US-Japan Ties Bloom Across the Country with the Cherry Blossoms

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Two women enjoy sumo suit wrestling in Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival. [Image: Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival]

Despite concerns about the effects of winter storm Stella on this year’s cherry blossoms, Washington, D.C. successfully celebrated its annual National Cherry Blossom Festival from March 15 to April 16.

During the festival, a variety of events celebrated both traditional and modern aspects of Japanese culture. Washingtonians were introduced to every aspect of Japanese culture, from Kyogen — a genre of traditional Japanese theater more than 500 years old — to J-Pop. Exhibitions of modern Japanese art and historical kimonos were on display, and Cine Matsuri, the city’s one and only Japanese film festival, screened popular Japanese films.

Washington, D.C. was not the only city to celebrate its blooming spring festival. US cities from coast to coast marked their longstanding friendships with Japan. In San Francisco , Shinto group Taru Mikoshi Ren carried a Mikoshi — a portable Shinto shrine in which a god or deity is believed to reside — down the streets of the city’s Japan town, highlighting the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Sumo suit wrestling raised a laugh in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. In New York, the cosplay fashion show featured handicrafts based on anime, manga, and video games, to the backdrop of the hundreds of flowering Japanese cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The cherry trees in different cities arrived in various eras from many different parts of Japan. More than 2,000 cherry trees in Philadelphia were gifts from the Japanese government in the 1920s, and the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia in the 1990s. Some cities, such as St. Louis, Missouri, have cuttings from the original trees gifted in 1912. Ohio University in Athens received the first 175 cherry trees from Chubu University — its sister city counterpart — in 1979, in honor of its 175th anniversary, and more in 2004 for its bicentennial.

The US and Japan have the highest number of sister city and sister state relationships of any two countries in the world. More than 50 cities in the US boast cherry trees from Japan. Japan also maintains a significant presence in US trade, ranking 4th for total trade in 2016.

Jaichung Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.