Celebrating Japanese Culture Day and Japanese Cherry Trees at the Library

This is a guest post by Lauren Roszak, Manager of Youth & Family Programs in the Library’s Informal Learning Office. 

As the snow starts to melt and trees begin to bud, those of us in the Capital city know that spring is right around the corner. The Library of Congress will celebrate this special season with Japanese Culture Day on Saturday, April 9th. Our free, public event is part of the citywide National Cherry Blossom Festival. Japanese Culture Day, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Jefferson Building, will feature taiko drumming, karate demonstrations, an origami-making activity, kamishibai storytelling, and a display of Japanese woodblock prints from the Library collections. All activities are free and open to the public with timed ticked entry. You can learn more about visiting and reserve tickets here.

Woodblock print of a weeping cherry tree

Yamada Shokei (b. 1866, fl. 1890s). “Gion shidare-zakura,” Miyako meisho gafu, kokon shomeika zuga (“Gion Weeping Cherry,” from Album of Famous Places in the Capital from the Past and Present, a Collection of Famous Artists’ Paintings), ca. 1894. Color woodblock book. Japanese Collection, Asian Division

Each spring, D.C. celebrates our Japanese cherry trees gifted from the city of Tokyo in 1912. While many of the cherry trees along the tidal basin are younger, replacement trees, two of the original trees gifted in 1912 are on the grounds of the Library of Congress. To learn more, I reached out to the Library Buildings and Grounds team who take expert care of the gardens and grounds of the Library. They are the caretakers of these two cherry trees, and their work is a good reminder that there are special, historic treasures outside of the Library buildings that we care for, too.

Rob Gimpel, Gardener Assistant Supervisor, shared some interesting information with me. Our trees are Yoshino Cherry, or Japanese Flowering CherryThis type of cherry tree is a hybrid of multiple species, not a single species. Cherry trees are from the genus Prunus, which has over 400 species, and includes plums, peaches, apricots, and almonds, in addition to all of the species of cherry.

 I asked Rob if it is difficult to care for trees planted here from another part of the world. He noted that the climate in D.C. is roughly comparable to the climate in Tokyo, and we have other native varieties of cherry trees that already grow here. They do keep a careful eye on these two trees because of their historical importance, though.

Washington Monument; Carol M. Highsmith, 2007 April 2; Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Rob told me that within the last 30 years, the National Park Service decided that all of the replacement plantings along the Tidal Basin should be propagated from the original gift trees. The Park Service sought out original trees that went to other locations, and ours was one of those identified. Cuttings were taken from our cherry tree, propagated, and planted back at the Tidal Basin! How exciting to learn that the trees at the Library are helping to support the future of the cherry blossoms around the city.

If you are in Washington, D.C. on April 9th, I encourage you to join us for Japanese Culture Day by getting a ticket here. Enjoy activities and speak with librarians, educators, and our special guests inside the building. Be sure to explore outside, too. You may see Rob and his team taking care of our treasured trees.

If you’re not here, not to worry! We will have two cherry blossom-themed events that week online, too. Mari Nakahara, co-author of the book Cherry Blossom: Sakura Collections from the Library of Congress, will lead two webinars:

On April 6 at 7pm, in a webinar titled “Object Lesson: Exploring Cherry Blossom Varieties,” Mari will offer a close-up exploration of exquisite watercolor illustrations of the 1912 gift of cherry blossom trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. to increase your visual recognition of cherry blossoms each spring.

On April 7 at 7pm, in “Object Lesson: One Man’s Life Dedicated to Peace,” Mari will introduce the Library collections related to former Japanese Ambassador Hirosi Saito. His granddaughter Tomiko Kagei will also join the conversation.

On April 8 at 7 pm, in “Object Lesson: Seasonal Appreciations in Japanese Visual Art,” the Library’s Fine Print Curator Katherine Blood will share woodblocks from the Library’s Japanese print collection reflect recurring seasonal celebrations of springtime cherry blossoms, summer fireflies, bright autumn foliage, winter snow and more, including related, recently acquired prints, drawings and posters. Registration is required at:

For more information on Washington’s cherry trees, the historical significance of cherry blossoms in Japan, and their continuing resonance in American culture and for Washingtonians in particular, explore the exhibition Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship or this recorded event from the Library’s Asian Division, “A Story in Layers: Japanese Woodblock Prints.”

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