“Cherry Diplomacy” in US-Japan Relations

(The following passages are excerpts from the book “Japanese Flowering Cherries” by Wybe Kuitert)

David_Fairchild
David Fairchild

 American garden lovers were given a first-hand look at the art of Japanese gardening at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where Japan exhibited an extensive garden in the native style. Two years later, a historically important shipment of a hundred cherries, dispatched by the Yokohama Nursery Company, reached the United States. The order was made by David Fairchild (1869-1954), an administrator with the US Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. The imported trees were successfully planted on the spacious grounds of his private estate.

Encouraged by this undertaking, Fairchild and his wife, Marian, decided to organize a planting of cherries on Arbor Day. Again, cherries were ordered from the Yokohama Nursery Company. The trees were shipped to Seattle on the West Coast and then traveled by rail across the United States without any problem. On Arbor Day in March 1908, each public school in Washington D.C. received its Japanese cherry. Trees were planted in the school yards, which attracted the attention of Mrs. William Taft, wife of the U.S. president.

Washington_C_D.C._Tidal_Basin_cherry_treesThe First Lady had visited Japan with her husband, who had successfully concluded an important treaty with Japan in 1905. She developed an appreciation for the beauty of flowering cherries and began to include the idea for a mass planting of Japanese cherries in her plans for developing Potomac Park. Mrs. Taft was supported in this endeavor by Fairchild and Eliza Skidmore, a journalist who wrote about Japan. In April 1909, ninety trees of “Fugenzo” were purchased from an American nursery. Then, in the summer of that year, it became clear that the city of Tokyo wanted to donate two thousand cherries for the Potomac Park. It is striking how eagerly Japanese officials reacted. In November of the same year, Tokyo shipped two thousand large trees of ten varieties to Washington. That a gift of the country’s flower with such a profound emotional meaning could be made to a great Western power was without doubt enthusiastically welcomed by any Japanese cooperating in the donation.

In the meantime, in the United States, the increasing import of plant material had aroused a growing concern, and the US Department of Agriculture began inspecting imported plants for insect pests and diseases. The shipment from Tokyo proved to be severely infested. With great diplomatic sensitivity, the Japanese side was informed that no other measures could be taken than to burn the trees. It was a matter of regret for both parties.

PrunusYedoensisIn Tokyo, a second shipment of trees was prepared. Funatsu helped select new planting material from the banks of Arakawa. Trees were grafted and trained by the Agricultural Experiment Station of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. Thoroughly fumigated with hydrocyanic acid gas, the shipment of six thousand young trees arrived in Seattle in January 1912 and passed severe inspections without any problem. Three thousand trees were meant as a donation for New York. The other half of the shipment went to Washington D. C. In Potomac Park, thousands of specimens of Prunus x yedoensis were planted along the Tidal Basin, and eventually, this plant became known as the “Potomac cherry.” On the peninsula farther south, two thousand fragrant and double cherries of the following varieties were planted: ‘Ariake,’ ‘Fugenzo,’ Fukurokuju,’ the green ‘Gyoiko,”Ichiyo,’ ‘Jonioi,’ ‘Kanzan,”Mirukuma-gaeshi,’ ‘Shirayuki,”Surugadai-nioi,’ and ‘Taki-nioi.’

In the United States, a general appreciation of Japanese flowering cherries developed from a friendship between the countries that was profoundly felt in the early twentieth century. Of all the countries in the world, only the United States had a Potomac Park as a show garden for cherries on a scale that resembled the best of the cherry picnic places in Japan. Every spring, the Park revived, and continues to revive a nationwide awareness of the cherries.

Read the rest of the book here: “Japanese Flowering Cherries,” Kuitert, W., Peterse, A.H. , 1999, Timber Press, Inc.

“Cherry Diplomacy” in US-Japan Relations