By Alex Kingsbury & Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
March 26, 2001
As the Japanese cherry trees begin to bloom in the nation’s capitol, First Lady Laura Bush joined a host of dignitaries at the Kennedy Center Sunday to open the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The event, now in its 65th year, celebrates relations between the United States and Japan.
“When Americans think of D.C. in the spring,” said Bush, “they think of cherry blossoms.”
The pink and white flowering trees were brought to the nation’s capitol in 1912 as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo. Official celebrations began in 1934 and continue to the present day.
“We Japanese are very big on cherry trees,” said Shunji Yanai, Japanese ambassador to the U.S. “The essence of understanding the cherry blossom is to understand that their beauty is fleeting. Thousands of people will delight in the beauty of these pink blossoms.”
Bush noted the parallels between herself and fellow Texan and former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was a great supporter of the festival and its fostering of better relations with Japan. She said that she and her husband were proud to be a part of the celebrations that with each passing year deepen relations between the two countries.
“We look forward to building stronger ties with our friends and allies in Japan,” Mrs. Bush said Sunday.
Anthony Williams, mayor of Washington, D.C., said that civilizations are measured by their diversity and ability to bridge cultural divides. Williams said that festival facilitated such cultural acceptance.
Williams joined Bush and Ambassador Yanai in a ceremonial tapping of a Sake barrel. Sake, the Japanese rice wine, is highly revered as a drink of the gods.
The dignitaries cracked the top of the traditionally adorned keg with mallets and filled their cups, opening the festival with a toast to international understanding, goodwill and peace.
The emcee of the event, Doug McKelway of WRC-TV, recognized Mika Morse, the festival’s Goodwill Ambassador and Tracy Alexandra Weber, Cherry Blossom Queen. Flowery distinctions were awarded to Weber and Morse, who distinguished themselves by their academic excellence and study of international relations.
Morse, who will graduate from the Holton-Arms School in Maryland, has been accepted early decision to Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School and Harvard University. She is also a National Merit semi-finalist and has preformed community service work in Fiji.
Weber, a graduate of the University of Virginia and American University’s School of International Studies, works for the Capitol Children’s Museum’s exhibit Japan: Through the Eyes of a Child. The event also featured ceremonial Japanese drum dancing and a musical performance by the Washington Toho Koto Society. Cherry Blossom Festival events will continue through April 8. A parade this weekend is expected to coincide with the blossom’s peak.