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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 25, 2001

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Cherry Blossom Festival
The Kennedy Center
Washington, D.C.

Thank you very much.

What a pleasure it is to be here for the opening ceremony of the Cherry Blossom Festival on my family's first spring in our new hometown of Washington, D.C.

And, when Americans think of Washington, D.C. in the spring, they think of the cherry blossoms. The cherry trees in bloom represent the coming of spring… and the enduring relationship between the United States and Japan.

Washington's first cherry trees were planted on a March day in 1912, during a ceremony with First Lady Helen H. Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador. The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo.

After the trees were planted, Mrs. Taft presented a bouquet of American Beauty Roses to the Viscountess Chinda. This simple exchange began a great American tradition. Today those same trees, planted nearly a century ago, can still be found near the John Paul Jones statue on 17th Street.

Another symbol of our friendship with Japan is a 20-ton granite lantern located on the Tidal Basin's north shore. The lantern was brought over in 1954 from Ueno Park - one of Tokyo's most picturesque parks that is also famous for its cherry blossoms.

The then-300-year-old lantern was a gift to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first treaty between the United States and Japan, which was signed on March 31st, 1854. This landmark in history is celebrated each year with the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, and we light the lantern to kick off the festival each year.

Every spring in Japan, millions of people spend time outdoors admiring the flowering cherry trees. Their blossoms are a powerful poetic image in Japanese culture; a symbol of the brevity of the seasons and of life itself. In the United States, the cherry blossoms also draw thousands of visitors to our nation's capitol.

Today more than 3,700 cherry trees of differing varieties bloom along the Tidal Basin, at East Potomac Park, and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Most of the trees that you see were given as gifts by the government of Japan in 1965.

We are grateful for the beautiful gift exchange that has taken place over the past century. Beyond the beautiful trees, we have much more to share and offer one another, from trade and commerce, to education, art and culture.

With each passing year comes a deeper sense of appreciation between our two great nations, and President Bush and I are proud to be able to take part in this famous tradition.

We join you in great anticipation of the spring blossoming of trees, and we look forward to building stronger ties with our friends and allies in Japan.

Thank you.

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