Sunday, April 4, 2010
The Beauty of Life Is Fleeting--A Brief History of the Cherry Blossom Trees
The Cherry Blossom Festival is an eagerly awaited rite of Spring every year here in Washington, DC, but after this year's Snowmageddon, the opening of the blossoms seems extra-special. David and I carefully watched the blossom calendar in each issue of the Washington Post to plan our visit to the Tidal Basin. Friday was a perfect day. The weather was mild, the sky was clear and away we went!
HISTORY OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS
Back in 1885, Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, had recently returned to Washington, DC, from Japan with an idea: Why not plant the flowering cherry tree (Sakura),along the Potomac waterfront? For 24 years, she approached various officials, but with no success.
THE FIRST LADY GETS INVOLVED
In 1909, Mrs. Scidmore sent a letter to First Lady Helen Taft. Since the First Lady had lived in Japan, she was familiar with the trees. Mrs. Taft quickly responded that she thought "it would be best to make an avenue of them...."
Two thousand trees were donated, but turned out to be the wrong cultivar. Then 2,000 more were ordered, and these turned out to be infested with insects and nematodes. They had to be destroyed. Somehow the Japanese Ambassador Sutemi Chinda became involved. Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the chemist who discovered adrenaline, donated the money for the trees.
THE TREES ARE PLANTED
On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two trees on the bank of the Tidal Basin. All in all, 3,020 trees are planted.
A SAD NOTE
In Japan, the cherry tree blossoms represent how fleeting the beauty of life is. Two years after the ceremony, Ambassador Chinda and his wife were joined in Washington, DC, by their son, Masuyo, who enrolled in a master's program in Johns Hopkins University. There, the young man worked for two years, but on April 18, 1916, Masuyo Chinda hanged himself as "a direct consequence of ...strain induced by overwork."
THE MEANING OF LIFE IS BOUND UP IN ITS BREVITY
So the next time you see a picture of the cherry trees in blossom, remember: They are only fleeting, and so is all of this. I think that's one of the reasons I love writing mysteries. Each time I write about death, I am forced to think about life, and what matters to me. Hearing this story about the death of the Chindas' son, I think I viewed the blossoms with a bit more appreciation. They certainly had more meaning for me.
How about you?