Kōgakkan: The Cherry Blossom Queen Pays a Visit 皇學館大学:全米さくらの女王が来学

Yesterday, the Cherry Blossom Queen 全米さくらの女王 came to Kōgakkan University 皇學館大学. I was there as an interpreter, and while we talked, we enjoyed drinking tea prepared by Mr. Asanuma 浅沼 (an Urasenke 裏千家 tea master) and his students. The event was written up in the university’s “campus diary.”

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Ozaki Yukio 尾崎行雄 (Gakudō 咢堂) and the Cherry Blossom Trees

Ozaki Yukio was an influential Japanese politician who greatly appreciated US support during its war with Russia (1904–1905), and he wanted to offer some expression of his thanks. No one else in the government took the initiative, but when he learned that the First Lady, Ms. Taft, wanted to plant cherry blossom trees on the shores of the Potomac River, he convinced the city of Tokyo to make a gift of the trees in 1910. They sent the trees, but the Americans destroyed all of them, because they were infested with harmful insects (in fact, cherry blossom trees all over Japan at the time faced this problem). When he was informed about this, he joked about Americans having a history of destroying cherry blossom trees (a reference to the story about George Washington chopping one down).

Undeterred, Ozaki had seeds planted in sterilized beds, and a few years later, sent those over to the US. The approximately three-thousand trees he sent over made the location one of the largest concentrations of cherry blossom trees in the world. Beginning in 1948, each state and territory in the US has chosen a cherry blossom princess to participate in the annual cherry blossom parade, and from among these young women, one is chosen to be queen for a year. This year’s Cherry Blossom Queen is Noelle Verhelst ノエル・メアリー・ヴェルフェルスト, from Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently working for Congressman Joe Heck in Washington DC.

Ozaki’s Connection with Ise and the Flowering Dogwood Trees

Ozaki Yukio spent his youth in Ise 伊勢, and the Ozaki Gakudō Memorial House was built on the banks of the Miyagawa River to commemorate him. In commemoration of the 1915 gift of flowering dogwood trees 花水木 to Japan by the US, the Yukio Ozaki Memorial Foundation 咢堂香風 chooses a Flowering Dogwood Queen, Princess, and Ambassadors to visit Washington DC. This year’s queen and princess are in the photo below on the left.

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Over one-hundred years have passed since Ozaki made his initial gift of the cherry blossom trees, and this is the one-hundredth anniversary of the US gift of flowering dogwood trees in return. The enduring traditions that have developed demonstrate year after year that symbolic gestures like his gift have lasting effects. The queens, princesses, ambassadors, and festival in the US provide a lot of opportunities for cultural exchange and the reaffirmation of friendly relations between Japan and the US. And, as many as three million people visit the Cherry Blossom Festival every year in Washington, DC.