The centennial celebration of the 1912 gift of cherry trees to the city of Washington, DC has now ended, and the last cherry blossom petals have blown away. Because of their annual spectacular display along the Tidal Basin, these trees are a part of the American landscape well-known about even by people who have never seen them in person. What is less well-known about is the reciprocal gift of 50 dogwoods presented by former President Taft and his wife to the city of Tokyo in 1915.
When the Tree learned about this gift a few years ago, we set out on a search for the trees not only in cyberspace but in the wooded spaces of some of Tokyo’s many parks. Our objective: To find a living specimen of the original 50.
Led by an on-line article in the Japan Times, we visited Hibiya Park, where, the article claimed, we could find a contingent of the original group of dogwoods. While we did find a copse of dogwoods there, beautifully in bloom, we also found signs indicating that none of them were part of the 1915 gift, but were later arrivals.
In a small park across from the National Diet Building we found another cluster of dogwoods, but these it turned out were a 1960 gift from the U.S. government to commemorate the completion of the Ozaki Memorial Hall, which was built on the grounds of the park. (Below you can see the sign explaining the trees’ provenance. Our translation staff has provided an English version.)
“In 1912 the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, presented cherry tree saplings to the city of Washington, DC for the furtherance of friendship between Japan and the United States. In return, in 1915 dogwood trees were sent to Tokyo from the American government.
“Ozaki was instrumental in establishing our parliamentary government, and dedicated his life to the development of world peace and democracy. He is known as the Father of Constitutional Government.
“When it was decided to build the Ozaki Memorial Hall (now the Parliamentary Museum) in honor of Ozaki’s achievements, 250 dogwood saplings were once again donated by the American government, and were planted here upon completion of the hall’s construction in 1960.”
Finally, following a tip from an anonymous blog, which claimed that all but one of the original 50 dogwoods had died, and that this lone survivor could be found in the Koishikawa Botanical Garden of Tokyo University, we went there to verify its existence with our own eyes. We stopped at the entrance gate to ask the security guard where we might find the dogwood, only to be told that it had been chopped down a few years ago because it had “gone bad.” Object unfound.
In spite of the dwindling away of the original 50, there is no lack of American dogwoods (cornus florida) in Japan today. Over the years, it has become the tree of choice for gifts to Japan by American civic and governmental groups like the Rotary Club or the State of Ohio. And, as with the 1960 gift noted above, by the federal government as well. During the recent visit of Prime Minister Noda to Washington, Secretary of State Clinton announced at a dinner in his honor the gift of 3,000 dogwoods to the people of Japan.
It remains to be seen how long this renewed symbol of friendship between the two nations will last in the unspecified “Tokyo park” for which the trees are destined.