Cherry Blossom Festival to Aid Ravaged Japan

Fluffy pink blooms won’t be the only stars of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival. 

The annual event celebrates U.S.-Japanese relations and the start of spring, and this year it marks a moment to aid a country in crisis. Disaster-stricken Japan, where a massive earthquake and tsunami hit earlier this month, will be front and center during the festival. 

Washington is preparing to celebrate Japan’s gift of cherry blossom trees starting Saturday through April 10 with 16 days of events — and a host of fundraising opportunities to aid relief efforts.

“It’s amazing the outpouring of support we’ve had from people who want to help,” festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente said. “We’re glad to be in the position to gather people — a million people come to the festival — and we’re in a special position to really help in this time of such horrible crisis.”

Over the next few weeks as the cherry blossoms bloom, this symbol of the friendship between Japan and the United States offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the tragedy and provide assistance to the Japanese people.

Piacente said the festival is hosting a gathering and walk Thursday to raise money for the American Red Cross’ Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund. Stand With Japan will start at 6:30 p.m. with a short program at the Washington Monument before participants walk around the Tidal Basin. Collection areas will be set up to gather donations.

“It’s a way to show solidarity and support, especially since our relationship with Japan is really at the heart of the festival,” Piacente said. “We wanted to honor our enduring relationship with the people of Japan before the festival kicks off.”

The NCBF will also designate a portion of the proceeds generated from its auction to the Red Cross fund. The online auction, which runs through Sunday, features a live event Wednesday at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel. The annual Pink Tie Party offers guests a sampling of top D.C. chefs’ cherry blossom-inspired dishes and drinks at $150 a ticket. 

Piacente noted that various partner organizations have expressed interest in hosting fundraising events in conjunction with the festival, and more such events will likely be announced over the next couple weeks. The NCBF’s fundraising is going national as well, with 100 percent of the proceeds from Vineyard Vines’ Tied to a Cause collection in April benefiting the relief effort.

One of the most popular Cherry Blossom events, the Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival on April 9, will also give visitors an opportunity to support those affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

“A portion of the ticket fees for this year’s festival will be donated to the relief efforts, and in addition, there will be some fundraising at the festival,” operations assistant Jessica Kling said.

In a letter on the organization’s website, Japan-America Society of Washington DC President John Malott wrote that the board of trustees will decide on the groups receiving the donations after the festival ends.

Kling noted that although not all of the details have been hammered out yet, the society is coordinating relief efforts with other Japan-related nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits and is looking for other opportunities to provide assistance. 

The Japanese Embassy has no plans for relief events directly related to the festival but is encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross or other organizations suggested by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In addition to sending monetary aid, the festival also brings a more symbolic gift to Japan. Just before the disaster struck, the National Park Service sent 144 cuttings from the original 1912 shipment of trees back to the country.

“The clippings have arrived safe and sound in Tokyo,” NPS spokesman Bill Line said. “And the Japanese Cherry Blossom Association is now in receipt of the 144 clippings. The organization plans to work with Japanese horticulturists to graft these cuttings on to either existing lineage or close lineage trees from the ones that were originally sent.”

These newly grafted trees will go into a nursery near Tokyo, Line said, where they will serve as a living reminder of Japan’s gift to D.C. 99 years ago.

“These cuttings will continue to purposefully propagate the same genetic line [as the original cherry blossom gift],” Line said. “And through these cuttings, the gift of friendship and peace that Japan showed the U.S. in 1912 will also continue to be honored.”

To find out more about the NCBF and its fundraising events, visit nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.

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