The National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off today in Washington, D.C., making me homesick for the city I called home for years. It is one of the most beautiful times of year in our nation's capital as the pink and white blossoms decorate the Potomac River shores around the city's monuments and power buildings. This year, it's even more beautiful, as the festival is being used to remember and help the people of Japan in wake of the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami.
What do the two have in common? A little history in case your history knowledge is foggy -- In 1912, Japan gifted the United States 3,000 cherry trees, which have stood as symbols of friendship between our two countries since. In exchange, we gave them Dogwood trees. The first festival to celebrate the trees was held in 1935, and today it has grown into a two-week celebration filled with events and parties galore.
This year, it seems only natural to focus on helping the people of Japan who have been so hard hit. Organizers have partnered with the American Red Cross to raise funds and are encouraging attendees to donate. They kicked things off with a candlelight vigil "Stand With Japan” Thursday evening, which was attended by hundreds, despite cold temperatures. Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki was present and expressed how much the support means to his people:
Everything started on what I call 3/11 – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident – and we are still struggling. This is a very tough fight, but the consolation is people around the world are trying to be with us. Really, we need your assistance, and you're giving that to us.
If you can't get to D.C. to see the brilliant blossoms in person, you can enjoy some views via webcam. You can also donate online to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Red Cross Online Donation Site.
Surprisingly, not everyone thinks the two should be linked. As one attendee, Priscilla Lee, told ABC:
We can do as much as we want to promote U.S. relations with Japan in D.C., but it’s only going to reach a select group of people and these are the people who are most active in it anyway. It’s the cherry blossom festival. It’s not the Japan festival. It is great to encourage U.S.-Japan relations, but it’s not the sole responsibility of the cherry blossom festival to promote what is going on in Japan.
No, perhaps not our responsibility, but a beautiful gesture to help those in need.
Have you ever been to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C.? Do you think it should be used to help Japan?
Image via Josh Burglund19/Flickr