Cherry blossom centennial: Japanese public diplomacy in the US
Washington’s famous cherry trees are a century-old example of positive public diplomacy, and how cultural programs can create institutions in which people of one country can easily identify with another in ways that have nothing to do with politics, diplomacy or national security.
March 2012 marks the centennial celebration of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to beautify the capital city of the United States. In 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki presented 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington, DC. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of Japan’s ambassador to the US, planted the first trees on the Tidal Basin shore.
The cherry trees soon became part of the Washington landscape, attracting millions of visitors every spring during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
This year’s celebrations last for five weeks, from March 20 to April 27. Opening weekend included a Family Day event at the National Building Museum. (See photo at left of the museum decked out in cherry blossom colors.)
The photos on this page are from the late afternoon of the Family Day events on March 24. They give an idea of public diplomacy in-practice. Note the Japanese cultural icons, the involvement of American children in sampling Japanese culture, the citizen exchanges of Japanese and US university jazz bands, corporate sponsorship of the events, and more. (We got there late, on a drizzly afternoon, after most of the crowds had gone. Organizers said the crowds had been much larger earlier in the day.)
Corporate sponsorship keeps taxpayer costs down, and increases public participation. The entire event involved thousands of people, but was done on the cheap. Everyone there seemed to be having a great time.