid traditions evolved as visitors flocked to enjoy the glowing blossoms. In 1927, school children re-enacted planting the 1912 trees—a precursor to the first Cherry Blossom Festival in 1935 which, after suspension during World War II, became an annual event along with the crowning of a Cherry Blossom Queen and Princesses. Since their arrival in 1912, the sakura trees have been a renewable source of delight, bringing communities, families, and individuals together in annual celebration.

Joint Ventures

Published by the Osaka Mainichi Newspaper Co. and the Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper Co., this 1938 magazine gathers more than one hundred articles by renowned people inside and outside of Japan. Among the authors are Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe and Henry Walter Taft, brother of President William Howard Taft and president of the Japan Society. An illustration of the U.S. Capitol with cherry blossom trees gifted in 1912 is also featured in the magazine. Its sleekly-designed cover invokes global travel by air and sea, with Japanese and U.S. flags waving together—all beneath branches of delicate pink sakura (cherry blossoms). Both cover and content stress mutual collaboration, including opportunities for commercial cooperation.

Osaka Mainichi Shinbunsha and Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbunsha (The Osaka Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd and the Tokyo Nichinichi Newspapers Co., Ltd). Nihon to Beikoku: Tsūshō Shinzen Kankei no Zenbō (Trade and Friendship—A Complete Look at the US—Japan Relationship), 1938. Japanese Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress (015.00.00)

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Diplomacy and Friendship

Hiroshi Saitō, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. during the crucial pre-war years from 1934 to 1938, is remembered for his commitment to peace. In this 1934 speech, he describes a three-day “Cherry Blossom Festival” celebration, sponsored by the District of Columbia Commissioners. He also recalls the arrival of the blossoms in 1912 when his diplomatic career in Washington was just beginning. Saitō’s text concludes with a quote from The Present Crisis by poet John Russell Lowell (1819–1891): “For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along/Round the earth’s electric circle, the quick flash of right and wrong.” President Roosevelt expressed special gratitude for Saitō’s contributions, arranging for the U.S. Navy cruiser Astoria to return his ashes to Japan after his death in 1939.

Hiroshi Saitō (1886–1939). Cherry Blossoms, speech script for Columbia Broadcast, April 7, 1934. Page 1. Japanese Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)

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Bud and Blossom

This image comes from the Library’s archive of the National Photo Company which, as a daily service to its subscribers, documented virtually all aspects of Washington, D.C., life during the administrations of Presidents Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. A nearly identical photograph from a series taken the same day was captioned: “Japanese bud and Japanese blossom Sumi and Sada, little daughters of the second secretary of the Japanese Embassy and Madam Teijirō Tamura, photographed today among the blossoms of cherry trees which surround the Tidal Basin.”

National Photo Company. Sumi and Sada Tamura, March 28, 1925. Photograph from digital file of original glass negative. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (033.00.00)

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New Deal Cherry Blossom "King"

Here, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Clifford Berryman puts his own symbolic spin on Washington’s cherry blossoms. They provide a festive backdrop for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is depicted as royalty. Wearing an eagle, the symbol of the New Deal, atop a crown—he is attended by child-like figures labeled “House” and “Senate” while Congress members dance around his throne. Leading the parade is Mississippi senator Pat Harrison, followed by Speaker of the House Henry Thomas Rainey, Florida senator Duncan U. Fletcher, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Texas congressman John Wright Patman, and Washington state senator Clarence C. Dill. Arrayed in short Roman robes and playing horns, each one champions a cause including taxes, silver, the stock market, bonuses, and legislation.

Clifford Berryman (1869–1949). Cherry Blossom Time in Washington!, 1934. India ink over graphite. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)

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Nurturing Peace with War Approaching

As the 1912 trees became an established Washington landmark, they quickly came to represent life in the U.S. capital, as well as Japan and its people. In this editorial cartoon, Washington’s cherry blossoms are used as seasonal, place-based markers for America’s role on the world stage as World War II was heating up in April 1939. Political cartoonist Herbert Block (known as Herblock) shows an anxious President Roosevelt kneeling in front of robustly blossoming cherry trees while tending withering olive branches as fragile symbols of peace.

Herbert Block (1909–2001). April in Washington, 1939. Crayon, ink brush and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00)
A 1939 Herblock Cartoon, copyright by The Herb Block Foundation

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Wartime Blossom-Viewing

Suspension of the Cherry Blossom Festival during World War II did not deter this crowd from appreciating the Tidal Basin trees in March of 1945. A number of the visitors shown here are in military dress including the woman in the center front of the image who wears a U.S. Marine Corps uniform. Days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, four trees were cut down in suspected retaliation. In hopes of avoiding further damage, the trees were called “Oriental” cherries during the war. This photograph is part of a group produced by the U.S. National Capital Parks and acquired by the Library in 1950.

Large Crowd of Sightseers Viewing Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin, March 25, 1945. Gelatin silver photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)

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Vintage Postcard View of Tidal Basin

Washington’s iconic cherry blossoms have figured in countless picture postcards, including this classic example that captures a scenic spot beside the Tidal Basin. It follows a curving sweep of cherry trees along the Basin’s pathway to the distant Washington Monument and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Along with a colorful sunset sky, the view is shown reflected in the waters of the Potomac.

Washington Monument and the Cherry Blossoms at Sunset, Washington, D.C. Color halftone postcard. Cambridge, Mass.: Colourpicture Publication, between 1920 and 1960. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (025.00.00)

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Twenty-First century Sakura

In this contemporary view of the Tidal Basin blossoms, the Washington Monument obelisk soars between earth and sky. Photographer Carol M. Highsmith is documenting the cities, towns, and countryside of twenty-first century America, and the life of its people, then donating the images copyright-free to the Library of Congress to ensure worldwide access and preservation. Highsmith is a Maryland resident who credits pioneering D.C. photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864–1952) as a key influence on her work.

Carol M. Highsmith (b. 1946). Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., April 2, 2007. Digital photographic print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)

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Cherry Blossom Princess

Since 1948, American state and territory societies, as well as the international embassy community, have continued the tradition of selecting young women between the ages of nineteen and twenty-four to serve as Cherry Blossom Princesses. In 1974, when she was a college sophomore, Emily Howie was asked to serve as the representative Princess for the state of Georgia. Now a Library of Congress reference librarian, Howie took a week off from college to fulfill her duties and attend events such as a Japanese Embassy tea party, where she fondly recalls being presented with a beautiful beaded handbag by then Ambassador Takeshi Yasukawa. On display are Howie’s mementos from her time serving as Cherry Blossom Princess and in the court of previous Georgia princesses from 1971–1973.

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  • Beaded handbag presented by Japanese Ambassador Takeshi Yasukawa to Emily Howie—1974 Cherry Blossom Princess representing the state of Georgia. Courtesy of Emily Howie (057.00.00)

  • Unknown photographer. Emily Howie with fellow court members and Georgia’s 1971—Cherry Blossom Princess Frances Hagan on their float in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade. Courtesy of Emily Howie (057.01.00)

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