life, they say, a little rain must fall. And a little snow as well. In
fact, here in Washington, some are rooting for snow before spring
"Every night before going to sleep," Japanese Ambassador
Ichiro Fujisaki told reporters recently, "I pray: 'Fall the snow. Blow
the cold wind.'" It's not that Fujisaki wants to witness at firsthand
the capital city's famously inept response to winter weather -- he's
just hoping that the city's cherry trees will wait a few more weeks
Few things in this world endure for a century,
but this spring marks the 100th anniversary of the planting of some
3,000 cherry trees around D.C.'s tidal basin. The trees were a gift of
friendship from Japan's government.
At the time, Japan was a
rising power. Less than 10 years earlier, it had routed Russia.
President Theodore Roosevelt won a Nobel Prize for mediating an end to
that conflict, and the Japanese were eager to establish positive
relations with the United States.
Like any relationship, there
have been ups and downs. For example, the first trees the Japanese
government delivered (in 1910) never made it into the ground.
everyone's dismay, an inspection team from the Department of
Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with insects and
nematodes, and were diseased," the National Park Service explains in its
history of the cherry trees. "To protect American growers, the
department concluded that the trees must be destroyed."
So it was
the second batch of cherry trees, delivered in 1912, that were
successfully planted. First Lady Helen Taft was joined on March 27 by
the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, and they planted the first two
cherry trees alongside the Tidal Basin.
"At the conclusion of the
ceremony, the first lady presented a bouquet of 'American Beauty' roses
to Viscountess Chinda. Washington's renowned National Cherry Blossom
Festival grew from this simple ceremony," the NPS explains.
the trees, the relationship between the U.S. and Japan has had rocky
patches. During the 1920s and '30s, the Pacific Ocean wasn't wide enough
to separate our growing nations. Eventually the inevitable jostling for
resources and Japanese imperial ambition led to open conflict.
militant Japanese government launched a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor,
and the United States responded with righteous indignation and massive
military force. "Before we're done with them, the Japanese language will
be spoken only in Hell!" Adm. William Halsey famously proclaimed.
while the hard-fought American victory in World War II crushed the
Japanese empire, it didn't destroy U.S.-Japanese relations. After Japan
surrendered, the country worked with American leaders to rebuild under a
constitution that emphasized peace.
The U.S. was generous in
victory, offering financial and military support. That helped turn an
enemy into a friend (a process mirrored in Europe with West Germany).
Across the ensuing decades, Japan became a crucial ally in Asia and a
valued trading partner. The Japanese were responsible for many economic
innovations, including the concept of "Just in Time" manufacturing that
delivers parts when they're needed and keeps manufacturers from having
to stock massive warehouses.
For a time, it seemed Japan's economy
would surpass that of the U.S. But we learned from them -- as they had
learned from us -- and American innovation helped us remain the world's
largest economy. That could serve as an object lesson for the future of
There's a lot of history here in
Washington. Some of it is, literally, growing up out of the ground. As
we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our lovely cherry trees, let's
pause this year to remember what they symbolize. The fact that a former
foe has become one of our best allies is certainly something worth
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).