The nation’s greatest springtime celebration is the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival was born of a gift of friendship from the people of Japan to the people of the United States. The festival commemorates the gift of 3,000 Sakura flowering cherry trees in 1912 from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The cherry tree is a revered symbol of the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture through the ages. The 104th festival, held March 20 to April 17 this year celebrates the enduring friendship between Japan and the US. 1.5 million visitors from around the world come to be enchanted by the cherries.
In 1915, the US Government reciprocated with a gift of dogwood trees to Japan and in 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle when cuttings of the original cherries were gifted to Japan to replace Japanese trees destroyed in a flood.
The best places to view the cherries are around the Tidal Basin where thousands of pink and white cherries line pedestrian walkways with famous sites such as the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial in the backdrop. Be prepared to walk 1 to 2 hours along with crowds. The magical enchantment of the experience more than makes up for the crowds. Paddle boats are available to rent and view the blooming cherries from the water. More spectacular cherry blossom viewing can be found at the Jefferson Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial while small clusters of trees are also found along the National Mall, The National Arboretum, Anacostia Park, Stanton Park and Oxon Run Park.
Weather patterns determine “peak” blooming times which vary year to year. The National Park Service posts a “Bloom Watch” on its site, link below. Peak is defined as when 70% of the blooms are open. It can occur as early as March 15 in a warm spring or as late as April 18th. Peak blooming can stretch 14 days. No matter when you come to Washington DC during the festival, there is something to do or see relating to the cherry trees. A son who lives in DC had been telling cherries were in bloom all over the city for several weeks before I visited the city to see the cherries last week.
It is absolutely enchanting to walk under branches of thousands of blossoms trembling in the breeze. Washington in bloom is a must see. There is really no bad time to visit DC during the Cherry Blossom Festival but weekends are busier and early mornings and early evenings on weekdays may be the a bit less busy. Avid photographers arrive to greet dawn around the Tidal Basin for the best photo ops. I visited late afternoon on a cloudy and blustery day, at peak time. My photos are not as bright as I would have liked.
Even if you can’t make to to Washington DC, there are many spectacular flowering cherries in bloom all over the country as these beauties spotted close to home this week:
For more information of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, please visit these sources referenced in this post:
Visit the National Park Service’s Cherry Blossom viewing map to see where to find the blooming trees:
For a more detailed history of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, please visit NPR excellent article,